Category Archives: Montréal on Film

Montréal – The Neighbourhood Revived

Montréal – The Neighborhood Revived by Michel Régnier, National Film Board of Canada

Found an interesting documentary, first in the URBA 2000 series produced for the NFB in 1974.

As described, in the mid-1970s was an established leader in urban renewal.

We’ve got a forty, possibly fifty year old tradition of urban renewal and preservation via maintenance of desirable residential neighbourhoods within the urban core.

Though all these buildings seem to still exist throughout much of what I would call the most desirable neighbourhoods adjacent and integrated into the urban tapestry, I’ve noticed that these neighbourhoods are far, far greener today than back then. There are many more ‘pocket parks and playgrounds’ disrupting the long rows of triplexes and duplexes, more trees lining the streets and alleyways like veritable jungles.

When this documentary was made protecting trees and green space within the urban environment and first ring residential zones was still very new. Efforts to accomodate families in subsidized housing were relatively new as well, though the city counted more than half of its city-owned apartments with more than three closed bedrooms. Also novel at the time – clearing out the old backyard sheds (which were no longer needed as homes were no longer heated with coal or wood) and developing back yards.

Amazing this was all head-scratchingly new in 1974. Good watch.

The OQLF – Still Ridiculous After All These Years

The OQLF is a joke.

There is simply no threat to the stability and sanctity of the French language in Montréal, Québec or Canada, nor is there any doubt whatsoever of the predominance of the French language in the public sphere of Montréal. English has been chiseled off the façades of our heritage buildings, bilingual signs covered up and monolingual ‘À Vendre’ and ‘À Louer’ signs are now far too predominant on our city streets.

It’s quite frankly a crime, a deceit of profound public irresponsibility, to campaign and dictate social policy based on the fabricated notion not only that the language of the majority of Québecois and Montréalais would be threatened with extinction, to the point of cultural genocide, but further that a small minority of English speakers are somehow holding Québec back from it’s place in the sun.

There are at present some seven million speakers of Canadian French, representing about 22% of the national population (it should be noted as well, somewhat astoundingly, that there are several small pockets of those proficient in our variety of French in the Northeastern United States), of which roughly 6.2 million speak the Québec variety as mother tongue. How many more have at least basic knowledge of conversational French, or who understand it perfectly while being unable to speak it (for whatever reason) likely puts the total number of people familiar with the language and it’s socio-cultural implications far higher.

There are at present some 661,000 Anglo-Québecois, with about one million calling it their first official language, out of a total population of eight million Québécois. Roughly 40% of the Québec population is bilingual to one degree or another in both Official Languages, while 53% of Québécois are monolingual Francophones.

The largest the Anglophone population ever got in this province was just under 800,000 people, in 1971, when they represented 13% of the population. Today the Anglo-Québécois community represents about 8% of the Québec population. It has been growing, modestly, since 2001, after an equally steady thirty-year decline immediately prior to that.

Political instability in Québec since 1970 has resulted in a net out-migration of 400,000 people, of which 285,000 compose the Anglo-Québécois Diaspora.

In Québec, Bill 101 has so far mandated that all immigrant students be educated in French regardless of mother tongue or at-home language proficiency. All businesses with more than fifty employees must conduct all official business in French. Government services are to be first and foremost in French, though with limited English services for communities where the Anglophone minority is prevalent. And all this to guarantee the supremacy of the French language in Québec.

It worked. There is simply no question French has been guaranteed forevermore in Québec. The Anglophone community is no threat – they’re no longer in control of everything and sitting on all the money. In fact the most successful among us split some time ago, taking their money with them.

There’s no question whatsoever that Québec is a French province, a robust and still far-too homogeneous nation of Francophones on the not-entirely Anglophone and increasingly inter-cultural North American continent. I’m glad it worked – I’ve benefitted from it personally. I am the product of cultural integration, bilingual by choice, mixed by birth. I know why Bill 101 was important, why it’s still relevant, and how it has positively impacted parts of Québec society.

But the party that was never supposed to be more than a movement to secure constitutional talks with the federal government (another success for Lévesque – he helped push repatriation and the Charter more than any other premier, even if he didn’t sign it, he succeeded in making Canada more sovereign – federalists owe him that much) has fallen on bludgeoning an already dead horse. A non-issue conjured to life like a modern-day Golem to scare the Anglophones out of Québec (again).

