Tag Archives: Montréal Society

An Ocean Liner to Boost Casino Revenue

Really wish I had taken this - props to whoever did. The Casino, previously the Québec and French pavilions of Expo 67.
Really wish I had taken this Рprops to whoever did. The Casino, previously the Qu̩bec and French pavilions of Expo 67.

So Loto-Québec is planning on introducing drinking on the floors of the province’s four casinos, as part of a broader effort to update and modernize the casinos to increase revenue and draw higher attendance. Currently both are down, prompting the péquiste health minister (?) to state “it’s time we got our heads out of the sand and ensures our casinos can be competitive.” As it stands, Québec’s casinos are the only casinos in North America where the consumption of alcohol is not permitted on the gaming floor.

The plan is that, by getting on board with open drinking on the gaming floor, many more people will visit and revenues will increase. Gérard Bibeau, the head of Loto-Québec believes nearly $100 million in lost revenue could be generated (though it seems he’s basing this calculation on the idea that attendance is down specifically because drinking isn’t permitted. I would hope attendance is down because a sufficient number of people would rather save their hard earned money rather than risk it). Bibeau suggests that the $100 million figure represents what could have been pulled in by the casinos if not for a 4% drop in attendance over the past few years.

Hmmm. What’s been happening that might convince people to stay away from casinos for the past four or five years…?

Loto-Québec’s prohibition of drinking while gambling on the casino floor is certainly particular, especially when you consider that it’s not a prohibition on drinking and gambling in the wider sense. Anyone can drink and gamble themselves into oblivion at video lottery terminals (VLTs) located in every dive bar in the province – and plenty have (though officially the bartender is supposed to discourage this, if I’m not mistaken). And from my experience working in dépanneurs I can tell you drinking and gambling certainly go together, though it has never been my experience that these activities ever did anyone any good.

But I digress.

Many moons ago it was a lovely Tuesday night in the suburbs and my buddies and I were bored. We were young, temporarily unimaginative yet also cognizant that we couldn’t quite figure out what to do with ourselves. So we piled into a car and took off for the Casino de Montréal. It was my first and last time there and I broke even, winning and then losing $100.

The first thing I really took notice of was a geriatric sitting in a pink jumpsuit, slumped ever so slightly over on one side, an oxygen tank leaning against her high chair. She had a neon yellow elastic chord attached from her jumpsuit pocket to a debit card locked into a one-armed bandit, pressing the button as though in a trance.

These are not the people we want in our casinos (admittedly I’m making a jugement call here, but she did not appear to be a high-roller; she looked like a senior citizen gambling away her pension cheque). Adding drink to the mix will make this problem worse. We want other people’s money – tourist money.

When the Casino de Montréal opened in 1993 it was a bit of a big deal. It’s a surprisingly large casino by Canadian standards, featuring over a hundred gaming tables and 3,200 gaming machines, not to mention the bars and restaurants (three and four respectively) as well as the cabaret and assorted meeting and banquet facilities. As intended, it’s open all day every day of the year and is located far from the city, isolated from the pedestrian and public transit pace of the downtown core on Ile-Notre-Dame. It came to be a year after the city’s 350th anniversary as part of a series of civic improvement projects instituted by Mayor Doré. In this particular case, it allowed for two iconic Expo pavilions to be preserved and rendered permanent. As such, it is peculiar for a casino, as it features low ceilings, natural sunlight and openly encourages its patrons to step away from the tables to smoke, drink and socialize.

When it opened, it was supposed to be classy. The restaurants were top-notch, the chefs and wine selection unbeatable. There was even a dress code – jackets and ties for men, no hats, no jeans etc.

I think this is something we should maintain. Everything about our casino, as initially intended, was almost designed to de-emphasize the gambling. It’s not a big gray box. It doesn’t disorient the patrons by omitting windows. It invites patrons to step away from the gaming, to go outside and get some fresh air. These are design elements we should continue to value.

There’s no doubt our casino and state-regulated gambling is useful – it funnels money from the people’s pocket back into the government purse. Loto-Québec is a provincial crown corporation whose mandate is ‘to operate games of chance in the province in an orderly and measured way’ and I would argue strongly they do a generally good job, even though I’m morally opposed to the practice in the first place.

I suppose it’s not so bad if it’s rich people who’re losing their money – they can afford it.

But all too often casinos wind up preying, even if indirectly, on the poorest elements of society – they people most desperate for a financial break are all too often those with bad finances and who exercise poor jugement with their money. And whereas there once were controls – like the dress code and limitations on drinking on the playing floor – these have been shelved to accomodate the poor yet regular patrons who provide the bulk of the casino’s revenue during a prolonged period of economic instability, such as we’re experiencing right now.

But my question is this. Is this really the best way to increase revenue? How much extra coin could this actually produce?

And why look to locals as our main source of casino revenue?

And why isn’t Montreal’s casino generating money specifically for our own needs? The city could use revenue generated by the Casino de Montréal more immediately and doubtless more efficiently. As an example, with new legislation, the Casino de Montréal’s revenue could be re-directed towards costly and necessary infrastructure improvements to local schools (you’ll no doubt recall many local schools have severe mould and asbestos problems). Or to provide scholarships and bursaries for post-secondary education. Or to help defray the massive cost overruns of the new hospitals. or to improve public transit. The list goes on. As it stands today this money is sent to Québec City, where I suppose it’s moved back into general revenue.

This doesn’t help us much at all, yet Montréal is on the hook for nearly every negative repercussion from casino operations in the city – everything from the social problems associated with gambling addiction in our poorest neighbourhoods to the inevitable suicides and road accidents that happen on the otherwise deserted junction of Ave. Pierre-Dupuy and the Pont de la Concorde.

