Leonard Cohen is a beloved Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist who deeply connected with his hometown of Montreal. He was born in the city on September 21, 1934, and spent most of his childhood and early adulthood there. Montreal remained a significant source of inspiration for Cohen throughout his life and career, and he often referenced the city in his poetry and songs.
I first heard of Leonard Cohen in 1969 when a girlfriend from my Montreal high school, Donna, used to carry around a book of his poetry. She was one of those young women who would be considered gothic today.
Over the years, I continued to read his poetry and remember buying the LP Songs of Leonard Cohen in 1971. My most treasured LB was Jennnifer Warne’s editions of Cohen’s Songs. When my LP was stolen, I bought the CD, and when that was stolen, I bought another copy. Now I own it in the cloud.
I always regret that I never had the opportunity to see him live; I just wasn’t old enough or living in Montreal at the right time.
Returning to Montreal in 2020 reminded me of how much Leonard Cohen is immersed in the city; one often comes across a reference to Leonard Cohen.
It could be a picture of a stamp on a post box or a view from Mont Royal looking down on the city. It doesn’t matter what time of year to visit Montreal; you will be rewarded.
Leonard Cohen’s Songs and Poems
One of the most famous examples of Cohen’s connection to Montreal can be found in his poem “Suzanne,” which he later adapted into a song. The poem is a beautiful tribute to a woman named Suzanne Verdal, whom Cohen met in Montreal in the 1960s. Verdal lived on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, referred to as “the river” in the poem. The poem also references the “children’s crusade,” a protest in Montreal in 1968, and the “broken hill,” which is likely a reference to Mount Royal, a hill in the city.
Another famous example of Cohen’s connection to Montreal can be found in his poem “The Butcher,” which he wrote in 1964. The poem is a haunting tribute to a butcher who worked in the city’s Saint-Laurent Market. Cohen often visited the market and was struck by the butcher’s dedication to his craft. The poem is a meditation on mortality, and it ends with the line, “I saw you wash the meat, your hands / like waves of wheat in the blood.”
Throughout his career, Cohen made numerous references to Montreal in his songs. In “Famous Blue Raincoat,” he references the city’s Saint James Hotel, where he stayed with his lover Jane; in “Avalanche,” he mentions the city’s Victoria Park. In his song “Sisters of Mercy,” he pays tribute to the “sisters of mercy” who he met in Montreal, and in “Closing Time,” he sings about the city’s nightlife.
Cohen’s connection to Montreal was also reflected in his personal life.
He was deeply involved in the city’s arts community and was a fixture on the local music scene in the 1960s. He also lived in several neighbourhoods, including the Plateau Mont-Royal and the Mile End.
Today, Montreal continues to honour Leonard Cohen’s legacy. There is a mural of Cohen on Cresent Street, and the city named a park after him in 2017. The park is on the west side of Mount Royal, which is a nod to Cohen’s poem “Suzanne.” The park also features a memorial to Cohen, which includes a bench and a statue of the singer.
Leonard Cohen, a beloved figure in Montreal
In his work, his references to the town continue to be celebrated by Montrealers and visitors today.
There are many ways to learn more about his life and legacy in the city. Here are a few ideas:
- Visit the Leonard Cohen Mural: Located on Crescent Street in downtown Montreal, the Leonard Cohen Mural is a beautiful tribute to the singer-songwriter. Created by artist Kevin Ledo, the mural features a larger-than-life portrait of Cohen, along with some of his most famous lyrics. It’s an excellent spot for photos and reflection.
- Take a Walking Tour: Several guided walking tours in Montreal focus on Leonard Cohen’s life and career. These tours typically take you to places significant to Cohen, such as his childhood home, the Jewish Museum, and various concert venues. You can find more information about these tours online or at the city’s tourist information centres.
- Visit the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal online This online display is a beautiful opportunity to see another side of Cohen’s creativity and gain a deeper understanding of his artistic vision. Only available until February 24th, 2024 online, from Canada
- Attend the Leonard Cohen Memorial Concert: Each year, Montreal hosts a free public concert in his honour on the anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s passing (November 7). The event typically features local musicians and artists performing some of Cohen’s most famous songs and is a great way to pay tribute to the man and his music.
- Visit Leonard Cohen Place: In 2017, Montreal officially renamed a stretch of St. Dominique Street in the Mile End neighbourhood after Leonard Cohen. The newly christened Leonard Cohen Place is home to a mural featuring some of Cohen’s most famous lyrics and a bench where fans can sit and reflect.
- Walk down the trendy Crescent Street and find your perfect photo of the mural.
- Make a trip to his tombstone. Walk up Mont-Royal Avenue, part of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, and partially a pedestrian street in the summer. Be sure to use your GPS once you get into the residential area.
I hope these suggestions help you learn more about the life and legacy of Leonard Cohen in Montreal. Enjoy your exploration of this wonderful city!
Where is Leonard Cohen Buried
Leonard Cohen’s grave is located in Montreal at the Shaar Hashomayim Cemetery. The cemetery is located at 1250 Chemin de la Forêt in the Westmount neighbourhood of the city.
If you want to visit the cemetery and pay your respects to Cohen, there are a few things to remember. First, the cemetery is private property, so you’ll need to check the hours of operation before you go. The cemetery is generally open to the public from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, seven days a week.
Where is Leonard Cohen’s grave, and how to find it
Visiting his grave can be a moving and meaningful experience if you’re a big Leonard Cohen fan. Just be sure to respect the rules and regulations of the cemetery, and remember to be quiet and respectful of other visitors who may be there to pay their respects.
- Know the location: The Shaar Hashomayim Cemetery is at 1250 Chemin de la Forêt in Westmount, Quebec. Cohen’s grave is in the family plot near the back of the cemetery.
- Use a map: You can find a cemetery map online or at the cemetery’s entrance. Look for Section J2 on the map, where the Cohen family plot is located. The grave is located in the northwest corner of this section.
- Look for the headstone: Leonard Cohen’s grave is marked by a simple headstone that reads “Leonard Cohen / 1934-2016 / Father – Poet – Musician.” The grave is usually adorned with flowers, notes, and other tributes that fans leave.
- Ask for help: If you have trouble finding the grave, don’t hesitate to ask the cemetery staff for assistance. They are usually happy to help visitors locate specific gravesites.