Bringing Back ‘Bens’ For Code 45’s Early 2000s Montreal

One of the more enjoyable aspects of situating Code 45 in the recent past has been resurrecting my memories of Montreal landmarks that have long since been wiped from the city’s landscape.

Of course, the term ‘landmark’ is open to interpretation. My own image of what Montreal was like when I first moved is skewed by the relatively small sliver of the city I explored as a teenager, which means what stands out in my mind two decades later is likely to be different from what a long-time Montrealer might consider one of the island’s defining characteristics.

Still, since the narrative of Code 45 is guided by my own recollections, it’s almost like a road-map to those years of my life. It’s been interesting to work with artist Joe Ng on bringing past scenes to life, as we’ve had to hunt down archival photos and street scene shots to make sure we captured the right atmosphere and details.

One of these scenes is found in Issue 3. Bens was a smoked meat joint that dominated downtown with its large corner footprint on Metcalfe and de Maisonneuve, and the interior was an Art Deco-like time capsule to days gone by in the restaurant trade, with even the waiters wearing bowties and traditional uniforms. Because of the name, my parents would often make sure that we stopped by for lunch when visiting the city as a kid, and so it played an outsized role in my memories.

(no, there’s no apostrophe in the name. Just ‘Bens.’)

When I came to the city as a student, I couldn’t always afford to eat at Bens, but it still formed a core part of what Montreal was to me. It was also the beginning of the end for the restaurant, which saw limited hours after its original owner died, then a labor dispute with the unionized staff that would see the restaurant sit empty for years. It was eventually bulldozed to make way for – what else? – luxury condos.

Being able to include a place like Bens in Code 45 not only helps anchor Vanessa’s experiences in Montreal to a specific time and place, but it also fleshes out her own past and allows me to pay a small tribute to a forgotten corner of a city that is relentlessly moving towards a very different downtown future.

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