So let’s do something different.

The city ought to take in a greater share of our casino’s revenue, but we can’t argue this position unless we’re willing to provide our own plan to increase attendance and revenue. Thus, I would argue strongly that the city should look to acquire the single greatest missing piece from our casino’s master plan – a hotel – and assist in redeveloping the Casino de Montréal with a new hotel & resort component. This in turn could be part of a larger plan to increase the use and revenue generated by all the diverse functions of parc Jean-Drapeau.

But where would we build a hotel? Ile-Notre-Dame doesn’t have much space to support a large hotel, and construction may render the island temporarily unusable.

Permanently mooring a cruise ship or ocean liner within proximity of the casino presents us with an interesting possibility to get everything we need for a major casino expansion without having to build much. It would allow us to rather suddenly put a lot of hotel space more or less in the centre of the city’s park islands. Rather than building new we simply tow a full expansion into position. It would look good, it would be exceptionally unique and would further serve to provide a lot of direct financial stimulus for our otherwise underused (and at times worn-down) parc Jean-Drapeau.

Inter-island Channel, Parc Jean-Drapeau
Inter-island Channel, Parc Jean-Drapeau

And wouldn’t you know it, we could park a cruise ship or old ocean liner right here between the inter-island bridges. One would fit perfectly (though we might have to dredge the channel and temporarily remove one of the bridges) and I think in a broader sense fulfill a grander scheme for the park islands. I’ve often felt that this grand playground lacks any unifying cohesiveness – it’s simply the space we put all the stuff we can’t place elsewhere. We’ve purposely concentrated a lot of diverse entertainment in one space and have done well in maintaining that space’s utility within the public conception of the urban environment. Yet it’s still very detached, isolated even, from the rest of the city.

I feel a floating hotel solves more than one problem, using the location’s relative isolation to its advantage. For locals and people from the region, it could provide a much-needed ‘urban resort’, a place to get away from it all that’s oddly located in the middle of everything. For foreign tourists or families on vacation, it provides a hotel in a controlled environment almost exclusively dedicated to family friendly activities. Re-instituting the dress code and prohibiting drinking from the gaming floor in this newly expanded casino could serve to help sell the image of a classy and unique vacation experience catering to a wide variety of tastes.

Think about it – Parc Jean-Drapeau is a large multi-use park with a considerable natural component, occupying roughly the same amount of space as Mount Royal Park (2.1 square kilometers). It features, among others, a beach, an aquatics centre & rowing basin, manicured parks and trails, an amusement park, a historic fort and a premier outdoor concert venue. Placing a hotel in the middle of it, associated with the aforementioned casino, would surely drive up revenue not only for the casino but everything else going on at the park as well. It could conceivably make the park more useful during the winter months and provide sufficient new revenue so as to redevelop the Biosphere, Helene-de-Champlain restaurant and give the whole place a facelift too. And I don’t think it would take much of anything away from the city’s existing hotels as, from my experience, parc Jean-Drapeau is nearly exclusively used by locals, being perhaps a little too detached for tourists.

SS United States by Wikipedia contributor Lowlova
SS United States by Wikipedia contributor Lowlova

For your consideration, this rather handsome looking (and famous) ocean liner, the SS United States, can accomodate 5,000 people and is in desperate need of a buyer to keep her from the breakers. The idea of permanently mooring an ocean liner somewhere in the Old Port isn’t entirely new either. Aside form the fact that it’s already been done elsewhere, our own Mayor Drapeau wanted to use an ocean liner to house Olympic athletes during the `76 Games, with the idea being that the ship would be converted into a floating hotel, casino and convention centre afterwards as part of a broad facelift for the Old Port. His preferred vessel was the SS Normandie.

Definitely worth reconsidering, in my humble option.

If you happen to be looking to buy a cruise ship, look no further.

Meet Your Next Mayor

Ensemble nous allons définir une belle avenir pour Montréal.

Projet Montréal’s Richard Bergeron, the only legitimate mayoral candidate in Montréal’s 2013 municipal election, isn’t looking to tell you about his party or its ideas, but rather wants to hear what you have to say first.

This is real leadership. Not the pseudo drama of the Coderre campaign. Not the plagiarism of the Harel campaign. Not the slow-motion implosion of Union Montréal.

In fact, he’s not campaigning at all.

This is the opposite of campaigning. It’s listening, something a real leader does, and a mere politician all too often fakes.

We need to ask ourselves a serious question Рdo we want four more years of the status quo, or do we want to build a better city Рfor all Montr̩alais Рstarting tomorrow.

When it comes to electing a mayor for Montréal, my money’s on the trained academic architect.

I’ve had enough of career politicians.

It’s time to get our pride back.

Montréal: The Basics

Rachel Street, Montreal - 2010

City population: 1.65 million

Island population: 1.89 million

Metropolitan population: 3.82 million

Metropolitan area: 4,259 square kilometers (larger than, among others, Hong Kong, New York City, Luxembourg, Singapore, Bahrain, Andorra, Liechtenstein – or conversely, roughly half the size of Puerto Rico or Cyprus)

City area: 431 square kilometers

Dwellings: over 813,000

Metro density: 898.1 people per square kilometer

City density: 4,500 people per square kilometer (comparable with Chicago)

Highest point: Mount Royal at 233 meters above Sea Level (no building in the city can surpass this height, and no land is zoned for buildings taller than 210 meters)

Lowest point: 6 meters above mean Sea Level. Toronto is about 70 meters higher up in elevation, as are most of the Great Lakes.

