Cycling, DCMontreal Commentary, DCMontreal Light, driving, History, Montreal, Nostalgia, Opinion, Public Transit

Road Configurations Then And Now

It’s a popular topic on local radio talk shows, especially as this is an election year in Montreal. Of course, I refer to street configurations. Our current mayor, one Valérie Plante, is at best not a fan of cars. At worst she is downright anti-car. Since her election four years ago she has overseen the disappearance of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of parking spots in the city.

As she seeks a second term her project to make downtown Montreal’s main commercial thoroughfare a pedestrian mall is well underway. With any luck she will be defeated in November and her destruction of downtown can be aborted.

However, pedestrian malls are far from the only new use of roads. Many streets in Montreal have been re-divided to include bicycle lanes. Perhaps the most notorious of these rejigged streets is rue St. Denis. In fact, the merchants association threatened to sue the city over the issue.

But the plan went ahead. A very popular north-south artery, that was already dealing with significant traffic woes, went from two lanes of vehicles in each direction with parking on both sides, to one lane of traffic in each direction with parking on both sides and one lane of bicycles in each direction. Parallel parking a car now causes traffic delays all up and down the street.

But, it is one thing to reconstruct streets to accommodate both types of vehicle, and quite another thing to retrofit existing streets.

There are cities around the world with successful interactions between driver and cyclists. Bicycle lanes are not unique to Montreal. But, it is one thing to reconstruct streets to accommodate both types of vehicle, and quite another thing to retrofit existing streets. In many of the world’s cycling meccas the streets have been configured in a way that bikes and cars never, or rarely, interact.

Mind you, our current day politicians did not create ridiculous roadway layouts. In the photo above, my grandparents stand on the street where I live. They are going to, or coming from, an Armistice Day (now Remembrance Day), ceremony. It is believed it was taken sometime during the second world war, while their son, my uncle , was overseas. But the thing I want to point out is in the background. Not a bicycle lane, but fully grown trees smack in the middle of the street!

By the time I came to be, those trees had long been removed, yet I recall people talking about them. I hope they were taken down intentionally, and not felled by an unsuspecting motorist turning the corner to find a large tree in the street. Bicycles or trees, streets should be left to cars and trucks.

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Humor, Marketing, Media, Montreal, Opinion

Comedians need not always be on

This year Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival is taking place under very different circumstances due to the COVID19 pandemic. No live audiences, everything online. Regardless, they are pushing ahead with a scaled-down schedule, including live shows from other cities. This festival has become an annual convention for comedy specialists. Anyone who is anyone in the business meets up here to see what’s new, and what can be done. Deals are made. contracts are signed. It is not just a funny event, it is a very important one.

However, even those who fall flat still get my respect as I cannot imagine many things scarier than standing in front of a room filled with people and trying to make them laugh.

For as long as I can recall, I have loved stand-up comedians. But only good stand-up comics of course. Watching a bad comic – not just one having a bad night, that sort of thing happens – is a combination of horror and embarrassment. However, even those who fall flat still get my respect as I cannot imagine many things scarier than standing in front of a room filled with people and trying to make them laugh.

That having been said, many comics do something that annoys me. When they are being interviewed about an upcoming show, as is almost a daily occurrence currently, or any other topic related to their career, they seem to feel that they have to perform. Just answer the questions and don’t try so hard to be funny.

It brings to mind the silly reaction may people have upon being introduced to an Irish person. For some reason when people hear an Irish accent (and I do not speak from experience) they seem to think it is alright to make a silly attempt at mimicking the accent with noises such as Ah-ta-ta-ta. No other accent induces this asinine reaction, just Irish.

… they are being interviewed about an upcoming show, as is almost a daily occurrence currently, or any other topic related to their career, they seem to feel that they have to perform. Just answer the questions and don’t try so hard to be funny.

Years ago the benchmark for stand-up was The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Being booked on the Carson show was a door opener; doing well was a step up; but being asked by Johnny to come over and sit for a moment was the ultimate. If Carson liked you, you were on your way.