Now the PQ says Bill 101 needs to be strengthened. It needs teeth. At a time when we have to cut healthcare and education spending (resulting, as expected, in a raise in tuition despite all the campaigning to the contrary), it pushes for more OQLF inspectors (something the PLQ was planning on doing principally to mollify the soft-nationalist vote) and sets them lose amongst the small-business classes, a challenge to civic harmony if i ever dared imagine one, and hopelessly inept at containing bad PR as witnessed recently by the appropriately named pastagate – the suffix ‘gate’ so overused and meaningless it now appears to be entirely fitting when covering anything to do with the over-zealous law school drop-outs and philosophy minors who constitute the rank and file of the tongue troopers.

It’s a kind of political theatre. The appearance of actually doing something to fix a problem that doesn’t actually exist.

If Québec French was actually threatened with disappearance ‘within a generation’, as the PQ and other linguistic-supremacists sometimes imply, UNESCO would have a local office working round the clock to create a full record of the language and would have provided funds for local French-language schools. If that seems ridiculous I’m glad – it is. Such a thing would happen if there were fewer than 10,000 local speakers. Canadian French is a growing language that ranks roughly among languages such as Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Xhosa, and Haitian Creole in terms of number of native speakers. These languages, much like Canadian French, can sustain themselves, and are not about to disappear.

The video above is from 1998 and features commentary by the incomparable Mordecai Richler. Richler first brought the world’s attention to our idiotic and obviously punitive linguistic laws back in the 1980s and 1990s in some articles he had written for the New Yorker, irking the separatists to the point where he is typically today lambasted as ‘anti-Québécois’ in the same manner that he might have accused some elements of the separatist elites of being anti-Semites.

It never ceases to amaze me how the mere mention of his name in certain circles will produce a torrent of denouncement from people who, by their own admission, have never read any of his books and thus for that matter can’t give you any examples of the apparently rampant ‘Québec bashing’ strewn throughout his prose.

As a fan of Richler’s, I haven’t found it either.

In any event – just a few thoughts on a festering, oozing sore. Enjoy the video, it seems clear to me Morley Safer found the whole thing rather amusing, least of all because of Louise Beaudoin’s near-hysterical defence of Bill 101’s excesses (such as the language cops). It’s quaint seeing how a recently neutered PQ government, such as it was in 1998, returned to using the OQLF to give itself the appearance of legitimacy. Fifteen years later and we’re in just about the same situation.

***

Final thoughts – why doesn’t the OQLF do anything to support Francophone communities elsewhere in Canada? Why do they send language inspectors after small-business owners and restauranteurs when, by virtue of their own protocols and operating principles, they refrain from adopting a standardization of the French language in Québec? Curiously, I suspect the answer is in fact that they want Québec French to be as mutually intelligible and malleable as possible, and thus refraining from standardization will facilitate integration with French-speaking immigrants. Ergo, linguistic integration, but only as long as you don’t speak any English.

Anyways, I have to cut this short. Presentement, je prend un cours de français et je dois terminer mes devoirs. Cet semaine je re-lis ‘Les Aurores Montréales’ de Monique Proulx, un livre assez impréssionante comme collage de petits vignettes des vies de divers Montréalais dans les années 90. Un analyze socio-culturelle assez profond – un livre clé pour comprendre la société et l’histoire récent de Montréal.

The Force of Montreal

21-87 by Arthur Lipsett, National Film Board of Canada

So here’s something.

This is a film called 21-87, by noted Montréal avant-garde film-maker Arthur Lipsett. While he was working as an editor and illustrator at the NFB (back when the NFB was quite literally laying the foundation of Canadian cinematic arts), he created an apparently mesmerizing collage of diverse audio recordings he had collected over the years and weaved it into film. He combined stock footage he found on the cutting room floor of the NFB along with his own footage of various urban scenes from the city streets of New York and Montreal. The result is a rather impressive short film I too feel compelled to watch several more times (though that’s largely because I’m tired and think I’m missing something – film criticism is not my forte, I’m still astounded Vaudeville fell to the Talkies. But I digress…)

Like too many great Canadian artists Lipsett was way too far ahead of his time and committed suicide two weeks shy of his 50th birthday largely unknown and under appreciated. But he did have a profound and lasting impact on a young George Lucas (as well as Stanley Kubric; Lipsett was offered a chance to create the trailer for Dr. Strangelove but declined. What Kubric ultimately produced was heavily inspired by Lipsett).

Lucas credits the inspiration for his idea of ‘The Force’ to a specific moment in the film when the word is mentioned, in the decontextualized snippet of an apparently spiritual conversation (at 3:51).

