Paul has been a fan of Leonard Cohen for over thirty-five years. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.
For a huge fan of Leonard Cohen like myself, Montreal is place of pilgrimage. The great man spent his formative years in the French Canadian city and continued to return there throughout his long and varied life.
Such was the cultural influence of Montreal on Cohen, I suspect that it's impossible to fully understand him without experiencing the city directly. It molded him when he was young and developed into a place of escape and refuge.
Below are five places that you may wish to check out if you find yourself in the city:
1. The Last House He Lived In
Most celebrity artists like to shut themselves away from the public and live in exclusive neighborhoods. Cohen lived in a modest house in a vibrant downtown Montreal neighborhood with a small public park opposite (Parc Portugale).
The address is 28 Rue Vallières, Montréal, QC H2W 1C2, Canada. It's just an empty house, however, you can't go inside, it's not been made into a museum. The only physical indication that it's Cohen's old house are a line of small stones that fans have placed on the doorstep in memoriam.
2. Cohen's Favorite Deli
Within easy walking distance of Cohen's house are two rival delis: the Main Deli Steak House and the famous Schwartz's Deli. They are on opposite sides of St Laurent Blvd in the Plateau neighborhood.
Cohen apparently preferred the Main Deli Steak House and would go there to buy a meat sandwich when he was at his Montreal home.
3. The Leonard Cohen Murals
There are two large Cohen murals that are must-sees:
- Perhaps the most remarkable is the Crescent Street mural. The image is on the side of a skyscraper and huge in scale. It looks particularly spectacular as the sun begins to sink in early evening, as it positively glows.
- The other mural to see is on a building at the corner of Saint-Dominique and Napoléon Street, just a few blocks from Cohen's home in the Plateau neighborhood. This one's also largescale, though not quite as immense as the Crescent street, and was created as part of Montreal MuralFest.
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4. Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel
This fine old chapel close to the Old Port area of the city is the "Our lady of the harbor" that's referred to in the Cohen song "Suzanne".
The inspiration for the song came from a platonic relationship that he had with a dancer called Suzanne Verdal. She lived in an apartment not far from the harbor and would invite Cohen over for Constant Comment tea.
The Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, with it's Virgin Mary statue on top, was a local landmark. Historically, it was the place where sailors were blessed before they headed out to sea, making it a beautiful fit for a song which employs seafaring and Christian imagery and metaphors.
Cohen would later explain in an interview with Maclean’s magazine in 2008 that the song: "was never about a particular woman. It was more about the beginning of a different life for me … wandering alone in those parts of Montreal."
The Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel is one of the oldest churches in Montreal, built in 1771 at the site of an even earlier chapel. It can be found at 400 Saint Paul Street East at Bonsecours Street beside the Old Port area. It's free to go inside and look around.
5. Leonard Cohen's Grave
As with his house, Cohen's grave is a modest, understated affair. He's buried in the Shaar Hashomayim Congregation Cemetery on Mount Royal. The easy way to get there is to drive or cycle, the address is 450 Av. Kensington, Westmount, QC H3Y 3A2.
The less easy, but far more healthy and scenic way, is to walk through the McGill University's main campus and ascend Mount Royal via the wooden stairway. Near the top, you reach a chalet with a viewing deck that provides a spectacular view of Montreal. You can also see the Crescent Street Cohen mural from up here.
To get to the Shaar Hashomayim Congregation Cemetery from the chalet involves a pleasant stroll through the green and expansive Christian cemetery.
The Shaar Hashomayim Congregation Cemetery is fairly small, but there are lots of Cohens buried there! Leonard's grave is sheltered by a pair of trees.
5 Places Around the World Associated With Leonard Cohen
Below are five of the places where Leonard Cohen lived during his life:
- Montreal - Cohen was born and raised in the French-Canadian city and returned there regularly throughout his life. "I feel at home when I'm in Montreal — in a way that I don't feel anywhere else. I don't know what it is, but the feeling gets stronger as I get older," he said in an interview in 2006.
- Hydra, Greece - After a brief time in London, where he found the weather to be grey and rainy, Cohen moved to the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s and bought a house there. There he wrote both his novels, some of his early poetry books, and had a relationship with Marianne Ihlen there, the inspiration for his song "So Long, Marianne".
- New York - Cohen's time in Manhattan is documented and immortalized in songs such as "Chelsea Hotel #2" (about his relationship with the singer Janis Joplin) and "Famous Blue Raincoat" (which refers to Clinton Street).
- Mt. Baldy Zen Center - The retreat near L.A. where Cohen spent five years of seclusion and was eventually ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist priest in 1996. He served as personal assistant to Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi. "I was interested in surrendering to that kind of routine. If you surrender to the schedule, and get used to its demands, it is a great luxury not to have to think about what you are doing next," Cohen told The Guardian in 2001.
- Los Angeles - Cohen had a home in L.A. where he lived in later years. He died there in 2016 at the age of 82.
© 2022 Paul Goodman