First inhabited roughly 4,000 years ago, with cultivation beginning around 1,000 CE, the moment of First Contact between the Saint Lawrence Iroquois and French Explorer Jacques Cartier occurred on the Second of October 1535. The village of Hochelaga, likely located within the vicinity of the Roddick Gates of McGill University, was home to some thousand or so people and welcomed Cartier and his crew. They took him to the top of Mount Royal, from which he surveyed the land that extended out in a massive plain in all directions.

The first maps of Hochelaga and Montreal Island date from this time, though they were prepared by a Venetian cartographer who had not himself taken part in the expedition and was working off of hand-written accounts. As such, to this very day directions in Montreal do not generally correspond to actual cardinal points, but are instead based off cartographical errors from hundreds of years ago.

As such, Montreal has the distinction of being one of the very few cities in the world where the sun sets in the ‘south’. Montreal’s street system is largely a grid with several major east-west and north-south axes, both vehicular and pedestrian in nature. Major streets, such as Sherbrooke or Notre-Dame are discussed in terms of east and west with Saint Lawrence Boulevard acting as the dividing line between traditionally French and English Montreal. In actuality, Sherbrooke runs NNE-SSW, while intersecting Parc Avenue runs NW-SE.

By the time Samuel de Champlain reached Montreal in 1608, there was no trace of the village Hochelaga, as it was likely destroyed as a result of on-going inter-ethnic warfare in the intervening 70 years. Paul Chomedy, Sieur de Maisonneuve, would establish Ville Marie in 1642, meaning the city has been permanently settled for 371 years (as of 2013) – one of the oldest cities in North America.

The city is the second largest predominantly French-speaking city on Earth, after Paris, with 68% of the metro population speaking it at home, compared with only 17% who speak English. Roughly 20% of the city population speaks a language other than English or French at home, and roughly 60% of the island population is bilingual in both of Canada’s official languages.

Other major linguistic minorities in Montreal: Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Creole, Mandarin & Cantonese, Romanian, Russian, Farsi, Vietnamese, Polish, Tamil, Tagalog, German, Armenian and Punjabi.

The iconic illuminated cross atop Mount Royal stands at about 100 feet tall and features a fibre-optic lighting system that can change colour. It was donated in perpetuity to the City of Montreal by the Société Saint Jean Baptiste in 1929. It was built to commemorate a wooden cross planted by Maisonneuve on December 26th 1643 in gratitude the Virgin Mary for protecting the village against a particularly bad flood. As the story goes the villagers had moved to the top of the modest church they had built when they realized a freak flood threatened to wash the village away, and spent Christmas praying they’d be saved by the intervention of the village’s namesake.

Though the city is the veritable centre of Catholicism and Christianity in Canada, it also has the lowest church attendance and once had, without question, the single greatest number of churches in the country. The ‘Catholic-in-name-only’ population is publicly secular though the city also boasts roughly equal sized Muslim and Jewish populations. Though Montreal’s historic Jewish community traditionally lived near the centre of today’s central business district and along St-Lawrence Boulevard, the community steadily expanded to the North and West, as if in a crescent around Mount Royal, moving into the Plateau, Mile-End, Outremont, Cote-des-Neiges, Cote-St-Luc, Hampstead, Ville Saint Laurent and further on into Laval and the West Island over the course of well over 150 years. A sizeable Chasidic community can be found in the Mile-End district.

The local Chinese community numbers some 72,000 people and can be found in three distinct parts of the metropolitan city. The largest concentration is in the South Shore suburb of Brossard, where Chinese-Canadians make up 12% of the local population. Montreal’s original Chinatown is roughly bordered by Boulevard René-Lévesque to the north, Viger to the south, and bounded by Sanguinet and Bleury to the east and west respectively, though today is more diversified, much like other ‘traditional’ ethnic enclaves and is better described as pan-East Asiatic in nature, though with a strong Chinese influence. A second Chinatown has grown over the past two decades immediately west of Concordia University, this one largely driven by the abundance of Chinese students attending Concordia. As such, the Chinese Consulate of Montreal recently moved into the LaSalle College building on Saint Catherine Street West. This ‘second city’ for the local Chinese community is co-located within Shaughnessy Village, roughly bounded by Boul. René-Lévesque, Sherbrooke, Atwater and Guy. Roughly at the centre of this area is a public square at the intersection of Guy and Boul. de Maisonneuve featuring a statue of Norman Bethune, the Canadian hero of the Chinese Revolution.

Norman Bethune is the single best known Canadian of all time; Chairman Mao’s eulogy of the doctor who revolutionized battlefield medicine and blood transfusions is known, by heart, by hundreds of millions of Chinese. He is almost completely unknown here in Canada, largely as a result of his staunch support of communism and socialism as a deterrent to fascism. There are no memorials to him in Ottawa or Toronto. In Montreal, the local Chinese population lays roses at the base of his statue. He practiced medicine in Montreal at the Royal Victoria Hospital from 1929 to 1936, during which time he became a leading thoracic surgeon. It was also in Montreal where he became a committed communist and sought to use his medical prowess to support the Spanish Republicans fighting Franco, and later Mao Zedong in his fight against the Imperial Japanese.

Near Norman Bethune Square is the main entrance of the Guy Métro station, arguably one of the ugliest in the entire 68-station system, but unique in how it serves a major urban university and has led to the construction of an ‘independent’ component of the Underground City. Guy-Concordia Métro is the fifth busiest in the network, though it was never intended for the traffic it actually handles. As a result of the development of Concordia University around the station, a network of tunnels connecting the buildings of the campus has now been connected to the station proper. In this sense, one can access Guy-Concordia Métro from as far away as Bishop – two streets east of the station’s eastern end, or as far south as Saint-Catherine and Mackay. The two principle entrances are both located within institutional buildings, on one side the operational nerve centre and administrative hub of Concordia, on the other, a major downtown free clinic and CLSC.