Veteran comics would appear on Carson, do their bit, then join Johnny and Ed. But they left the routine out on the stage. The interview may well have been hilarious, but if a comedian tried too hard it was just embarrassing. Fortunately, this did not happen very often.

The same is true for press photos. Just look at the camera, perhaps smile, perhaps not, but don’t do something idiotic in an attempt to be funny solely because you seem to think it is expected of you

If an actor is being interviewed they respond to questions, they don’t play roles, they don’t act. Why do comedians feel they must be ‘on’ all the time? Not only is it usually not funny, but it demeans the professionalism of the craft.

Monty Python

The same is true for press photos. Just look at the camera, perhaps smile, perhaps not, but don’t do something idiotic in an attempt to be funny solely because you seem to think it is expected of you. Believe me, you just look stupid. There was perhaps no zanier group of comedians than Monty Python. Yet even they understood that what is funny during a skit, comes across as moronic in a studio photo.

Now – go on out there and make ’em laugh!!

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Navigating Downtown Montreal’s Pedestrian Maze

Last week I went downtown shopping for a gift for my wife’s birthday. As is my usual practice I had looked online first, found what I was looking for, determined that my local store had the product in stock, and made my way to the store to get it, pay for it, and get the hell out. Some would call this ‘male style shopping’, I just think it makes sense, particularly during what are, hopefully, the last dregs of a pandemic. I’m never one to spend any more time in a store than is absolutely necessary. I very much appreciate that some stores make it even easier to get in and get out by informing you online what aisle your item is in.

Being in the store was not a problem, as folks were well distanced and masks are still required. No, the problem was getting to the entrance of the store in the first place. The current mayor of Montreal is continuing with her plan to essentially turn a – if not the – main commercial downtown street into a pedestrian mall. (The election is in November, with any luck she will be ousted and this ridiculous concept can be scrapped before it has gone too far.) Add to this some major work just up the street on a light-rail transit station and the result is mayhem.

In an effort to rebuild their businesses, it is high time for Montreal’s hospitality industry to be … well … hospitable. All day happy hour prices?!?

Is it not bad enough that so many retail outlets along Ste. Catherine Street have succumbed to the pandemic? Shouldn’t we be focused on bending over backwards to encourage people to come back downtown? Why would consumers bother to go downtown, where they may or may not find one of the rapidly disappearing parking spots, only to have to navigate on foot a maze of closed and temporary sidewalks worthy of Hampton Court Palace to get to the store?

It’s almost as if a perfect storm of oddly-timed if not outright asinine decisions has transpired to push commercial establishments back down on their arses just as they struggle to get up off their COVID19-weary knees.

It gets worse: some downtown merchants recently floated the idea of going back to the pre-1989 era and not allow stores to open on Sundays. Is there any logic in suggesting that closing a commercial establishment would in some way help the recovery? Ideally the store owners should be lobbying the government for a change in the law that would allow them to keep their businesses open as long as they want in an effort to draw people.

Where are the ‘Welcome Back’ sales, ‘Post-Pandemic Savings’, and ‘It’s been tough, let’s help each other’ bargain bonanzas?

What is the reason cited for wanting to close on Sundays? A lack of workers. The staff is spread too thinly they claim. Did the pandemic take special aim at those who work in retail? Or did these people just realize that there are alternatives to minimum wage jobs? Forced to make career changes (or at least change jobs), many bar and restaurant staff, as well as retail workers are loath to return to the world of minimum wage.

No doubt restaurants and bars have paid a hefty price during the forced closure. But they can’t, upon reopening, hope to recover lost income on the backs of regular customers. In the same way that many employees realized during confinement that they could not just get by, but could in fact fare better, many regular patrons of Montreal’s numerous bars and restaurants found more dollars in their wallets when not visiting their usual watering holes.

