WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: Alessia M.
Danièle-Jocelyne Otou, co-founder of Female Department and communications manager of Apathy is Boring
Danièle-Jocelyne Otou shot by photographer Naskademini. (Photo credit courtesy of @danii__jo on Instagram, shot by @Naskademini)
Otou was born in Dakar, Senegal, to Cameroonian parents. Raised in Outremont, she now calls Westmount home. Otou is the co-founder of the Montreal-based women’s collective Female Department that hosts community and networking events. The Concordia University graduate also works full time as communications manager of the youth-led non-profit Apathy is Boring, which aims to encourage youth engagement and voting.
Tip for Montreal women in your field: Since I’m a hybrid of both, this advice applies to both entrepreneurs and young professionals: That magical intersection I’m speaking of isn’t one that you can find on a map. The people who find it are those who are willing to do the gritty, ugly, but oh-so necessary self-work required to endure the challenges of walking your own path. Read books, listen to podcasts, learn, unlearn, reach out to like-minded women who are willing to take you in – fake it until you make it. Your business, your career, your relationships will only be as good as yourself. By showing up every single day as the woman you want to be, you’ll eventually become her.
Her go-to Montreal Spots
Eat: Lavanderia on Victoria Avenue. Their brunches, lunches, and dinners are equally mouth-watering.
Night out: I’m a 90s baby so not many night clubs I grew up loving are still open (RIP Orchid, Exit, & Vogue). But Santos will always do it for me music and vibe wise.
Wellness: Victoria Park for Spin & Circuits, Enso & Modo Yoga for my ‘Om’ time, Mama Oracle for Reiki, The Resonance Temple (Sarah Surrenders) for Sound Baths, & St. Joseph’s Oratory for some recollection.
Live music: Diese Onze on St. Denis. Tiny little hole in the wall, but lovely place.
Arts: Never Apart. A stunning space and gallery, with phenomenally well-curated, diverse art.
Favourite thing about your neighbourhood: The fact that I get the suburb feel/experience while still in the city. Also, Monkland Ave during the summer is a dream.
Your best kept go-to secret in the city: Buy your organic skincare and food at ethnic stores. The little African hair store on Queen Mary will sell you pure coconut oil for $15 less than Pharmaprix, and you’ll find just as good a face mask at the little Asian store as you would at Sephora.
Over hyped: Most restaurants in the Old Port, with the exception of a few. Not only are they overpriced, they’re basic af. Step out of the tourist traps for the real olfactory gems.
Favourite view or place to people watch: TamTam Sundays on the mountain. The joy and easygoingness of everyone there is beautifully contagious.
Happy place: While I’m not a fan of its food, Old Montreal’s charm during the summer gets me every time.
Advice to her younger self: You.are.enough.
Florence Gagnon, founder and publisher of LSTW magazine, executive producer and co-creator of Féminin/Féminin web series
Florence Gagnon at the Jean-Talon Market.
Issues of Lez Spread the Word magazine. (Photo credit courtesy of Lez Spread the Word)
Raised in Laval, Gagnon now lives in Little Italy. A Concordia BFA graduate, Gagnon is the founder and publisher of LSTW (Lez Spread the Word) magazine, a bilingual print magazine that produces content by and for queer women. Gagnon is also the co-creator (along with Cannes-nominated Chloé Robichaud who directs the series) and executive producer of Féminin/Féminin, a web series about queer Montreal women. The French-language show got picked up by Radio-Canada’s streaming platform ICI Tou.tv, France Télévisions in Europe, and Amazon and Hulu in the US.
Neighbourhood: Little Italy
Tip for Montreal women in your field: Focus on what makes you unique.
Her go-to Montreal Spots
Eat: Pick-up Dépanneur, Fortune and Arthur’s Nosh Bar
Drink: Brasserie Harricana
Wellness: Lululemon Mile-End (I hang out + we organize events like a LSTW running club & yoga club).
Shopping fix: Ex-Voto on Saint-Laurent
Live music: Bar Le Ritz PDB
Arts: Never Apart
Favourite thing about your neighbourhood: Jean Talon Market & all the amazing bars
Your best kept go-to secret in the city: Never Apart’s pool in the summer
Over hyped: Restaurant L’Avenue on Mont-Royal (why?)
Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed, CityNews journalist, Montreal Gazette and Huffington Post writer, and founder of CanadianMomEh.com
Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed at the Citytv studios.
Born in Montreal to Pakistani and Indian immigrant parents, Naqvi-Mohamed grew up in Dollard-des-Ormeaux , Kirkland, and Pierrefonds. After spending five years in Toronto, Naqvi-Mohamed now once again calls the West Island home. A Concordia communications and journalism graduate, Naqvi-Mohamed is a video journalist at CityNews. She produces and hosts a segment called DiverseCity, which goes behind the scenes of Montreal’s cultural communities. She is the first hijab-wearing television journalist in Quebec’s history and the second in Canada. Naqvi-Mohamed equally writes a weekly Friday column for the Montreal Gazette, writes for the Huffington Post, and is the founder and editorial director of the diversity blog CanadianMomEh.com.
Neighbourhood: West Island
Tip for Montreal women in your field: My advice is to work hard and focus on your own self growth. Try not to get distracted by what others are doing or with comparing yourself to others. It’s not worth it. Strive to beat the person you were yesterday. By producing good, quality content, being professional and keeping in the know, you never know whose attention you might catch.
Her go-to Montreal Spots
Eat: Some of my favourite Montreal spots are Monza for Italian and Basha for Lebanese. For fun food it would be Jack Astor’s. For Mexican it’s 3 Amigos and for desserts it’s Juliette & Chocolat.