Concordia is not the only university in Montreal with it’s own Métro station, but I would argue it’s one of the best connected. McGill Métro station isn’t physically attached to the campus and it’s own limited network of underground tunnels, though curiously the station is near the epicentre of the main section of the Underground City and is a major underground hub. The Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM) is built around the massive Berri-UQAM transit hub and directly attached to the station and main library, but whereas Concordia’s tunnel system is principally used by students, Berri-UQAM’s vast network anchors a major multipurpose traffic and transfer point, the eastern pole of the Underground City. The Université de Montréal is spread out along the northern edge of Mount Royal and as such can be accessed by three different Métro stations, including two directly connected to the university buildings (the namesake station is one of the best looking in the entire network, though is unfortunately located on the least used Métro line).

Other major universities or affiliated independent institutions in Montreal include the Hautes Etudes Commerciales (near Université-de-Montréal Métro station), the École de Technologie Superieur (on Peel south of Saint-Antoine), the Université de Sherbrooke’s Longueuil Campus (located at Longueuil Métro station), the Polytechnique Engineering School and Université Laval’s new satellite campuses. There are numerous private, for-profit colleges and specialty schools and a total of 21 CEGEPs, of which five are Anglophone and 16 Francophone.

Total student population is estimated at around 250,000 making Montreal’s student population one of the largest in the entire world (with more students per capita than Boston, access to eight or nine universities, not to mention the CEGEPs, private colleges and various institutes) and have been ranked as one of the world’s top ten cities to study and be a student. This comes with other international recognitions as one of the best cities to live and work, with a generally exceptionally high quality of life, exceptionally low violent crime rates, a well-respected, innovative and studied public transit system. The list goes on: A UNESCO City of Design. A major international conference and exhibition centre. The world’s largest individual producer of original French language media. A leading centre of medical and pharmaceutical research. The world capital of aviation.

Monocle has dubbed us Canada’s Cultural Capital, a recognition that makes me wonder when, at what point in the future, will we judge cities by their relative cultural wealth?

A city like ours could clean up. We’re well-established on the cultural and academic side of things, providing a concentrated mass of talent and human capital – corporations need access to this kind of talent, and while you’ll find this in most major cities, few provide the entire package as well as we do. It’s not just the brain power, it’s the civic engagement in further developing it, it’s the operational multilingualism, the presence of international organizations and UN bodies, the diplomatic presence, the ease and quality of living. All these factors combined with our city’s generous quantity of class-A office space may one day bring many new companies and corporations to our city, serving to breathe new life into an already heavily diversified and affordable local business environment. Whether we properly sell what Montreal has to offer is another issue altogether, but I would argue strongly we have more than enough top-flight ad firms in our city to get the message out.

Doing business in Montréal is comparatively cheap – the people don’t ask for much, rental properties are affordable and there’s a considerable amount of affordable housing within close geographic proximity of the city or its expansive public transit system. And there’s the human side of business – Montréal provides all the luxuries and entertainment of any major city, and it’s quite affordable to live a rather fun and exciting life here.

I’m confident, to say the least, that our city’s economic future looks bright, across diverse sectors. Whether we choose to make something happen by going on a major publicity campaign to secure new investment and new employment opportunities (to stimulate middle-class growth, raise living standards and services offered through proportional increase in municipal taxation and provide new sources for philanthropic donations, among others) is something for our next mayor to decide. Or perhaps its what the citizenry will demand. For all that Montréal is, its people an increasing disconnection from its apparent leadership. The elections slated for November of 2013 will determine whether or not the citizens will plot a course away from all that has encumbered us in the past. Namely, the overt corruption of the city’s political establishment and the long-standing belief our city is destined to decline.

Sometimes I think we forget how innovative, cutting edge our city really is. Of course there will be hiccups and unexpected challenges along the way – it’s better we deal with them rather than sinking into our colonial mentality of inferiority. Let Canada and Québec resign themselves to significance-by-proxy, let them wallow in the problems of dead foreign empires. We shine brightest when we have the resolve and confidence to go our own way. There is a palpable spirit of individual sovereignty in Montréal, but it exists, uniquely, within an equally palpable sense of local character and cultural significance, one that transcends mere linguistic barriers into the realm of the worldly and universal. This has been our orientation for quite some time.

I’d rather go the hard road with other equally determined individualists than rest on the laurels of past glory, as far too many have done for so long, taking along old hatreds and obsolete business practices along for the ride. Sometimes Montrealers need to stop living in the 19th century; let’s keep the buildings without keeping the nationalism or social conservatism – it doesn’t suit us.

Review: C’est Moi, C’est Chocolat!

Andrew Searles

Passed by Theatre Sainte Catherine to catch the opening night of Andrew Searles‘ headline show C’est moi! C’est Chocolat! after a long and trying week at work; I was in need of some comic relief and Andrew certainly did not disappoint.

I’ve known Andrew at least since 2000 as we went to the same high school in Pierrefonds; if I recall correctly we became friends during the production of Riverdale High School’s rendition of West Side Story – I was a Jet and he was a Shark and I think we shared all of a dozen words of dialogue in the entire show.

Andrew was a naturally-gifted comic all those years ago, keeping us in stitches behind the scenes as we dealt with the overbearing drama queen extraordinaire who directed the show.

