Condos and trendy stores are taking over from the ‘nonni and famiglie’ shops of my youth

Joe Bongiorno has been shopping at the Jean Talon Market since he was a child. His fondest memories are of his grandparents co-ordinating the family’s annual tomato sauce-making tradition. (Photo by Anne Guay)

Joe Bongiorno · For CBC News – Jean-Talon Market is my backyard. Its passageways and stalls are mapped out in the part of my brain dedicated to cured meats, olives and funky cheeses.

But like me, the market has changed over the decades. The mustachioed nonnos in their flat caps and sweater vests have been replaced by tattooed and bearded millennials posting produce pictures to Instagram.

One by one, kiosks have closed — more this year than last. There are fewer and fewer shoppers.

“We used to come because we Italians lived in the nearby apartments,” my mom explained. “But now, we live in houses with gardens.” 

My parents are in St. Leonard now, and their trips to the market aren’t weekly anymore. They go when they can.

The only time a trip to the market transcends regular grocery shopping is at the end of summer, when the San Marzano tomatoes are in season. With the arrival of the tomatoes comes a weekend-long sauce-making operation that serves as a sacred rite of passage for any Montrealer of Italian heritage.

Every year, tomato sauce season at the market takes me right back to being a kid, as if no time has passed at all.

A table sags under the weight of the 1985 tomato harvest. (City of Montreal archives)