But it is the imagery that caught my attention at that moment. The old man feeding the pigeons is doing so in Phillips Square, and is sandwiched between shots of a flock of pigeons soaring above Dorchester Square, in such a fashion that it looks almost like the same birds jumped from one cut to another, sweeping from left to right. A character of an old man with a hat, at first feeding pigeons and well dressed, then disheveled yet holding a bird in his hands, continues this micro-story arc through what seems to be several different pieces of film. That’s what George Lucas was looking at when he began to conceive The Force, a belief and pseudo-spiritual plot device that has inspired some 400,000 Brits to describe themselves as Jedi, making Jedi the fourth largest reported religion in the United Kingdom (there are more reported Jedi in the UK than Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews; you can’t make this shit up.)

You can read as much into this as you like, I just think it’s neat that George Lucas, the man who created one of the most enduring, popular and lucrative films of all time was thinking up The Force while watching a crazy old man play in pigeons in one of my favourite city parks.

Also it should be stated that Dorchester Square looks really good but, as I suppose I am somewhat unaccustomed to seeing my city in black and white, I found the textures and character of the buildings facing the square (all of which are still there and just as prominent today, they nonetheless seem more severe and imposing. In one instance the Dominion Square Building looking like a cloudy backdrop quickly coming into focus as a detailed wall of windows. The glass and slate CIBC Tower almost appears as a solid mass, and in the background the Cathedral looms large and ominous, as if viewed through a fog.

Yet in the foreground there are quaint and relaxing scenes we could quite literally go see in real time any old day of the week during the more temperate months. Dorchester Square still has possibly crazy old men talking to and feeding the pigeons. In Phillips Square, by contrast, a newspaper-hawking dwarf handles such affairs. Plus que ça change, eh?

What do you think of 21-87?

City on Fire

City on Fire from E Kital on Vimeo.

Amazing video. Just great stuff.

That was one hell of a fire. Glad no one was injured.

Something to keep in mind w/r/t the antique element of our cityscape – the older buildings get the more attention needs to be paid to how we maintain them, what precautions we need to take when executing renovations or upgrades and what measures we might be able to implement to better neutralize a fire once it’s started.

Although I suppose it would help if we didn’t have so many goddam arson cases in this city, but that’s another issue entirely.

Apparently this building was being renovated earlier yesterday, so it’s possible that may have something to do with it, though it isn’t known for certain. The damage was concentrated on the upper floors, no one was hurt or injured and over a hundred firefighters responded. Adjacent buildings include the head office of La Presse as well as the Hotel Place d’Armes, neither of which were damaged despite the rather impressive fire.

There you have it. Excellent timing, I’m quite happy it was caught on film so well.

Instagramming Perspectives on the City


Tour KPMG (Place de la Cathedrale) – Montreal

What can I say, I’m addicted to Instagram.

I’ll admit, when I discovered there was an Instagram-branded digital camera I bemoaned the death of Polaroid, but hey, who am I to tell the free-market what to do?

Personally, I like the filters and the way by which the filters are able to ameliorate otherwise low-quality digital photos, but I’m sure that will change too as the technology improves. Regardless, here are some of my favourite snap-shots of people and places in our fair city.


Saint Henri Bodega

The quintessential Montréal Dépanneur, commerce integrated directly into a residential plan, optimizing convenience while maintaining the link between vital small business and the neighbourhood that supports it. I read somewhere the estimate was that a single Montréal dépanneur typically serves a base of 1,000 regular customers, and as such, these small mom and pop operations tend to cater to specific local needs, not to mention offer some unique treats. One of the finest lunches to be had (on the cheap) in this city involves homemade soups and sandwiches sold by a lovely Polish lady in a dépanneur located at St-Marc and René-Lévesque.


Montreal World Trade Centre

A hidden gem, the Centre du Commerce Mondiale de Montréal (located next to Square-Victoria and a component of the Réso (Underground City), this massive atrium was built over the former Ruelle des Fortifications and as such unites several heritage properties into a single complex. It was conceived of as a horizontal skyscraper, with the Intercontinental Hotel anchoring the ‘base’. The fountain at one end of the reflecting pool was built in France in the early 18th century and, along with a piece of the Berlin Wall also located here, were, together with the complex, part of the city’s numerous 350th anniversary ‘presents’.