A few years later I found myself regularly attending open mic nights at diverse local comedy clubs as he was just breaking out onto the local scene. Andrew was also a regular at the insular country club in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue where we found ourselves attending CEGEP, opening for the many local comedians who would come perform at the Agora for all those students so eagerly skipping class.

It’s curious now looking back, John Abbott has always been a preferred local filming location as either a typical American high school or rural college setting – I wonder if the sight of all those trailers didn’t subconsciously encourage students there to perform – as a school it’s turned out a lot of local artistic talent. In any event, hard to believe that was all ten years ago.

Ten years of dedicated work has its payoffs – the show was sold out and packed with fans, not bad for a guy from Pierrefonds. Here’s a bit of Andrew performing in Ottawa a couple years back.

Opening acts included Guido Cocomello and Rodney Ramsay, with host Franco Taddeo. I had a bit of fun with the host when he asked if there were any Francophones in the room, to which I responded with a bien niaiseux Ouay! As he had immediately prior been ribbing some guy in the front row whose name was Martin (who I suppose had strong enough French Canadian features so as to compel the host to label him token Francophone in an otherwise culturally diverse though predominantly Anglophone audience), when he asked my name I responded with a properly regional pronunciation of Martin. Got a good laugh, but as always, you had to be there.

Politics, society, culture, race, religion – everything pertinent was discussed. It’s good fodder for comedians, as there’s just so much absurdity, contradiction and idiocy to report on. Sometimes I feel the service best rendered by comedians is to simply report all the crazy, ridiculous shit we deal with on a daily basis. All four comedians did just that, rather expertly too, last night.

Theatre Sainte Catherine is located just west of Saint-Denis along one of several stretches of Sainte Catherine’s Street where the various linear poles of attraction and gentrification have yet to meet and interface, and as such retains some of the character we once associated with The Main. Close as it is to Berri-UQAM, speaking openly in English, to my surprise, elicited the attention of those walking past – no words exchanged but glances nonetheless. That said, during intermission as I was enjoying a puff outside, the biggest, scariest looking bouncer I’ve ever seen walked right up to me and politely asked my for directions (in English) to a club just down the block. He was a close-talker with a Christian Bale-era Batman voice. He nodded casually at two prostitutes who walked by.

Earlier, as I exited the public-transit Ellis Island Métro hub up the block I remarked on the fascinating juxtaposition unfolding before me, of well-dressed red-squared UQAM students passing down the corridors lined with well-appointed shop windows, buskers tuning acoustic guitars and a pants-less, underwear-less homeless man pulling his knees under an extra-wide shirt, babbling incoherently to himself.

It occurred to me – we haven’t lost our red light district at all – it just moved East. Our city’s two-fisted-rialto survives unscathed.

What can I say – it’s a good spot for a comedy show. I saw Sugar Sammy at Olympia a little while back in the same neck-of-the-woods (and on that note, Olympia is an excellent venue – highly recommended). An exciting part of town, but one where you keep your guard up. Not a place to stop and gawk.

The small venue was filled with transplanted suburbanites, friends and acquaintances from high school, now grown-up, modern Montrealers, mixed, mulatto, Métis – a racial, linguistic and cultural gray-scale of integration that permitted comedians who, despite vastly different backgrounds, could entertain an equally diverse audience with satire and parody that easily, deftly, transcended the barriers largely being erased within our own community. The Montreal brand of racial humour seems to have more to do with pointing out (even if obliquely) our similarities rather than differences, or at least reminding us of how differences are truly no more than skin deep, and that making a big deal about how different you are, why you and your people might deserve special treatment, simply isn’t cool.

As you might imagine, Pauline Marois was the public enemy number one of the night.

It quickly became apparent this theatre was filled with ardent federalists and committed Anglo-Québécois, a new generation that learned French and knows where their home is.

As host Franco Taddeo put it, “this show features two Blacks and two Italians, throw in a Jew and the OQLF would shut this down in a heartbeat.”

Though contemporary Québec politics and society were the favoured topics of the night, the show was ultimately wide-ranging, with reflections on the oddball demands of significant others, snotty children and their oblivious parents and why the Pope has the most boss funeral.

One of Andrew’s fortes as a comedian is spot-on impressions of the various peoples of the Caribbean (he himself is of joint Barbadian-Jamaican ancestry); his Caribbean Space Agency skit made my facial muscles hurt, his bit about how unintended sexual innuendo as a result of his mother’s broken English was one of the highlights of the night; quite nearly brought the house down.

Also of note Rodney Ramsay, another Riverdale alum, closed his opening set with a ditty where he read Craigslist casual encounters personals. Gut bustingly funny, though I really hope he was embellishing. Rodney also got on the anti-OQLF bandwagon with a series on ‘language cops’, which you can see here:

He’s also collaborated with local comic Mike Paterson on the Anglo video, which you can watch here:

All told – highly recommended, a lot of talent in a fascinating, exciting part of town. Shows tonight and tomorrow, see it if you can and buy tickets online as these shows are anticipated to sell out very quickly.

News & Writer’s Block

Chicago-Gateway-Vertical-Farm-15
A plantscraper

There’s so much going on right now and I recognize I’m doing a poor job chronicling and commenting on the never ending supply of fascinating (and mundane) events that have occurred in our city over the past few months.

What can I say? Really. What can I say that hasn’t already been said – this is a good time for journalism, but an overwhelming one for an at-best occasional blogger.

Or perhaps I’m just following far too many journalists on Twitter… either way I’m overcome by a feeling there’s not much I can add that hasn’t already been said far better by someone else.

I’m hoping it’s just a bad case of writer’s block.

In any event, here are some thoughts on a few items I’ve come across recently.

