The Lure of Fishing on Bernard

The Mile End has been in the throes of gentrification for the past decade, and nowhere is this more apparent than on Bernard Street where high-end clothing shops and international eateries abound. There are still, however, a few holdouts in the neighbourhood. The flower and plant shop that used to take up an entire block has cashed in and reduced its holdings to just one store. Then there is the very odd, fishing and tackle shop. Because of its outdated appearance and obvious signs of neglect, many passersby would assume that this business had gone the way of the dial phone. Not so, my Mile End sources tell me that the business still sells a lure or two and is the setting for some tall fishing tales. Unsurprisingly, the 82-year-old owner, Georges Riddell, is a raconteur of sorts.

I arrived on this warm spring-like day at about noon, but the shop was still closed. I had a good look at all the objects in the grimy display window while I waited. In the left window, I saw plenty of sinkers and lures in no particular order, several fish heads and skeletons, weights, bobbers, driftwood, some bull rushes spray-painted red, an old yellow fishing net, a life preserver, an anchor with rusty iron chain, a tree stump, a lobster shell, and propped up in the corner was a piece of white birch with fungal rings growing around it. Not exactly the type of things to attract the ladies.

From what I'd seen so far, I gathered that Mr. Riddell was probably single, as his first love was obviously fishing, and housekeeping didn't appear to be his strong suit. I was looking at the stuffed birds, dried flowers and masks in the right window when I noticed the stuffed head of a fox whose eyes had either fallen out or had been forgotten altogether. Why would anyone put something so hideous in a display case? Sentimental value I suppose. In the centre of this display case was a bronze statue of a woman sitting at a small table with "Modern Woman Shop" written on the side. Well, I thought, at least our owner has a sense of humour.

There were many pictures of Georges over the year on the front door showing off his catches. No need to embellish the size of these fish. They were big. I looked between the pictures on the door and noticed a light was on. Then I heard someone behind me. It was a short dark-haired man in his fifties.

"So what are you doing here?" he asked.
"Waiting for the store to open," I said, thinking that he was some relation to the owner.
"He doesn't always open. Sometimes, he doesn't open for days. We worry about him," he said.
"Does he have any family?" I asked.
"No, but I think he had a girlfriend in the 80s," he said, as he stepped forward and looked between the pictures on the door.
"He's up now," he said, as he tapped on the glass.

A tall elderly and dishevelled man came to the door. As I introduced myself, I walked in and started to look around, but I quickly realized that this was only an occasional place of business and served mainly as the owner's home.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I just woke up. I was up late watching the Olympics last night."

I suddenly felt like an intruder. As Georges settled back into his chair and continued to watch the View on a portable 1970s TV, I decided to make my visit as brief as possible so that I wouldn't disturb him.

As I stood on the bare cement floor, I noticed that the shelves, cabinets and telephone were all older than I was. For a few seconds, it was hard to believe that I was in a shop on Bernard Street in the middle of the city. I felt as though I was in a fishing cabin or hunting shack in the woods.

"Do you still fish?" I asked.
"Oh no," he said, "My balance isn't quite what it used to be."
"That's quite a cabinet you have there behind you," I said.
"Bought that in Côte des Neiges for fifty bucks. Must have been 40 years ago. I'm here for 50 years. Opened in 1960," he said in typical Montreal English.
"You have quite a collection of curios here," I said.
"Oh, this isn't even half of it. I got rid of most of it a little while ago," he said.

There were so many interesting items of days gone by that I had trouble focusing on just one thing. I asked if I could take some pictures.

"If you like, but just don't take any pictures of me," he said "I don't look so good today."

This wasn't the case. He did look like he'd just woken up, but he still had good posture and didn't look anywhere near his 82 years. I knew that it was pointless to tell him that. He would think that I was just fishin' for a picture.

The store had a strangely familiar feel to it, but I couldn't figure out where it came from. Was it all the familiar objects from my family camping trips or the everyday objects in our basement that just seemed to vanish over time? Or was it the soft-spoken polite owner? As I came across a Montreal 1976 Olympic sticker, I smiled. This was a lot more than a store. It was an overview of someone's life.


Although I couldn't take a picture of Georges, I did manage to get a photograph of him in the picture below (Double click on the picture to enlarge it. Georges is at the centre). To be honest, I didn't even notice the camera and tripod in front of his chair when I was taking the picture. My eyes were trained on the African mask.


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