As we mark the 150th birthday of Canada – rare are references to it as our sesquicentennial, thank God – we are also celebrating the city of Montreal’s 375th anniversary. But for me the most enjoyable reminiscences have been those documenting the 50th anniversary of EXPO 67.
As a seven year-old the huge World’s Fair was a pure joy for me. Thinking back to those days often tweaks a pang of nostalgia in me. Not surprisingly there is a plethora of tweaking going on as many exhibits and special events are running this summer. While I enjoy these formal presentations, what I find most heartwarming are posted photos of EXPO 67 that were taken by average visitors.
As an example this collection on Flickr comprises over a hundred photos that were found in a scrapbook on the street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I figure sooner or later I will come across a picture with me in the background.
One of the things that has struck me while looking through many photos, is the seemingly total lack of corporate branding at the fair. There were corporate pavilions; Kodak, BELL etc. But when it came to branding there was little if any. No Doritos pavilion of the United States or Stella Artois’ Belgium pavilion.
Given our reliance on corporate branding in today’s overpriced world, this is a breath of fresh air. I know it would be folly to suggest another EXPO 67-like event for any number of reasons, perhaps this is a good thing as another such event would no doubt be riddled with corporate logos and slogans.
Another thing that comes to mind while looking at these photos is that although there were lines for many pavilions (remember admission was free once you entered the site, no fee-per-exhibit) there never seems to be overwhelming crowds. It always looks comfortable – or is that an illusion after fifty years – even if over 53 million visitors dropped in that summer.
The Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is introducing a new wrinkle that is aimed at getting people on buses faster. They will allow passengers with unlimited passes – weekly, monthly, four-month or yearly – to board buses via the rear door. Commuters with a single fare or those paying cash will still have to use the front door.
There are restrictions aplenty; only the long articulated vehicles – commonly known as bendy buses – are involved, and only at Metro stations, and only between 5 a.m and 7 p.m.
Wow, that will no doubt result in a massive reduction in boarding time. However, I feel it incumbent upon myself to hereby inform the STM that this system has unofficially been in use at many Metro stations for years. When long lines form waiting in inclement weather – wet, cold, snowy or all of the above – it is not uncommon for folks to hop on through the back door, even on non-bendy buses.
I suspect the new system will have a means of checks and balances to weed out those just scamming a free ride. Undercover conductors to verify passes and transfers will be required. I believe that the majority of riders will observe the honour system, but there are always a few who take advantage.
It won’t surprise me if this does not result in a great improvement, given people have been doing it to some extent for years. Now if we can just build a Metro station turnstile that is too high to jump over and too low to get under we may be getting somewhere.
People often remark that Canadians are very polite. I think I would have to agree. For the most part we use the magic words – please and thank you – and of course we have been known to apologize from time to time. Yesterday I noticed a new aspect of our politeness when I passed a parked police car downtown and spotted a friendly warning on the rear window.
The window is equipped with bars on the inside to make sure no one kicks out the glass, and there is a partition between front and back seat. But what struck me was that printed on the window was a warning: attention à votre tête or watch your head when getting in.
Such a nice touch!
Dear President Obama,
We are pleased that you are coming to visit us in Montreal. I thought I would take a moment to give you a little background on what to expect. We live in an officially French-speaking province in a country that is officially bilingual; French and English. But at street-level most Montrealers get by just fine in a variety of languages and dialects. But please do not tell anyone, we like to keep that a bit of a secret.
Our political views run the gamut – left to right and everything in between. However keep in mind that up here everything is shifted just a wee bit to the left. In fact, given this cultural adjustment, it may well be the first time in a long time that you, Mr. President, find yourself the most conservative politician in a room.
This year the City of Montreal celebrates its 375th anniversary while Canada marks its 150 birthday. You may notice, as you are whisked about the city, many streets closed-off for various festivities. You may therefore be tempted to think that these people are putting on quite a party for their anniversaries, but in fact things are like this most summers in Montreal. It’s a long winter so we tend to make the most of summer. Coming back for the Jazz Festival?
It is my understanding that the United States Secret Service is responsible for your safety. I strongly suggest you make certain they have the absolute most up-to-date GPS information in their vehicles We have been known to have construction related detours with their very own detours! Not that your motorcade will get stuck in traffic what with police escorts and all, but when you send a trusted Agent out for a snack or a pack of smokes, he or she may become enmeshed in our annual Festival of the Construction Cones.
I have a hunch the local police assigned to your visit may be in full uniform – at least if the mayor has his way – but should you notice a police officer wearing a bright red baseball cap, bullet-proof vest, and shocking pink camouflage pants please take no notice. Labour disputes can take some odd forms here. But let’s face it, cammo pants are a whole lot better that a police strike.
On the topic of food, no doubt there will be calls for you to be photographed eating poutine, bagels or smoked meat. Try to avoid these kitschy shots. Montreal has a wide range of restaurants serving great meals from all over the world, Perhaps a photo at a Latin American cafe might fit the bill. Or better yet, skip the whole photo nonsense entirely and have a quiet meal brought in.
In closing let me welcome you to Montreal. I hope you enjoy whatever time you have here, I believe you will find you are much admired in my city. As for your successor, well, perhaps the less said the better, after all, we are having a party!
If it wasn’t bad enough to have a video of Montreal buses slipping and sliding on a snowy street go viral last winter, the latest kerfuffle caused by street paving contractors is getting even more Internet play. Recently a main artery through the city was being repaved. One car was left behind. Had this been a snow removal operation the car would have been ticketed and towed away to allow for proper clearing.
In a photo akin to the old white-line-over-the-dead-animal shot – usually captioned “It’s not my job” – a paving contractor went around the parked car, rather than wait for a tow-truck to remove it. Not a trace of logic to be found!
In the late 1840s Ireland was in the throes of what has become known as the Great Potato Famine. Though what was so great about it is a mystery to me. Sadly many were forced to leave the Old Sod and head off for new lives in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and, Montreal. That sounds much easier than it was.
Passage was hardly cruise ship style and many died en route, having contracted typhus. So horrific was the loss of life that the vessels came to be known as coffin ships, their human cargo unloaded and moved to hastily built fever sheds.
More than 6000 Irish migrants died in these sheds. Subsequently workers who were erecting the Victoria Bridge came upon a mass grave. In 1859 a large monument, the Irish Commemorative Stone, known more commonly if less creatively as Black Rock, was set in place to commemorate the nameless victims.
To this day the ground is considered sacred by Montreal’s vibrant Irish community. Every spring there is a march from St. Gabriel’s parish to the Black Rock to pay respect to the victims there buried and ensure their memory survives.
There is a piece of land, a green space, located very close to the rock that all three levels of government informally promised to the Irish community as a memorial park to which the Rock could be moved. Currently the rock is located on a median between two lanes of traffic making access tricky at best, and downright dangerous at worst. However recently it was announced that Hydro Quebec had bought the land to build a power station for a transit system project.
Not surprisingly Montreal’s Irish feel they have been betrayed and scammed and are making a kerfuffle about it. On a couple of occasions city mayor Denis Coderre, who was this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade Grand Marshall, promised to “champion” the park project.
Calling Mayor Coderre.
Perhaps hizzoner has a trick up his sleeve to make things right. Or it may be too late. The annual march is this Sunday. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but I’ve got to think that a community of Irish descendants who feel scorned by some old sod may just cause some grief.
As for building a power station on land abutting a mass grave of Irish immigrants, I believe the potential for banshees and Little People to cause construction havoc is great. To say nothing of problems over the years to come.