In an attempt to rebuild their businesses, it is high time for Montreal’s hospitality industry to be … well … hospitable. All-day happy hour prices?!? Rather than going back to 1989 regulations, let’s go back to 1989 prices! That goes for retail as well. Where are the ‘Welcome Back’ sales, ‘Post-Pandemic Savings’, and ‘Thanks. It’s been tough, let’s help each other’ bargain bonanzas?

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McGill University And Cancel Culture

Recently the administrative powers that be at McGill University succumbed to pressure from cancel culture adherents and removed a statue of founder James McGill from the main campus. James McGill was not only the university’s founder, but was, like many wealthy folks of his vintage, an owner of slaves.

Does removing the statue erase this egregious past? Of course not. Times change, what is clearly seen as an horrific practice today was commonplace at one time.

So by all means let’s try to make that past go away by cleansing the current day. If we could go back in time and cancel slavery I’d be the first in line, but of course we can’t.

So by all means let’s try to make that past go away by cleansing the current day. If we could go back in time and cancel slavery I’d be the first in line, but of course we can’t.

Now that the statue is gone, what’s next? The school has already caved to the cancellers by changing the men’s sports team name from Redmen (referring to the school’s colour, not a derogatory sobriquet for indigenous peoples) to Redbirds (I hope the St. Louis Cardinals don’t take offense). Some people have suggested actually changing the name of the university from McGill to something less offensive. Like removing the statue, changing the name won’t alter or erase the past.

And if having the James McGill statue on campus and, in fact, calling the school McGill is so heinous, then I have to assume that those attending said institution must be absolutely abominable people.

And if having the James McGill statue on campus and, in fact, calling the school McGill is so heinous, then I have to assume that those attending said institution must be absolutely abominable people. What kind of folks would do such a thing? Especially if, as is the case with most students, they are actually paying tuition to this contemptible institution of higher education to be there. Forget about the high quality education, the state-of-the-art facilities and faculty, and the high international ranking.

Perhaps it should be suggested that prospective employers reject outright McGill graduates, such as myself, for being in any way associated with the school, albeit two centuries later.

Perhaps it should be suggested that prospective employers reject outright McGill graduates, such as myself, for being in any way associated with the school, albeit two centuries later. Should other universities refuse McGill diploma holders from their faculties based on the founder’s slave ownership?

The attempted erasure of previous ills is a recipe for disaster. Simply because they can’t be erased, clocks cannot be turned back. Rather, the recognition of such despicable acts needs to be ingrained in the minds of current population. Indeed, maybe the most loathsome example of racism in the last 200 years was the Holocaust. Yet survivors and their families don’t try to erase the past, but use it to urge people to Never Forget.

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COVID-19, DCMontreal Commentary, DCMontreal Light, Montreal, Opinion, Travel

Inform Restaurants If You Can’t Keep A Reservation

Bars and restaurants in Montreal are slowly getting back to business after the long pandemic-induced close down. It’s not a matter of lifting all restrictions, but enough that indoor eating can resume.

Sadly many restaurants couldn’t hang on until things started to reopen and have gone under. Even those establishments that have managed to survive COVID19 are not home free. A significant shortage of experienced staff is making reopening all the more difficult. Many restaurant staff, when faced with the loss of work due to closures, found other employment that they are not willing to give up.

It’s been a tough time; take a moment to let restaurants know if you can’t keep a reservation.

One of the other hindrances to reopening restaurants is no-shows. Part of the COVID19 reopening requires restaurants to insist on reservations. When a restaurant owner looks at his or her list of reservations for an evening, they can adjust staffing as required. However, when people who have made a reservation, but then don’t show up, the cost is borne by the restaurant.

In a former career, part of the service offered by our company involved luncheon meetings. Over the course of a decade or so, I probably made close to a thousand restaurant reservations at establishments right across Canada. It was not uncommon for these plans to be changed or cancelled.

I can’t think of one time when the person did not make a point of thanking me for letting them know.