Shopping fix: I am an Indigo-a-holic. It is my guilty pleasure. Back when I was in university, when I would be in the thick of exams, I would purchase a couple of books and then as soon as my exams were done, I would devour them. I also have an obsession with pretty books, notebooks, stationary as well as a recent obsession with nice mugs (with cute slogans).
Favourite thing about your neighbourhood: I love the diversity that can be found in Pierrefonds. I spend a lot of time in and around the West Island. I love how family friendly, spacious, and clean it is.
Your best kept go-to secret in the city: Al-Taib on Guy. It was my favourite go to spot during my university days. It was cheap, healthy and delicious. Whenever I am downtown with my kids, we find ourselves picking up food from Al-Taib. In terms of my favourite place to take family visiting from out of town, it would be La Grande Roue de Montreal or anything at the Old Port.
Over hyped: Olympic Stadium
Favourite view or place to people watch: My family and I spent a lot of time taking friends and family to St. Joseph’s Oratory growing up, I still love walking around its grounds. Right up there as well would be the view from Mont Royal.
Advice to her younger self: Work hard and keep your head down. The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday. Never be afraid to dream big. Shoot for the moon in everything you do, if even you miss, you’ll still end up in the stars. Learn to perfect the art of the pivot. There will be ups, and there will be downs. No matter how hard things get, go to sleep and know that with a new day comes a unique opportunity to chart a new path. Don’t let what others may think of you define who you are or what you do. Often how someone treats you says more about them than about you. Last but not least, life is short, enjoy the ride and whenever possible, don’t sweat the small stuff.
Grece Ghanem, personal trainer, fashion blogger and model
Grece Ghanem shot by her daughter. (Photo credits courtesy of @greceghanem Instagram, shot by @cheyenne.el.khoury)
After a master’s degree in microbiology from the American University of Beirut and 26 years as a personal trainer, Ghanem now pursues a career as a fashion blogger and model. Born in Zorzor, Liberia, and raised in Lebanon, Ghanem has called Montreal home since 2005.
Tip for Montreal women in your field: Age is just a number. It’s about how you feel inside. It’s about self-confidence. Stay visible, curious, connected with your childhood and live your dreams. You are alive, everything is possible.
Her go-to Montreal Spots
Eat: Le Bon Vivant, Makro, Grinder, Tri Express and Park
Drink: The Cloakroom and Bar George
Coffee: Christian Faure (best chocolate almond croissants to accompany a double espresso)
Wellness: Sweat FX Infrared sauna studio
Arts: The McCord Museum, because they host a lot of fashion related exhibits like the Balenciaga show.
Favourite thing about your neighbourhood: I love that I live downtown around the action, especially in the summer, yet I can easily go for a jog on Mount Royal or partake in winter activities like snow shoeing. I enjoy the proximity to nature and the ability to easily go for a quick escape while still experiencing the bustle of the city.
Your best kept go-to secret in the city: Saint Michel Flea Market for vintage finds, from clip-on earrings to gold framed mirrors. And Gnocchi Della Nonna, a small hole in the wall on Fairmont that serves authentic and delicious gnocchi for $5.
Happy place: The Atwater Market, all four seasons.
Advice to her younger self: I wish I had enjoyed every moment to the maximum and I wish I had more patience.
Vanessa Grimaldi, Founder of No Better You and host of Help! I Suck at Dating podcast
Vanessa Grimaldi at the Lachine Canal.
After graduating from Concordia and the University of Ottawa, Grimaldi spent several years as a special education teacher at the Galileo Adult Education Centre in Montreal. Born and raised in Saint-Leonard, the Italian-Canadian then went on to win the reality TV series The Bachelor. With her newfound fame and platform, she created No Better You, a foundation that aims to advance special education by providing specialized tools and programs for schools in Montreal. The foundation has already built four sensory rooms at four different schools across the city. After spending a year in LA, Grimaldi recently moved back and resettled in Old Montreal. Along with running the charity, Grimaldi co-hosts the podcast Help! I Suck at Dating on iHeartRadio with other Bachelor alum.
Neighbourhood: Old Port
Tip for Montreal women in your field: Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid of being turned down. Don’t be afraid of what the person next to you is doing. Don’t be afraid of what someone will think about you or say about you. At the end of the day, there is no other and no better you.
Her go-to Montreal Spots
Eat: Le Bremner, Tapeo, Fiorellino, Beatrice, Escondite and Mandy’s
Drink: Le Richmond
Coffee: My dad’s bakery, Bemol et Levain
Night out: Joverse, Burgundy Lion
Wellness: Exercise: JB Naturopath Gym. Beauty: Blunt Coiffure and Le Manoir. Spa: Le Balnea and Spa St James.
Spirituality: Sivananda Yoga and Saint Joseph’s Oratory
Nature: Walks in the Old Port, Mount Royal runs, biking on the Lachine canal
Live music: The Jazz Festival
Arts: Just For Laughs Festival. I never miss it and never will
Favourite thing about your neighbourhood: Being able to be walking distance to everything, from food to shopping to nightlife. And being so central that UberEats is accessible to all my favourite restaurants
Your best kept go-to secret in the city: It wouldn’t be a secret if I told you. (My favourite poutine is from Mcdonald’s)
Over hyped: I’m too in love with my city to think of something
Montreal pro-tip: Walk, rent a bike or a scooter to enjoy the beautiful summer weather and get to your destination a lot faster. Montreal traffic and street closures can be crazy. And make use of our amazing metro system
Favourite place to people watch: Walking up Mount Royal to the lookout and St Hubert Plaza
Happy place: My home in the Old Port. It was always a dream of mine to live here and I couldn’t be any happier.
Advice to her younger self: Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone has a story and we are all dealing with life in different ways even if we may not show it. Don’t be afraid to colour outside of the lines and don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
Note: Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.