Marche Ventura sits on the corner of Duluth and Clark. The small, vibrant building stands out from the adjacent grey establishments that border its entrance. One of many Montreal deps frequented by the McGill community, Marche Ventura has something about it that hints at a micro-universe in its doors. Maybe it’s the brilliant abstract paintings that are lined up against the window, or maybe it’s the piles of canvases above the fridge. But really, it’s Harry, the soul of the corner store, who sets the place apart. Inside its doors, the radio’s soft rock competes with the insistent hum of the lights, providing a gentle soundtrack to Harry’s words of wisdom that filter in and out like customers in the store. In one moment, he’s asking if you need a bag, and in the next, he’s describing the difference between black and white holes in outer space. In the short breaks of the nightly rush, Harry shakes plastic bottles of neon pinks, oranges, and blues; using every last drop of paint, he covers a canvas in thick layers of colour.
At thirteen, Harry moved to Montreal with his family from South America. Still astounded by the speed of his immigration process, he told the Bull & Bear, “One day, I’m in a village barefoot and the next day, I’m here in school.” Both “a shock and a fantasy,” his move to Montreal seems, in a way, like the natural order of things – as if he was here before and will be here after. With a gentle shake of his head and a smile, he stated, “Montreal is home, that energy in Montreal, it’s right here.”
He described how, when he went to pour the paint on the canvas, a heat went up from his hand, to his arm, and then warmed his whole body.
Standing between metal shelves of soaps and aluminium foil, he turned both palms upwards to the ceiling and announced, “Feel it, feel that tingling sensation, that warm feeling that buzzes and runs up your arm,” effectively bringing all those around him into the same rhythm of connectedness and calm. It s Qigong meditation and painting that Harry called “the healing arts” where he is “learning to relax and just get lost in it.”
The first time Harry painted was five years ago. He described how, when he went to pour the paint on the canvas, a heat went up from his hand, to his arm, and then warmed his whole body. The next day, he told an artist friend of his who immediately dropped off more canvas, paint, and brushes for him to use. Jokingly, Harry explained, “I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t even tell colour from colour.”
However, instead of dismissing the pleasure and “healing light” he felt from putting paint on canvas, he kept at it, the philosophy he shared being, “practice, practice, practice.” Since then, Harry explained how he “got into lines on canvas, more geometric stuff, and even a few glow-in-the-dark with UV paint” that play with illusion and light. He confessed, “The other night, tripping away, I just thought, I can’t believe I did that.”
I don’t stop, I keep going and practicing different stuff.
Incredibly transformative, giving himself over to his craft has made Harry both calmer and more disciplined. He said, “Before I could do 10 a night, I was so energized. Now, when I start a piece I have to finish it, I have to, I have to – one piece took me three months. I stuck with it no matter what.” Whether it is throwing paint onto a blank canvas or closing his eyes to settle into a brief mediation, Harry’s focus and passion for art as practice and ritual spills out into the everyday conversations at the till and colours the otherwise grey walls of the corner store.
Since his christening into the art world, Marche Ventura has become a site to display Harry’s art: a space to showcase some of the countless paintings he’d otherwise have hidden back at home. Dreaming of an opportunity to showcase his works at a gallery, Harry said, “I don’t stop, I keep going and practicing different stuff.” The paintings are more of a manifestation of artistic practice than anything else. Even so, Harry describes that joy of “selling a piece, getting it out in the world [and yet] every time I sell a piece, I’m sad. I lose it forever. It’s gone, but oh man, what are you going to do?”
It’s almost magnetic how easily people gravitate to Harry, whether they are telling stories, asking questions, or just saying hey.
One night, a guy came into the dep, tripping on a hallucinogen, and was completely mesmerized by one of Harry’s pieces. Harry retold the story to the Bull & Bear, laughing. “He paid $500 and took it right away… I’m his soul brother now.” While Harry’s art has surely enabled an even closer engagement with the neighbourhood, it’s perhaps the internal healing and connection within himself that sparked this intimate sense of community that emanates from the dep.
It feels like a place at the heart of a community, holding the stories of Montrealers before us, and likely after us.
It is through art, through talking to people, and through connection that Marche Ventura has become a local hub of artistic creativity. It’s almost magnetic how easily people gravitate to Harry, whether they are telling stories, asking questions, or just saying hey. They filter in, offer him a cigarette or a drink, ask him about his day, or comment on the newest painting up against the window. It feels like a place at the heart of a community, holding the stories of Montrealers before us, and likely after us. The healing power of art for Harry has become this “brilliant light at the centre” of a community that so closely resembles his paintings. Difficult to capture in words, that affective charge that Harry opens his hands up to gives materiality to that beat in our chests in time and captures the expansive possibility of art and of communal connection. More than just another dep that provides the McGill and Montreal community with drinks and nighttime snacks, Marche Ventura is a bustling space, filled with energy, creativity, and colour that only Harry could create.