First, from Alanah Heffez at Spacing Montréal, a novel proposal to create a temporary urban farm at the abandoned Blue Bonnets raceway. Though the borough intends on redeveloping the site as a high-density ‘planned community’ at some point in the forceable future, Ms. Heffez is of the opinion that we won’t see any movement for at least five years – I completely agree, and likely longer still. She reports that there is community interest to use the site for farming in the meantime, and at 43 hectares the site provides ample room for a wide variety of agricultural activities – I can imagine just about everything from large garden plots to indoor vermicology to aquaponics and hydroponics on that site alone, possibly utilizing the existing buildings. The soil is apparently a little gravelly but usable nonetheless; what can I tell you – I think this is an amazing idea and support it 110%.

Food security is important contemporary socio-political issue of particular importance to North Americans in general, but with the overwhelming cacophony emanating from the Charbonneau Commission and the hand’s down retarded debate over gun control happening south of the border I doubt we’ll get a chance to make some time to seriously discuss it. And it’s an issue I feel should be front and centre for all Montrealers. We are, after all, sitting on an island in the midst of a vast agricultural plain, and yet far too little of what we eat actually comes from it. Once upon a time not so long ago nearly everything we ate was cultivated or produced right here in the city or surrounding metropolitan region. Over the course of the last forty years food prices have increased considerably and in excess of the rise in inflation. More and more of the food we eat is heavily processed, imported and increasingly unnatural, as industrialized, corporate agriculture has grown over the past decades. As you might imagine, this is an unsustainable and extremely unhealthy phenomenon, one which must be addressed and corrected as soon as humanly possible.

Ms. Heffez’s proposal is well-rooted in a growing food-security and urban agriculture movement, one largely led by a retired professional basketball player and certified genius by the name of Will Allen (a recent recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant). Mr. Allen’s organization, Growing Power, has developed a simply wonderful urban farm by the same name in Minneapolis, and on a plot of land many, many times smaller than the Hippodrome he has managed to create a comparatively inexpensive and hyper-efficient supplier of wholesome produce for disadvantaged urbanites. Growing Power includes multiple greenhouses, hydroponic cultivation, fish farming (he grows tilapia and perch, indoors!) as well as traditional mixed outdoor farming and urban livestock (goats, pigs, chickens, ducks etc.). Imagine what we could do if we used his method and applied it to 43 hectares – we could provide a considerable amount of high-quality organically farmed produce from within the city limits. Citizens would be able to purchase food at a fraction of the current cost – this would quite literally increase the value of the Canadian dollar within the city. The implications, in my opinion, are significant. If our municipal government were to prioritize food security by, in effect, re-introducing agriculture to the city, we would not only be able to mitigate the local problem of malnutrition and malnourishment, but would further permit everyone to lower their annual food budgets. And considering the communal and cooperative nature of urban agriculture, we may wind up realizing just how inter-dependent the citizens of a large metropolis truly are.

Second, from Kristina Gravenor at Coolopolis, two neat proposals I’ll use to help develop a common thread. On January 30th he wrote about reviving the Mount Royal Funicular and the next day he proposed putting ‘green roofs’ atop the Decarie Expressway (something I’ve been on about for a while). Both of these articles are in effect calling for more green space in Montreal, in the first case by providing a more sophisticated alternative to reach the top of the Mountain than by using the Camilien Houde Parkway (possibly making it redundant) and in the second case by converting an open sore and concentrated source of vehicular pollution into parkland. Again, I’m in total agreement.

W/r/t the funicular I would argue in favour of it specifically as a means to get rid of the road which currently bisects the mountain. If a funicular were installed within proximity of the original on the east side, then the road leading from Mount-Royal & Parc could be returned to the mountain, thus permitting better access to the entirety of the eastern portion of the mountain from within the park. I’d like to get rid of the parking lots too, but I suppose they still serve a purpose. That said only the western portion of the road (the inappropriately named Chemin Remembrance) is really vital. If the eastern part of the Camilien Houde parkway were eliminated, not only would Mount Royal park be larger and potentially offer many more hiking trails, it could further permit connection of the park to the U de M campus and Outremont as well. And all of this is aside from the fact that the increase in preserved parkland could permit a greater biodiversity on the mountain.

And if it’s well designed, unobtrusive, efficient – we may have a source of modest constant revenue and another tourist destination too – what’s not to like?

As for covering the Decarie, I agree with Kristian whole-heartedly. We should cover all the exposed highway trenches (i.e. the Ville-Marie Expressway downtown), and turning the top into a simple open green space is an excellent proposal for a wide variety of reasons. First, it allows the pollution to be trapped in a tunnel, and ventilation systems can be fitted with ‘scrubbers’ designed to clean polluted air before releasing it back topside. Second it provides much-needed multi-use green spaces in the urban core. Third, and perhaps most importantly, adjacent land value, especially along Decarie, would skyrocket, and I can imagine quite a bit of new development would follow as the Montreal real estate market adjusts to the novelty of a massive linear park atop a vital highway. Finally, a way to benefit from immediate highway access without all that shitty pollution!

I can imagine such a project would ordinarily be presented as something to be done in segments, but if the plan were so bold so as to suggest covering the entirety of the Decarie Expressway in one shot, a streamlined operation and cohesive vision would definitely get us more bang for our buck.

And it may finally make the Snowdon Theatre a viable option for conversion into an actual performance space. No one wants to go on a date next to a grimy, stinking highway.

And just to wrap it all together, all the new green space wouldn’t just give us more opportunities to catch a breath of fresh air, but would also provide plenty of new land on which simple urban gardening and agriculture could be practiced. Consider for yourself – that’s a lot of land we’re not fully utilizing.

