Weekly Writing Challenge: Montreal’s iconic outside staircases


This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge theme is Iconic. Montreal has its fair share of cultural icons, from the cross atop Mont-Royal to the beacon on Place Ville Marie; from Schwartz’ smoked meat to Montreal bagels, the 24 Stanley Cup banners suspended from the rafters of the BELL Centre to the outside stairs, they all scream Montreal.

It’s the stairs I want to focus on today. The often photographed and otherwise depicted outside staircases that are so numerous in various districts in Montreal. But what if they could, if not speak, express themselves in writing.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Sure, it’s all fine and dandy to say we’re iconic but sometimes being an icon isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Let’s go right back to the beginning, when those  frugal Scottish immigrants were arriving by the boat load. Some of them, the well-off, settled in mansions in what is now known as the “Golden Square Mile” and guess what? You won’t find one outside staircase on any of those giant places,  oh no.  But many of these same Scots bought properties to rent out in less affluent areas and, being wise businessmen, realized that by putting the stairs outside, more room was available inside and more rooms equaled more tenants which meant more rent. All wonderful unless you’re a staircase. Did I mention it gets cold here? How would you like to be an iron structure outside in minus 35 degree weather with nothing but a coco-mat and a bit of coarse salt flung on you for warmth? Icons indeed!

But that’s not the worst, no way!  At least we get a little fun out of watching folks try to maneuver down us when we are slippery and perhaps they’ve had a drink or two. Many’s the time we so-called iconic staircases have been bent out of shape with laughter at the sight of someone coming down our bendy length on their posterior; and the foul language … my goodness. Another treat is the occasional kid who decides to test out whether his tongue really will stick to frozen metal. Go ahead, make my day, give it a try!

The more irksome aspect of being an iconic outside Montreal staircase is the constant paparazzi snapping shots of us. With or without coco-mat, snow laden or in need of a coat of paint. It’s all the same, they don’t even ask. Just to get a few hundred more post cards for visiting tourists to mail home. Do we see any of that money? Nope, we should be happy just being icons I guess.

Then the weather breaks and it gets warm and who shows up in droves? The artistic community, of course. With their easels and sketch books, they spend the summer “capturing” us – as if we could move or get away if we wanted to. Many of those paintings attract  buyers with deep pockets at Montreal galleries. Again, nothing our way. We had thought of forming a union to protest this, but it never came to anything, just a (dare I say it?) flight of fancy.

Maybe the only thing as close to us when it comes to  icons is the Montreal, oft referred to as a city of renters, tradition of having the vast majority of leases expire on June 30th leading to – July 1st, known  not only as Canada day, but Moving Day as well. Up and down the hot, humid streets people jockey for parking spots for their vans and trailers full of their belongings. Then the fun begins as huge modern-day refrigerators, wall units and sectional sofas need to be brought up my three flights, built when ice boxes were the norm. Again we have swearing, mostly of a religious bent. But hats off to IKEA, they package things very well, almost nothing comes out when a box slides down one of us after being dropped in an attempt to make it fit round one of our twists!

So the next time you see a post card with our picture on, make a point to visit us in person, because once you get to know us, we’re not  really all that bad, griping aside. But just ask before taking our picture, please.

Published by DCMontreal

DCMontreal - Deegan Charles Stubbs - is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

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