I made a point of always contacting the restaurant to let them know that the reservation had to be cancelled. In addition, I can’t think of one time when the person did not make a point of thanking me for letting them know.

It’s been a tough time; take a moment to let restaurants know if you can’t keep a reservation.

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Advertising, Books, DCMontreal Commentary, DCMontreal Light, Marketing, Montreal, News, Opinion, Westmount, Writing

Small World; Small Bookshop

To say I am a creature of habit would, at least when it comes to places of residence, be an understatement. My wife and I moved into our current apartment almost 18-years ago. Prior to that I had lived in another unit in this building for 18-years. To further illustrate my home-body trait, the building in which we live is located on the same street on which I was born. I guess I just don’t like to pack!

Over the years we have seen many neighbours, good and not so good, come and go. For the last several years our across-the-hall neighbours have been great. Common greetings, a smile, a nod, no prying, not noisy, ideal neighbours.

Situated on Ste. Catherine Street in downtown Montreal, Argo has been around since 1966. It has outlived countless businesses by providing excellent service.

Here’s where the ‘small world isn’t it?’ aspect arises. I recently read a post on Facebook by Montreal writer and historian Robert N. Wilkins regarding a burst pipe and subsequent flood at a long-time local bookstore called Argo Bookshop. Situated on Ste. Catherine Street in downtown Montreal, Argo has been around since 1966. It has outlived countless businesses by providing excellent service.

As I read the Facebook post I was struck by the reference to current Argo co-owner, Moti. No last name was mentioned. On a couple of occasions I have, in an attempt to be a good neighbour, brought upstairs packages addressed to my across-the-hall neighbour, so I knew his name was Moti. And the packages seemed to be book-like in shape. Hmmm…

An event at Argo Bookshop pre-COVID

A small bit of research revealed to me that my neighbour is, indeed, the co-owner of the famed Argo Bookshop! Not the original, but the current.

In the meantime, Argo Bookshop offers online shopping. Instead of going to a big box store, consider checking out their website.

I made a point of dropping by Argo yesterday and there was my neighbour. The damage to the inventory is substantial. Just what a bookshop needs during a pandemic; a flood. I wished Moti the very best of luck. Hopefully he and his partner will manage to survive this calamity and Argo will continue to be a favourite haunt for Montreal bibliophiles.

In the meantime, Argo Bookshop offers online shopping. Instead of going to a big box store, consider checking out their website.

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Bars, Beer, COVID-19, DCMontreal Commentary, DCMontreal Light, Montreal

From Fine Scotch To Espresso

As the old adage goes, “When life hands you lemons, make … err … coffee”. If there is a positive element to the current pandemic, it’s that it has caused many of us to be creative and adapt to very different circumstances. That’s what one downtown Montreal bar owner has decided to do.

Natasha Geoffrion-Greenslade

Natasha Geoffrion-Greenslade is the owner of N sur MacKay, a popular bar that has hosted many a star-studded event, not least of which was this blogger’s sixtieth birthday. Like all bar owners, Natasha was faced with an extended closure due to COVID19. The government of Quebec has maintained its position that bars cannot reopen in red zones such as Montreal.

Rising to the occasion, Natasha set to retro-fitting her popular scotch-lovers bar, turning it into a coffee emporium

However, cafes, under strict restrictions, can open.

Rising to the occasion, Natasha set to retro-fitting her popular scotch-lovers bar, turning it into a coffee emporium. The bottles of fine malts sit untouched on shelves behind the bar. The beer taps are on sabbatical until such time as the government gives the green light to reopen. The addition of an espresso maker has given new life to N Bar, if only until a full reopening is permitted.

“It’s great to see people again, even if they we are all wearing masks,” said Natasha. “Even though they can’t stay inside, just the process of ordering and paying gives me a chance to catch-up with them.”

“Even though they can’t stay inside, just the process of ordering and paying gives me a chance to catch-up with them.”