Third and finally, the proposal to move Calder’s Man from it’s current location at Parc Jean Drapeau to somewhere in the city – if I understand correctly Alexandre Taillefer, who if I’m not mistaken is the chairman of the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, wants the well-respected oeuvre of modern sculpture somewhere closer to the MACM, likely as a feature of the Place des Spectacles/ Place des Festivals. François Cardinal of La Presse, initially in favour of the idea, has thought better of it.

I’m of the opinion we’ve already done enough in this sector, and over-focusing all cultural activities and landmarks in one place is never a good idea. For the same reason you don’t pack every square inch of all the walls in an art gallery with paintings, we shouldn’t move Calder’s sculpture here. If Taillefer is indeed interested in developing a new building for the MACM, then let it be the landmark, or let it be designed to prominently feature a new piece that is representative of that particular space and the buildings around it. There’s no reason to parachute Man into the area, I don’t think it would fit and I’m beginning to grow anxious the PdA/PdS area is going to seem a bit too busy in a few years.

We’re a big city – there’s room to distribute our landmarks and major cultural venues and if we were smarter we’d do just that so as to spread out the positive economic benefits they bring.

I think the underlying issue here is that we’re cognizant the park islands are under-utilized, but the solution isn’t to gut them of what they have. But that’s another issue I’ve been writing and re-writing for months now – hopefully I’ll have something half decent soon enough.

Pensées & Observations

Have been exceptionally busy with work – of all the times to not be able to fully devote myself to all the going’s on of our fair city!

First of all – how about that flood?

I suppose my question is – why was she trying to cross McTavish? Did she get stuck there or did she figure it wasn’t nearly as strong and made a break for it? And why not turn around?

I guess we’ll never know – what would any of us do in such a situation as discovering you’re in the midst of a raging torrent of water where once a walkway stood? I think she hit it out of the park on the way down – is it me or does it seem she has her hand extended as if to say, (dare he say it?) …yolo!

A magic carpet ride to Sherbrooke Street.

Buddy’s comment at the end of the video irked a few who came out and said on social media it’s a damn shame no one did anything to help her, and how it’s indicative of x,y and z social pathology etc etc.

What could anyone do? McGill doesn’t come equipped with throw lines and life jackets (though I suspect some over-zealous helicopter parents will doubtless soon request it). Perhaps a human chain could have assisted her, but it could just as easily could have resulted in many more people tumbling down McTavish.

In any event. No harm no foul, one hell of an anecdote and 15 minutes of fame. Bully for her.

***edit – Feb. 17th 2013***

Had to replace the video and as you can see it looks like she was swept down from far higher up McTavish, but I can’t help but feel this may be done on purpose; it almost looks like she’s trying to surf down. If I were trying to get across, or had somehow been pulled down by the deluge, I doubt I’d be as calm. Certainly a lot more flustered, panicky even.

***

Nothing like a freak flood to brighten one’s mood.

Though I was quite literally at the epicentre of major downtown flooding when it occurred, I only saw the aftermath, having been far too engrossed in the task at hand (that pays the man).

The truth is I really didn’t notice it at all.

Leaving late at night my twitterfeed informed me of water infiltration at Gare Centrale and Place Ville-Marie, and that alternate routes should be considered. My hat’s off to the AMT tweeter who quickly responded to my questions (in both official languages); excellent customer service. I decided to have a look anyways, figuring I’d continue on to Bonaventure if the Deux-Montagnes Line was fully down and out. A detour through PVM’s expansive underground corridors led me to a tunnel I had never walked through, despite about a decade’s worth of regular commuter train use. The corridor on the easternmost edge of PVM running towards Gare Centrale is unique – softly lit, a long, well-proportioned, satisfyingly rectangular tube with tasteful black and white photographs all long the way detailing the evolution of this veritable heart of the city. Emblematic of what I’d call the best parts of the Underground City. The shopping centres are a bit much.

So bully for me I guess. I love how this city manages to keep me on my toes, and leave something left to discover after all these years.

For reference, this is where all that water was gushing out of. There’s a reservoir under Rutherford Park, and if I’m not mistaken it’s absolutely massive (37 million gallons). The four foot diameter pipe that burst is apparently a solid 100-125 years old, and the reservoir’s last major renovation occurred in (wait for it) 2008-2009. And a pipe burst in 2011 that also sent a torrent of water down McGill’s elegant spine, though it was not as severe. If I had to guess the on-going construction work around the reservoir on Docteur-Penfield may have had something to do with it, though Rad-Can indicates the wild fluctuations in temperature may have also played a role. They also note that Louisbourg Construction is involved in the multi-year $1.3 billion renovation of the complex.

Hmmm. Perhaps when public probes into corruption in the construction industry hit a little too close to home, accidents start happening. Isn’t that what the mob does? Protection rackets?

Interesting fact; the reservoir was built in 1852 and remained uncovered for just over 100 years. It was built after a devastating fire in the mid-1850s, replacing the former primary reservoir where Carré Saint-Louis stands today. It’s pump-house is Chateau-styled, in keeping with much of the architecture of the upper McGill Campus, and it uses the stone face of the mountain as its walls on three sides. When they were blasting it open large chunks of rock flew off and penetrated the roof of the Administration Building.

Ah, the good old days.

***

Hot off the digital presses, a story by local journalist Christopher Curtis concerning panic on a commuter train stalled in the Mount Royal Tunnel during Monday’s inondation.

Apparently the train was stalled with no power, lighting or ventilation for twenty minutes, and some people started freaking out. Admittedly, it would get pretty uncomfortable pretty quick, what with those train cars jam-packed with 1500 or so commuters, all cranky and hungry and what all. But twenty minutes? I suppose it’s an eternity if you have to take a piss, but otherwise it seems kinda quick.

