From the Ashes of Heroin Addiction to the Pinnacle of Viceland

Montreal Gazette frames today's A&E channel launch with some fascinating hometown history.

We’ve read a number of enlightening articles and profiles leading up to today’s launch of A&E channel Viceland. But in many ways, the Internet saved the best for last.

T’cha Dunlevy, a reporter for the Montreal Gazette whose very first post-university writing assignment was a review of a rap music album for the original weekly print incarnation of Vice in that city – Voice of Montreal – uncorked a fantastic history lesson over the weekend. Most of the lengthy piece is devoted to Vice co-founder Suroosh Alvi. Now 46, Alvi recounts candidly how it started from the depths of drug addiction:

Creating a magazine was beyond the scope of Alvi’s wildest ambitions. He was a recovering heroin addict with a B.A. in philosophy from McGill followed by a truncated attempt at grad school in Toronto. (“I was completely strung out; I dropped out.”) He went on welfare, enrolled in Narcotics Anonymous and began pulling himself together.

Born in Toronto to immigrant Pakistani professors, Alvi spent his teen years in Minnesota before settling in Montreal, when his mother, Sajida Alvi, began teaching at McGill’s Institute of Islamic Studies; his father, Sabir Alvi, taught education at the University of Toronto.

“In treatment, we had a writing exercise: What do you want to do when you’re out?” Alvi recalled. “I actually wrote, ‘I’d like to work for a magazine along the lines of the Mirror or Hour, but they would never give me a job because I’ve never done it before.”

He emerged from the program, found a tiny apartment in the McGill ghetto and attended daily Narcotics Anonymous meetings. But there were two hitches: He didn’t have a sponsor, and had no idea what he was going to do with his life.

The events that immediately followed are of a career-break kind that still, to a degree, happen today. But arguably with far less frequency.

Dunlevy’s article also showcases a number of great photos, including one from the Gazette archives that shows Shane Smith at Vice’s Montreal HQ in 2007. We also imagine that the reporter had an insider’s hand in the hilarious caption within the piece for an embedded interactive Vice timeline. The caption reads: ‘It is hard to overstate just how much of a bad idea Vice was when it started.’

From a U.S. perspective, there is a lot of detailed and intriguing information here as well about the make-up and growth of Vice Canada. Read-bookmark Dunlevy’s fantastic feature here.

Previously on FishbowlNY:
This Shane Smith Sports a Disney Tattoo