A number of regulars have been dropping in since the N Cafe opened last week; folks more used to savouring a peaty scotch or dry white wine are now sipping coffee while practising social distancing outside on the sidewalk.

“It’s given me a new routine,” continued Natasha. “Up early to be here for the 8:00 a.m. opening, making sure supplies are in order, it’s a whole lot different from the hours a bar owner usually keeps.”

Bravo Natasha, and I wish you the very best of luck!

N sur Mackay,1244 MacKay, Montreal

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Movies Without Popcorn

While the government of Canada warns people not to travel during the upcoming spring break, threatening strict quarantine measures upon returning to the country, the government of Quebec is attempting to provide some activities for kids during the week-long March break.

What can reopen, beginning this Friday, are movie theatres. However, the selling of food – popcorn included – will not be allowed. This has caused some cinema owners to decide not to reopen. It seems that without food sales, it’s not worth reopening. They point out that money from snack sales offsets the admission fees. Without popcorn revenue, cinemas would have to charge $25 admission.

The goodies we brought to the theatre were most welcome, after all you had paid your admission. It was a movie theatre, not a restaurant – it was a Bring Your Own Food establishment

When I was a kid we used to go to the movies. Montreal, as was the case in most cities, had its share of movie theatres – we Anglophones didn’t call them cinemas, to us they were movie theatres. These often elaborately designed single-screen theatres showed films every night and had matinees on the weekends and during school holidays.

I recall the price being 75 cents before seven o’clock at which time the cost of admission shot up to a whopping $1.25! For that princely sum you were treated to a cartoon – usually Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther which could be used in both French and English theatres as there was no dialogue – in addition to the main feature.

But that’s not the issue, the price of everything has gone up over time, it’s just what happens. As I recall things, the admission fee got you into the theatre to see the movie. There were, of course, snack bars where you could buy soft drinks, popcorn, candies and chips. But these were just for convenience because many people, perhaps most, brought their own snacks to the movie.

There were, of course, snack bars where you could buy soft drinks, popcorn, candies and chips. But these were just for convenience because many people, perhaps most, brought their own snacks to the movie.

I’m not talking about smuggling in contraband Twizzlers or Reese’s Pieces, sneaking past ushers who look like they want to pat down movie goers. The goodies we brought to the theatre were most welcome, after all you had paid your admission. It was a movie theatre, not a restaurant – it was a Bring Your Own Food establishment

Many’s the time we would bring in, openly and honestly, a box of a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts and  Dairy Queen milkshakes. Others brought submarine sandwiches or even hamburgers. Some folks even made special snacks at home and, along with a thermos of coffee settled in to enjoy the movie and munch on a ham on rye.

These days the film is almost an afterthought; once you get past the vast array of food on offer at exorbitant prices and run the gamut of the umpteen video games in the lobby, you can finally settle down to watch the feature.

Long gone are the days when movie theatres were in the business of selling admission to films and providing convenience snack bar counters, but were BYOF!

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Bars, Beer, DCMontreal Commentary, DCMontreal Light, Health, Humor, Marketing, Montreal, Opinion

Closed Bars Having An Adverse Effect On My Health

Montreal Bars Remain Closed

I used to be a runner. Every weekday morning, before work, for about twenty years I could be found jogging around my neighbourhood. I was fanatical about doing it. Not about going longer or faster, but doing it without fail – in all kinds of weather.

They’d say things like “If I don’t see you going by while I’m making my coffee I know I’m late”

I was like clockwork, sometimes I’d be approached by people later in the day who would tell me they see me everyday at precisely the same moment. They’d say things like “If I don’t see you going by while I’m making my coffee I know I’m late”

After running for all those years on roads and sidewalks, my knees started to bark at me a bit. Others who had been running for even longer strongly suggested I give it a break. Which I did, and turned to a lower impact exercise, walking. I have always loved walking, and have been fortunate enough to work within walking distance of my home.

