The building stands along the rue de la commune,
A sentinel on the waterfront of Montreal.
A few tourists walk by and the silence of morn
Is broken by the clack of cobblestones under the hooves
Of a horse pulling a caleche;
But the building is mute and observes.
It wears the marks of its hundred and fifty years
And hearkens back to Dickensian times.
The brick no longer white but stained
With the soot and rain of life in the city.
The windows are small, clouded irises
Through which pass the events of history.
The doors of the loading docks have been long painted shut
But the wood bears the scars of wagons poorly maneuvered.
She is a silent witness.
The wind blows ever so gently on an autumn’s morn
And the breeze passes the cracks and crevices
Of the wood and brick.
If you listen closely, you can just make out
The echoes of yesterday.
A foreman, en français, berates the workers
For being too careless with today’s papers
As they toss them into the backs of waiting wagons;
Threatening that the cost of bundles too damaged to sell
Will be deducted from their wages, mere pennies,
A meagre mouthful for the hungry families.
As your eyes scan up from the street
And you pass the windows,
You can see the signs of former residents.
Amongst the jumbled letters of words over words,
Signs painted over signs, you can still make out
The once proud letters of
“Le Standard: toute la monde, tout le temps”
A car drives by and the rhythmic beating
Of its wheels on the bricks echoes against the building;
Reviving the forgotten sounds of a printing press
Bringing the news to thousands of Montrealers.
Your eye continues skyward to a large bay window
On the top floor and you are startled by a reflection.
In the early morning sun, the light glints
Off dust-laden windows
And a spectre appears behind the panes.
Old Monsieur O’Toole, proprietor and publisher,
Still stands at his window, looking out over the river,
From his office and apartment above the presses.
The throb of the machines is a lullaby for the old man;
A mother’s heartbeat in the womb
Formed by the newspaper’s walls.
He smiles as he listens to the rantings of Gilles Garnier,
The foreman of the dock, remembering him
As an eager young lad who delivered the paper
For a much younger O’Toole
When Canada and The Standard were new.
These windows and this paper have been witness
To the founding of a nation,
Its history both ancient and new.
The presses have described the rhetoric of politicians,
George-Etienne, Wilfred and John A.,
Arguing the desirability of a union, a confederation.
It has announced the call to arms of Canadian boys
To fight for British guns in the fields of South Africa
And told of the death of a mighty monarch, la reine Victoria.
She has counted the bodies at Vimy Ridge
And, from these windows, has cried with joy
Of the end of the “war to end all wars”,
Only to weep at the start of the next one.
She called for calm on that infamous black Tuesday in October
And was instrumental in the programs to feed and clothe
The poor in its aftermath.
But now the building is silent,
A victim of post-war modernization;
A derelict in a sea of decay, the city fathers calling
For yet another committee to decide its fate.
A cloud crosses the sky, disturbing the light,
And O’Toole vanishes from the window.
The breeze dies and the Frankish rantings subside.
The presses have stopped and are long gone.
Fading history clings tightly to the crumbling facade on Montreal’s river front.
With the passage of time, Montreal’s history fades into dust.