When I was a boy growing up in Beaconsfield, the West Island of Montreal was considered the bastion of privilege, the affluent enclave of the anglo, les maîtres chez nous! How things change …
Story by By Sue Montgomery, Photo by Phil Carpenter — The Gazette
Of course it’s not merely the children and grand-children of formerly comfortable Montreal suburbanites who have suffered in Montreal’s decline at the hands of global economics and parochial ideologies. It’s almost everyone who steps foot on the once-magical island.
50 Years ago, as the city laboured feverishly to build the marvel that would become Expo 67, hope was infectious. She was still the biggest city in Canada, although soon to be eclipsed by Toronto, (Hogtown, the big smoke, the urban joke that gave rise to Mel Lastman, Rob Ford, and the pathetic sight of our armed forces shovelling snow for panicked commuters) and was about become the toast of the world.
Alas, confidence too often gives rise to foolish pride, arrogance, and puts a distorted, self-destructive filter on one’s view of reality.
In Montreal that took form and gave rise to the FLQ and fellow travellers, an extremist fringe piggy-backing on a legitimate and necessary social movement for the cultural evolution of Quebec from anglo colony to a great, cosmopolitan community.
Extremism, of course, has the unfortunate effect of making previously unreasonable notions seem moderate. So it is, today, as our Orwellian security state continues to rise from the ashes of 9/11. And in mid-sixties Quebec, the extremism of cultural terrorism paved the way for the cultural intolerance of the formerly aggrieved and all the collateral damage — social, intellectual, and economic — that petty vengeance inevitably gives rise to.
With wise and patient leadership, the Montreal of 1967 (and by extension, Quebec) could have grown to become the greatest, or at least 2nd greatest, francophone city in the world today, and the epitome of cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, tolerance and hope.
Instead, she’s a weakened and wounded city with an uncertain future in country that’s grown tired of petty grievance and conflict.
When I was young and bravely bent on travel — many, many years ago — I knew I had to leave the city or abandon my future to the vagueries of politics and resentment. That’s when I started writing this song …
My father, knew. He told me,
“You don’t stay where you’re not wanted;
To find that you’ve become a ghost
Or one the ghost has haunted.”
Ville Marie, you’re quite a sight,
All dressed up like a tramp tonight,
All lit up like a north woods winter sky.
Ah, Ville Marie, I hate these long goodbyes.
You took my faith,
And broke my alibis.
Time to finish it.
I want to paint Montreal as a rather fantastic city,
which it was, because nobody knows today what it was like.
And I’m one of the last survivors, or rapidly becoming one.
– Christopher Plummer For me, unemployment and poverty in the Greater Montreal area is not mainly a problem of structure, or design, or statistics. It is a profoundly human situation.