These lads knew the importance of walking.

However I soon learned that where I could run merely for the sake of running, I need a goal when I walk. Walking as a tourist is something I can do for hours, as everything is new, constant distractions. When I tried strolling aimlessly around my neighbourhood, I soon got bored and would cut it short. Walking around the local track was a bit better, but not great.

Clearly the closing of bars and pubs can potentially have a negative effect on my health. Did the government think of this when they ordered the watering holes to close? I think not.

Therefore, my morning routine changed. No longer was I inflexible. I adapted and started going for my walks in the afternoon. I would get things done in the morning, then after lunch head out on my trek. Of course what made this change in routine and mode of exercise pleasant was the end-point of my walk.

I would aim to complete the suggested 10,000 steps with a stop-over in one of several pubs for a beer or two. There was a goal that kept me walking. Walking to and from downtown Montreal gives me the 10,000 steps. If my wife was going to drive me home after her workday ended I would extend my urban hike so the when I arrived at the pub I was at or beyond the goal.

But now they have gone and closed the bars and pubs once again in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19. My walking goal is gone.

But now they have gone and closed the bars and pubs once again in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19. My walking goal is gone. I flounder about trying to stick to the goal. But currently I have little motivation, even if I do try to hit the magic number on my Fitbit.

Clearly the closing of bars and pubs can potentially have a negative effect on my health. Did the government think of this when they ordered the watering holes to close? I think not.

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Canada, COVID-19, DCMontreal Commentary, DCMontreal Light, Health, Montreal, News

A Micro View of COVID’s Burden On Hospitals

In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 year-end holiday season, the COVID-19 statistics in Quebec continue to be at alarmingly high levels. Both the number of infections and the number of deaths attributed to the virus rise every day. It would appear more folks went a visitin’ during the festive season than are admitting it; scofflaw politicians aside.

In light of these rising numbers, the government has initiated a ‘shock therapy’ approach. As I recently wrote, this includes a serious lockdown and a curfew. There are many things to fear during a pandemic, not least of which is the burden on the health system. At the best of times, the system is close to bursting, throw in a couple of thousand COVID cases a day and it is not long before a rupture occurs.

This was the case in one institution, but if similar walkouts happened in other hospitals it is clear the system was hamstrung even before things turned dire.

My wife has a dear friend who works in a Montreal hospital as an x-ray technician. When the pandemic first hit, in the early spring of 2020, not wanting to have anything to do with it, several of her colleagues with compromised immune systems went on extended sick leave. This was the case in one institution, but if similar walkouts happened in other hospitals it is clear the system was hamstrung even before things turned dire.

As an example of the strain put on the whole system, one of the aspects of my wife’s friend’s job is to bring portable x-ray equipment to patients unable to be moved. Think of bringing the mountain to Mohammad if you will. If the patient shows signs of COVID-19 and is coughing, before taking the x-ray gear into the patient’s room, there is a process of suiting-up in what is essentially a hazmat outfit. 

The outfit requires two people to put on properly. The second person is responsible for checking that all is properly sealed, and ensuring that all steps are undertaken. The technician then, looking a bit like Bib the Michelin Man, goes about the business of x-raying.

During this time both she and her colleague, as well as the machine, are not available for other patients.

Once the x-rays are done, there is an extensive disinfecting process to be undertaken. This again requires two people. Not just the machine, which is almost dismantled and decontaminated, but she has to undergo a serious regime of discarding robes, gloves, masks, and then washing herself. A key role played by the second person is to make sure the technician washes her hands after each step: remove gloves, wash hands; remove robe, wash hands; remove face shield, wash hands, and so on. Bearing in mind that proper hand washing is a twenty second procedure, it is understandable how this takes anywhere from 40 to 50 minutes.

During this time both she and her colleague, as well as the machine, are not available for other patients.

That’s just one person in one hospital. If you extrapolate that to the entire health system, it is obvious why there is a fear of increasing numbers.

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