Great Feats of Montréal Engineering

Found this neat episode of some old program about engineering mega projects in Québec – excellent background, technical info and old-school cool stock footage of the Métro’s construction.

Random tidbits:

The Métro was first conceptualized in 1910.
The rubber tires are inflated with Nitrogen (lasts longer, more give than air).
The original 26 stations were completed in less than four years.
There have only ever been two major fires in the system, neither of which killed any passengers.
The last major fire happened in 1974.
The entire system is electric, and current used not only powers the trains but also regulates their speed and position between each other.
The entire system is unheated as the trains and passengers create heat which is largely sealed within the system; thus ventilation is required year round.
Twelve workers lost their lives during the construction of the original system.
Rock and earth removed from the tunnels was used to enlarge Ile-Ste-Helene and create Ile-Notre_Dame, for Expo 67. This plan itself was based on a project proposed by the provincial professional architectural order in 1909.

In any event, take a gander, it’s a hoot for boulevardiers, hipsters and Metrophiles alike.

But in watching this I can’t help but ask myself – how did we get it done all those years ago?

I fear the nothing but the appearance of potential inconvenience is all it takes these days to derail any serious talk of expansion or upgrades to the system.

Perhaps we were able to accomplish so much back then because we really wanted the Métro, because it was an idea well marketed. And heck, maybe working several tens of thousands of people on a three-shift per day cycle year round may have played some role in keeping costs down, production up and inconveniences palatable.

We should take stock of how wimpified we’ve become – having the balls to build the Métro required the public’s appui, and we took the risk knowing how great the payoff would be.

Our city has grown considerably since the provincial government established a moratorium on new Métro construction in the mid-1980s. The extension into Laval took too long and cost too much, doubtless a victim of the rampant corruption in the province’s construction industry.

And our uninspired troglodite of a current premier has only said she would support an extension into Anjou and St-Leonard of three stations, which is in effect a repetition of the same mistakes made when we ventured into Laval.

If we want the Métro to grow, we have to plan to build a lot on a fixed and tight schedule, employing many people over a short period of time while streamlining equipment rentals and bulk materials. Dragging it out can (and has) made Métro expansion prohibitively expensive.

Anyways – hope you find this as inspiring as I do.

Montr̩al РThe Neighbourhood Revived

Montr̩al РThe Neighborhood Revived by Michel R̩gnier, 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.

Student Activists: A New Source of Revenue for the Montréal Police

Welcome to Montréal, Québec – where civil disobedience has been turned into a revenue generator for the city’s police department.

Using an unethical and possibly illegal method called ‘kettling’, Montréal Police gather around a gathering and slowly process all the people there, issuing fines they may or may not collect. Assuming everyone pays up, the estimate is Montréal’s police made nearly $180,000 last night. I call this method unethical because it is specifically designed to prevent people from being able to get away.

Or disperse as police so often request.

As you can see by this video, police have a total advantage against the protesters, one of whom decided to bring his guitar.

Or perhaps he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

That would be anywhere within fifty feet of an SPVM constable at any time of the day; our boys and girls in black and blue will gladly break into your home and throw you down the stairs (say if they think you might be drunk, as an example). Or if you live in the Plateau, or wear black, or happen to be a minority. Whichever’s most convenient.

Here’s constable Stéphanie Trudeau using her using the choke-hold to subdue an old man; local policing at its finest:

And most terrifying of all, this is all happening with the full consent of those who both run the city of Montréal, its police force, as well as the government of Québec, currently managed by the insufferable gasbag wannabe country-destroyer Pauline Marois.

A woman who was praised but months ago for finally bringing a woman’s touch to the old boys club of provincial politics. No more paternalist, police-heavy practices! she said while awkwardly clanging pots and pans. We all thought, at the very least, she’d do the right thing, find other methods of funding our universities and kill the bills that have so infringed on our federally protected right to freedom of assembly and conscience.

But I suppose therein lies the problem; if you don’t want to be a part of Canada, you’ll likely be disinclined from appealing to your federal government for assistance (not that it would happen, though at least our MPs could make a stink in Ottawa, coordinate class-action lawsuits against the SPVM for criminal violation of individual rights etc etc.)

Marois knows these students voted for her back in September, but despite this has decided not to pressure the city of Montréal nor the SPVM to cease this obscene and vile practice.

Unless the money collected is being used to fund higher education in Québec.

At which point she’d be an evil super-genius of epic cartoon proportions.

That would be preferable to our current state.

That of being an international joke and national embarrassment.

