Community Sustains Montreal’s The Word Bookstore

The word 3

The Word Bookstore is located at 469 Rue Milton, Montreal, Quebec. 

Only two blocks east of McGill University is The Word, one of Montreal’s premiere independent bookstores with a history as exciting as its academic neighbor. The Word bears a simple and modest exterior that can be easily mistaken for another apartment within the McGill student ghetto. On the inside, however, its walls of literature, local poetry, and unique atmosphere amaze customers.

The Word began as a secondhand book-selling business conducted by Adrian King-Edwards, an English literature student at McGill in the 1970’s. Adrian, along with his wife Lucille Friesen, housed the operation in their own apartment next door to The Word’s current location. They gained a strong clientele by selling affordable books to their friends within the McGill community. After a year and a half, the opportunity to acquire a rented space presented itself: the Chinese laundromat next door closed down. The couple wasted no time in acquiring the perfect location, and thirty-eight years later The Word is still at 469 Rue Milton.

What began as a literary collection assembled at various thrift sales throughout Montreal has grown into a vast array of eclectic material. While The Word has books to pique anyone’s interest, the store caters mostly to McGill students. Graduate students and professors also visit for hard-to-find texts, as The Word maintains a focus on specific academic fields, especially philosophy.

King-Edwards notes how independent bookstores are able to “respond immediately to the market in front of them.” For The Word that market is the McGill community. Focusing on the needs of its academic clientele has allowed The Word to flourish despite the current trend towards online book purchasing. Students and scholars know they will find that special text without the need to search online.

Montreal’s literary scene is another defining focus. While in its apartment-infancy, The Word housed many impromptu poetry readings with local writers, and the tradition continues today. It no longer hosts underground poetry assemblies, but The Word maintains close ties with Montreal’s poets by highlighting their work in-store with a special section reserved exclusively for local poetry.  The works of Mark Abley, Geoffrey Cook, Mary di Michele and other Montreal-based writers are proudly on display, with new arrivals frequently added. Recognizing the unique bilingual culture of Montreal, The Word also features French literature, such as the work of Boris Vian, David Montrose, and others.

Small and inconspicuous, The Word offers a singular literary experience to anyone lucky enough to venture inside. Few other bookstores have the same welcoming presence while still maintaining a scholarly concentration.