Question now is how to make the high traffic tunnel a little safer. Some want emergency exits, while others point to industrial fire-fighting equipment and better lighting as the answer. Either way it’ll cost a lot and few seem inclined to move on it – Marois has other priorities. (I recommend listening to the podcast – like nice old time CBC radio news.)

***

I had a neat experience – also transit and weather related – last Wednesday. It was the coldest it’s been as long as I can remember, and more significantly a prolonged deep freeze at that. Truly miserable when compared to today’s balmy hint of springtime. My early-morning commuter train stalled on the Deux-Montagnes Line at Montpellier Station; I snapped off a picture, tweeted it, and by the end of the day had done an interview for the CBC. Managed to turn a pain in the ass commute to very small scale media domination – photo got tweeted about, put up on the old cathode-ray, interview was broadcast twice on the radio – it happened very quickly and was fascinating to watch unfold.Photo’s here.

What concerned me is that we are all told to get off the train and go to the other side of the station for the next one, a train which, as we all expected, was completely full. The next two were as well. People huddled in the waiting room and café adjacent the station while others waited for slow moving buses and others still crowded into the small kiosk of a shell station. I milled about in the freezing cold waiting for cab that never showed. When I spotted a group haggling over who called the cab I lept at my opportunity, stating unequivocally that it was mine and I was getting the hell out of there.

Twenty-five dollars later I had managed to get from Montpellier to de la Savanne Métro station; the cabby told me not to waste my money, that the Métro would be far faster trying to get across town at 9:30 in the morning. By the time I reached Lionel-Groulx, already pissed at the lost productivity (I had taken a train to get me to ork for 8:00) I heard the dreaded ‘attention a tous les passagers’ as I was half way from one side to the other, the Métro doors of the orange line train slowly closing behind me. Fortunately it was in the other direction, at the other end of the Green Line. My heart was sunk anyways – such an ordeal and so far from ideal.

Many thanks to the fine people at the CBC for making it so worthwhile…

***

Urbania‘s Anglo edition is a must-read. Visit their site for free content but I recommend actually having a physical copy. It’s an exposé on Québec’s duality as seen through the looking glass – a minority’s viewpoint of a hidden minority, a series of revelations about the nuances of Québec society on the whole and with special respect to an Anglophone community that is increasingly seeing itself as Québecois. The magazine does a superb job crafting an intelligently designed report on the complex web of inter-relations, demonstrating, in my eyes, the immense socio-cultural wealth we glean from Québec’s special relationship.

In their cheeky and rambunctious style, Urbania threw open the door and welcomed a potential new readership base most francophone media would otherwise ignore. I think they’re on to something – Anglophones in Québec are sufficiently proficient in French all they really need to take it a step further into fluency is to be extended a hand to read something hip. I’m impressed. I’m more than impressed. From what I’ve heard the academic community specializing in the philosophy of inter-culturalism is also quite impressed.

So bully for us.

***

I’ve come to the realization that should Québec ever vote to secede from Canada, there’s really no reason why Montréal should find itself as no longer being a part of Canada. I don’t mean to argue in favour of the partition of Québec (the Cree, Mohawk and Inuit have already made their positions quite clear on the matter, and ultimately I think it’s their call to make given our hydro dams are on their territory, but I digress), but simply to say that Montréal is as much a part of Québec as it is Canada, and that we would not recover economically from the population loss, wealth transfer, reduction in property values and loss of key Canadian corporations, including the substantial crown corporations and federal agencies operating out of Montréal.

So why even bother going down that road? The people of the region don’t want to be stuck (again) between the opposing views of Ottawa and Québec City (and frankly we’ve been held back by both for too long as is), and have deep cultural, social and economic links stretching across provincial and national borders. So if Québec were to pull-out of Confederation, so be it, I won’t be happy, but there’s no reason Montréal can’t be shared by both. Berlin without the Wall; a post-modern solution to what is in essence a festering 18th century scab we just can’t help ourselves from picking at.

Let it be.
Let it be.
I’d like to see how this city moves and shakes when all the pistons are firing and we’ve abandoned our inefficiencies, our indifference and our self-imposed incompatibility.

***

A couple weeks back, a conversation between two people on the commuter train (yes, I do nothing but ride the rails all day in a suit and tie, as you might expect) I saw one of those quintessential Montréal moments. Two middle aged people, colleagues, a man and a woman. He with Baltic features and a former Soviet Bloc accent, she multi-generational Chinese-Canadian, the two of them having a splendid little conversation in both English and French. And manke no mistake – they were both speaking both, interchanging as if on a whim. Both spoke both languages with such fluidity I couldn’t tell which they used more frequently. Fully intelligible and intelligent too. They say bilingualism is good for the brain.

***

Last points – two recent small business discoveries I’m quite keen on.

Crossover Comics at 3568 rue Notre Dame West (a hop, skip and a jump from Lionel-Groulx) – excellent selection, affable, knowledgeable staff, highly recommended.

&

Freak Lunchbox, a confectionary funhouse at 3680 the Main. While it’s pricey and very easy to spend a lot of money there, you’ll have a blast doing it. Excellent place to pass by if you’re off to see a flick and want something to nosh on that’s actually considerably less expensive and more satisfying than most multiplex offerings. They also have a lot of high-sugar treats most of us generally don’t have access to. Highly recommended for people seeking the ideal gift for the ‘hard-to-buy-gifts-for’ people we all know and love, as well as those who enjoy 1980s power pop.