Letter to:

24 Sep

Kevin you asked:

“Which city other than Winnipeg, anywhere in the world, comes closest to being the ideal city? Why?

First let me say I have travelled widely in N. America and to France, Korea & China, but I will have to limit my answer to the cities I am familiar with that have something in common with Winnipeg and from which we can learn.
So I choose to suggest Montreal.  Not for what it is but for what we can learn from it.  I grew up in Montreal and left there at the age of 30 (1978) having spent my youth playing music in every corner of that city with many of the cultures in that city.  Now it needs to be emphasized that Montreal is one of the architecturally most beautiful cities in N. America.  This is partly due to the heritage provided by the Roman Catholic Church that chose to replicate many of the famous churches in Europe in the city.  Also early in its modern history there was a serious respect for the historical value of ‘Old Montreal’.  Then there is the spectacular Mt Royal that is one of the greatest urban green spaces on the whole continent.  
Of course there is the ATTITUDE that remains from the 350 years of competition with New York City to be the ‘Gateway to the Continent’.  Yes NYC eventually had the Erie Canal that connected it to the Great Lakes but Montreal had the Lachine Canal ( named after one of the early fur trade ‘promoters’, La Salle, who suggested that the St. Lawrence would lead to China!) and then there was the  St. Lawrence Seaway which (to my knowledge) was the last big attempt at outdoing NYC.
So I grew up in a particularly wonderful city but during my youth, life in cities changed, cars clogged the highways and roads and Montreal was ‘Traffic Hell’, a car-culture city that was destined to be consumed by its success and growth.  For my whole youth the city was the site of construction failures as engineers and city planners tried every thing to alleviate the traffic gridlock… They even built a miles long ‘canal’, below grade, for a super highway that was projected to solve the problems but which , as happens in every such situation, only encouraged more cars…. The history of the 401 in Toronto and the subsequent failure of the 407 are common knowledge to eastern Canadians and to the populations of the eastern U.S….  But, nevertheless, Montreal tried those ‘failed’ concepts.
And here is WHY I chose Montreal:  Then, at about the same time that Mayor Juba was promoting a monorail in Winnipeg, in Montreal a somewhat corrupt Mayor saw an opportunity to be seen in history as the saviour of the city.  Using the ‘deadline of the 1967 Worlds Fair and Canada’s hundredth anniversary he managed to coordinate the forces in Montreal to build a subway.  But not just a subway… a world class subway.
Today, Montreal, a city whose existence was threatened by the automobile and ‘eternal road building’ has become the best city in N. America in which to bicycle, and the best city in N. America to live… because it has survived the threat and moved on into the future.  Since Mayor Drapeau, corruption has continued, maybe worsened,  but the life of the city and the lives of the people there continue to be driven by an optimism that is reflected in the fact their city has a future, has survived the cancer that destroys N. American cities and can continue to thrive.
No, not because it is the ‘Paris of N. America’,  not because it has such historical, cultural and architectural beauty, not because it has such wonderful green spaces, but I chose Montreal because it somehow had the instincts, or is that political leadership, to survive the cancer of the car and again become a place to live.
Today Winnipeg is in the exact same ‘political swamp of ignorance’, ‘political bog of cronyism’, ‘political morass of corrupted values and shallow short-term thinking’ as Montreal was in the ‘60s.  The only question is will Winnipeg  survive this Dark Age of Political Leaderless Myopia! 
Kevin,  There you have it,  straight from my heart right after I attended the SSOCC Harvest dinner that was the most positive and inspiring happening in years, and which sustains my spirit and hopes for this beleaguered city.

Posted by on September 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “Letter to:

  1. J.A.

    September 24, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    i agree that there is (was?) something wonderful about Montreal. To me it was the fact that the downtown streets were full of cheerful pedestrians almost all night long. Apart from random bank robbers who occasionally waved guns, but seldom used them to shoot, the city was safe. Nowadays the biggest threat seems to be cars, including taxis, that run red lights.

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