Bens Deli, Montreal, 1908 – 2006: a lost icon

by Leslie Hossack

Closed for Good, Bens Deli, Montreal 2007

 

The barstools can still be seen through the union posters pasted to the windows. CTVNews/Canada/20061215/montreal_deli

 

Vacant Stool, Bens Deli, Montreral 2007

© Leslie Hossack

These two photographs were taken the month after Bens officially closed in December 2006. Today, nothing remains of the famous Montreal institution; the building was completely demolished in 2008.

Bens Delicatessen & Restaurant was in operation for almost a century. At 98 years of age, it was the oldest deli in Montreal when it closed. Originally founded by Ben and Fanny Kravitz in 1908, the restaurant was passed to their son, Irving. After he died, Bens was run by Irving’s widow, Jane Kravitz, and her son Elliott.

The building that housed Ben´s Delicatessen was constructed in 1950 at corner of Metcalfe and de Maisonneuve. This was the restaurant’s third location. Here the furnishings and the long deli counter were reminiscent of a classic postwar diner. For more information about this mid-century building please visit heritagemontreal.org/en/bens-delicatessen

Bens was famous for its smoked meat sandwiches and its celebrity cliental, including Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and poet/musician Leonard Cohen. However, in the final years of its operation, it was mainly die-hard regulars and nostalgic ex-pats who visited the 1950s-style diner.

In 2007, I photographed more than 30 diners, both vintage and contemporary. These include classics such as The Templeton in Vancouver and lost icons such as Bens in Montreal. This is a study of retro diners from Atlantic Canada to the Pacific Coast.

Public spaces and familiar items from previous generations fascinate me. I love the way the camera allows me to attribute elevated status to everyday objects and places, to portray the inclusive as exclusive – even diners.

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