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The Origins of Little Maghreb

02 juin 2017

In 2009, the Association du Petit Maghreb signed an agreement with the borough mayor allowing it to officially create the first Maghrebi neighbourhood in North America.

In the late 1990s, Montréal saw the number of North African businesses in the Saint-Michel neighbourhood multiply, as Italian and Greek business owners began slowly leaving the area. Taking advantage of affordable rent, North African business owners set up shop on the stretch of rue Jean-Talon between Pie-IX and Saint-Michel.

Little Maghreb: A major project for business and tourism

Petit Maghreb

Voitures stationnées sur la rue Jean-Talon. En arrière-plan le Café Safir.
Photo by Denis-Carl Robidoux, Centre des mémoires montréalaises.

The Association du Petit Maghreb was founded in 2008, with the goal of making Little Maghreb a tourist destination like Little Italy or Chinatown. Members included business owners and businesspeople of Maghrebi origin who wanted to see the area become a place with the spirit and feel of the Maghreb, whether that be Algeria, Morocco, or Tunisia.

The neighbourhood has become a spot for the Maghrebi community, and all Montrealers, to find North African specialties, pastries, and restaurants. The goal was to attract both city dwellers and out-of-towners. In 2008, the association had a first event, Le Souk (named after the traditional marketplaces of North Africa), which helped promote the local businesses that bring the area to life. In 2009, the City of Montréal awarded the association a grant to develop this stretch of Jean-Talon. Members of the association dreamed of creating a vibrant neighbourhood that would be the first of its kind in North America; however, the organization was dissolved in 2011 following organizational conflicts. Despite the fact that the association no longer exists and that tourism goals were placed on hold, Little Maghreb remains a prominent gathering place for Montrealers of North African descent.

Maghrebi culture along rue Jean-Talon

Petit Maghreb

Devanture de la boucherie Yasmine. En avant-plan, des voitures stationnées.
Photo by Denis-Carl Robidoux, Centre des mémoires montréalaises.

In Little Maghreb you can find North-African-owned restaurants, halal butcher shops, grocery stores, and pastry shops, as well as clothing stores, hair salons, travel agencies, and daycares. Montrealers originally from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia sit and chat in cafés along rue Jean-Talon, reminiscent of the café culture back home. It is also a favourite spot for watching soccer games and cheering on their home countries. There are two mosques in the neighbourhood. Little Maghreb’s restaurants and cafés serve as major gathering places during Ramadan for Iftar, the evening meal, and the special celebrations that mark Laylat al-Qadr and Eid al-Fitr. In 2014, out of the 120 businesses on this stretch of Jean-Talon, forty-six were run by Montrealers of Maghrebi origin. Despite a high concentration of North-African-owned businesses on this thoroughfare, Little Maghreb’s business community is highly diverse.

Little Maghreb: A place to call home?

Petit Maghreb

Devanture de la mosquée Dar Al-Arqam ,rue Jean Talon.
Photo by Denis-Carl Robidoux, Centre des mémoires montréalaises.

In 2011,  only 11.1% of North African Montrealers lived in the Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension borough. Many have chosen to live in multicultural neighbourhoods to avoid the kind of ghettoization that has occurred in France’s banlieues. These neighbourhoods include Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Saint-Laurent, Saint-Léonard, and Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc Extension, and the outskirts of Montréal. Little Maghreb is a place where they can exchange with other North African Montrealers and find products from the Maghreb, but they have not necessarily made it their home.

Références bibliographiques

AZDOUZ, Rachida. « Les Québécois d’origine maghrébine, entre bricolage, affirmation et reconstruction identitaire », Histoire d’immigrations au Québec, Québec, Presses de l’Université de Québec, 2014, p. 233-250.

LEJEUNE, Marion. Les nouvelles dynamiques de territorialisation du fait ethnique à Montréal : le cas du Petit Maghreb, Mémoire (M. A.), Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal, 2012, 154 pages.

MANAI, Bochra. La « Mise en scène » de l’ethnicité maghrébine à Montréal, [En ligne], Thèse (Ph. D.), Montréal, Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), 2015, 313 pages. (Consulté le 21 juillet 2016)