The Word is an independent secondhand bookstore located on Milton Street two blocks east of McGill University in the heart of downtown Montreal. McGill Metro is only a five-minute walk away and metered parking is available three blocks from the store on Park Avenue.
The Word Bookstore specializes in literature, philosophy and poetry. We also carry a unique assortment of books in such fields as drama, history, political science, theology, Eastern religion, and art. A section located at the front of the store beneath a framed black and white photo of Leonard Cohen highlights the latest work of Montreal poets. Take a glance at the shelf below and you’ll find a wide array of Canadian literary magazines, independent books sold on consignment, and student-produced zines. The shopper on a tight budget need look no further than our one-dollar shelf and fifty-cent pile where fresh books of all kinds are added on a daily basis. Indeed, regular customers will tell you that they have built entire libraries out of the gems they have plucked from these sections alone. They may also tell you that an afternoon spent browsing at The Word is often an exercise in serendipity: wander in looking for a Jonathan Franzen novel and leave with an unusual edition of The Odyssey that has eluded you for years. Or, dive into our new arrivals section, open a hardcover, and discover a yellowed newspaper clipping featuring an interview with your favourite author tucked away in the back pages.
The Word Bookstore was founded by Adrian King-Edwards and Lucille Friesen in 1975. However, it was far from their first foray into the book business. The couple, who had first met at McGill University, had spent the previous summer hawking paperbacks out of their VW van in Northern British Columbia. Upon returning to Montreal, they taped a photo of George Bernard Shaw to their front window and set up an underground bookstore in the living room of their Milton Street apartment. Thus, when The Word opened its doors for the first time, the McGill students and poets who had frequented the apartment next door for bi-weekly poetry readings and impromptu literary salons were among their first customers. Over the years, The Word has become a citywide institution, frequently ranking as the number one secondhand bookstore in the Montreal Mirror’s annual Best of Montreal list. In 2009, the Quebec Writers’ Federation presented Friesen and King-Edwards with the QWF community award in honour of the couple’s contribution to local literary culture.
Housed in a 19th century brick building with a main floor a little larger than your average living room, The Word offers a pleasant reprieve from the crowded and chaotic modern shopping experience. The store has changed very little since it first opened. So little in fact, that former customers who return after years abroad often tell us that they feel as if they have travelled back in time. There are still no computers or electronic cash registers and calls are still made on a rotary phone. On a frosty December afternoon you’re still likely to spot someone curled up in the antique armchair beside the warm gas stove, reading a mystery novel. And, of course, shelves overflowing with hundreds of books still run from floor to ceiling on every wall. Although the books are sorted and shelved meticulously, there are still no signs to indicate where one section ends and the other begins. In fact, a passer-by on Milton Street for the first time will probably note that The Word doesn’t even have a sign on the front of the building. What better place to find a hidden treasure you didn’t know you were looking for?