Where the hell is the leadership in this province, this city?

Who defends the interests of the people from the abuse as we see above?

There are other non-violent means of executing social and political change, outside the realm of non-violent (though for the time being illegal) protests and demonstrations. Organization would be a good place to start, and how Montréal’s activists vote this coming Autumn (i.e., whether they vote en masse for someone who will repeal P6 and kick pathologically abusive police constables to the curb) will be a demonstration of whether grassroots political organization truly extends beyond the all-to-often party atmosphere of public protest in our city.

Il faut que ça change.

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.

L’Affaire Jennifer Pawluk and the Nuances of Social Media

The offending image, since removed.
The offending image, since removed.

A local activist and student, the aforementioned Ms. Pawluk, was arrested after posting a photograph of the above image to Instagram. She was questioned and released on a promise to appear in court (ergo, not formally charged). She is accused of criminal harassment as the above image is of Montréal Police Commander Ian Lafrenière, the head of the police’s public-relations team (here’s his profile on the SPVM website, which lists him as a Sergeant. This may be the single most Québécois English-language webpage in the world, but that’s another issue).

He’s their spokesperson.

Not the pricks swinging their dicks and busting heads out in the street.

And the image is of him, his name, a bloody bullet hole in his forehead, and the tag ACAB (all cops are bastards).

Of course – what a logical image. Killing the mouthpiece of the police force is a surefire way to investigate and eliminate police brutality and corruption, not to mention ease tensions between cops and activists.

This is the kind of message I’d have included if I had been in her shoes, or something to that effect which could be said in 140 characters. Or maybe nothing at all.

What I most certainly would not have done would be to include hashtags of two different, common spellings of the commander’s surname, nor include the SPVM hashtag, or Montreal as spelled in two languages. I think that’s where documentation crosses the line into making a statement, and this statement advocates cop-killing.

Whether an individual would be incited to act upon seeing this image isn’t really the issue. I see it as simply being this – people have the right to feel threatened, even the cops, and they have the right to have their concerns addressed.

Put it this way – imagine an abusive boyfriend posting an image of his ex in the style of the cartoon Lafrenière. It circulates on Facebook and catches the attention of a police officer. We’d expect the police to intervene (and from what I’ve heard our police force takes violence against women and children very seriously, but I digress). Lafrenière has the right to feel as threatened as he wants; whether he can prove a legitimate threat is another thing, but I don’t think this will ever make it to court. He’ll eventually withdraw the complaint and we’ll forget about this. Pressing on would be very foolish on the part of the Montréal Police or Cmdr. Lafrenière.

Also, I certainly wouldn’t have reminded those who follow me on Instagram that all cops are bastards while also hash-tagging the cops. That’s a fight I’d rather not pick.

It’s like calling a cop a pig to his or her face. Yes, you’re technically allowed to do it – you can do whatever you want – but you can’t turn around and blame the cop who punches you in the nose in turn.

We can’t act like the cops are so far removed from society they wouldn’t pick up on these kinds of things. Ostensibly, that’s what we’re paying them to do – pick up on the details. I think it’s silly not to expect the police to react very negatively to such a thing, and if she’s already been ticketed for whatever the fuzz busts people for these days (standing, waiting, looking etc.) then she should expect the police to be watching her. They saw an opportunity to pick her up for questioning and they did so. From their point of view they’re giving her a scare that may prevent people from circulating similar images in the future (directed at anyone, for that matter).

I remember avidly reading various publications issued by the COBP and the old anarchist bookstore (among other tracts I consulted when I was an activist) concerning what to do when confronted by police. This was later confirmed by books such as David Simon’s amazing Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.

The only answer anyone should ever give to a cop’s question is: I need my lawyer.

I need my lawyer.

I need my lawyer.

I need my lawyer.

Like a mantra until the cops get you your court-appointed civil-defender.

It’s what you should do, it’s what I hope Ms. Pawluk did.

Because that at the very least would have been a smart move. Calling Lafrenière out was a foolish move, one which has now earned her some kind of an arrest record, which may or may not come back and bite later on.

And all of this is aside from the key issue – even if you didn’t articulate the message, be mindful of what you might re-articulate. In this context, even though I don’t think she was personally indicating she would consider utilizing violence against a civil servant, she nonetheless gave her appui to the notion violence (or perhaps the aesthetic of violence) can be a useful political tool.

The reason our protest movements go nowhere is because violence, be it physical or rhetorical, is all too often used as first, rather than last resort. It discredits the message and erects needless walls, isolating those advocating social change from the society they seek to change.