Windsor Station & 1250 Boul. René-Lévesque taken from the Place du Canada viaduct

An afterthought – both of these buildings have lost their anchor tenants. The tower was originally jointly owned by IBM and Marathon Realty, another 350th anniversary gift to the city from the private sector. It was built in competition with 1000 de la Gauchetiere West, and though both are icons of the city’s post-modern architecture, both lack anchor tenants. Odd considering how beautiful both are, how centrally located they are. Windsor Station was the corporate head office of Canadian Pacific Railways until 1997 when they consolidated their operations in Calgary. Today I believe CSIS maintains an office there. I wonder if new residential developments in the area will have any effect on their future significance in the urban tapestry.

McGill College Avenue at Dusk from the PVM Belvedere

One of the better achievements of 1980s city-planning, Vincent Ponté’s re-design of McGill College Avenue. Plans to create a showcase street date back to before the Second World War, but didn’t come to fruition until the 1980s. Prior, it was a far narrower street, with much of the space above Boul. de Maisonneuve nothing but parking lots. Redevelopment began when the Capitol Theatre was torn down in the 1970s and replaced with the squat, ugly brown building off to the left (out of frame). A more comprehensive plan came to fruition in the early 1980s that would ultimately lead to the development of several gleaming post-modern office towers and one of the city’s premier ‘show streets’. If I have one complaint, it’s that despite the large number of people who pass through here, work here etc, no one lives in this part of town. I can imagine it would be a rather fetching address. Sometimes I wonder why there isn’t a trend in this city to redevelop old office buildings (such as the aforementioned brown monstrosity) into condos. Seems like a natural evolution.

Hall Building, Concordia University, with Place Norman Bethune in the foreground, on a foggy October night


Avenue du Musée

I like the gradual development of the Quartier des Musées and the new pavilion of the MMFA – this is progressing in the right direction. The city has a plan for economic stimulus in this area, as they want to increase the number of stable local high-end boutiques and galleries. It could use a café and a bistro, and it would be wise for the city to help in the quartier’s branding if they were able to offer various incentives to help concentrate galleries in the area. Also, while I’m a big fan of the outdoor sculptures, they’re overwhelming given how close they’re grouped together. Would it be so bad if they were spaced out a bit? Maybe the presence of art installations could be used to delineate the boundaries of the Quartier?


We have beautiful balconies in this city…

A place where everyone can pass a long summer day thinking about tomorrow, pondering what could be. I think we’re lucky it’s considered an element of good design to include some type of balcony, front porch or rooftop terrace on urban residential construction here. In some places its quite the rarity, considered old-fashioned. Odd no?

The Sun Life Building (1931), PVM 5 (1968) and PVM 1 (1962)

We’ve really got to figure out what to do with this place. How much longer do we let it slowly decompose?

The city from up on high…

So I’ve recently started working in an office tower Downtown. Try to guess which one based off these pics, it should be fairly obvious. All correct answers will receive infinite karma, as will incorrect answers. You can’t possibly go wrong!

A few things I’ve noticed about working on the 24th floor of this building. For one, I feel like I’ve become a lot more aware of how urban density is a very subjective, aesthetic affair once you get past the human-scale street-side. We benefit from excellent urban planning, and as such I feel that the towers are less imposing in some cases. The tallest seem less overwhelming when viewed in relation to the large open spaces they’re located next to, whereas the more intermediate towers in the ‘uptown’ area (along Boul. de Maisonneuve in was once referred to as the Place du Centre) are spaced apart more-or-less evenly, so that views are open rather than obscured (consider Toronto, which placed all their tallest buildings in the same small confined area, with few set-backs). When I turned the corner in the office on my first day, and saw the other principle skyscrapers of the urban core rising high above the more cluttered mass below, I felt like I was standing amongst giants. A very inspiring place to be indeed. It was something else to see the other giants at a more-or-less dead-on perspective.

Our city has a fair number of falcons prowling the city skies for unsuspecting rodents or pigeons. I’m okay with that – though admittedly they tend to be rather ominous looking, circling as they do, waiting to dive in for the kill. Majestic too, if majesty can be foreboding too.

I’m surprised I have this much empathy for rats and their winged equivalents.

In any event – it’s re-assuring to see our city coming together as it is, with empty lots slated for immediate development. The urban housing boom seems to have finally made its way to Montréal, and in my opinion, I sincerely feel development is proceeding far more cautiously than in other major urban centres. From the window I can watch the new residential towers rising. Hopefully, they will lead to the re-establishment of a veritable sense of community in our urban core.

That’s all for now. More soon.