When did the decline of Montreal really start?

Written by  //  October 6, 2012  //  Montreal  //  2 Comments

Conrad Black: As Quebec decays, Toronto seizes greatness
Whether Canadians from other centres like it or not, Toronto is now and will remain the comparative metropolis of the country, having surged past Montreal after that city entered into a sustained suicide attempt based on separatist agitation and accompanying racial and cultural discrimination.
Behind the pretenses to egalitarianism that dress up confiscatory Quebec tax laws and repressive language laws, the real driving ambition has been to push the non-French out of Quebec, buy up the real assets they cannot physically take with them, especially their mansions and office buildings in Montreal, and eliminate up to half the emphatically federalist votes in the province. Montreal’s loss has proven to be Toronto’s gain.


Montreal construction25 October
We have a few suggestions in response to the question posed in the heading, however, the parlous state of the construction industry and mismanagement by all levels of government surely has something to do with it – remember the ’76 Olympics? – and never have we been more conscious of the problems than in the summer of 2011.

6 August
It has a finger in every pie
(Montreal Gazette) In the 1970s, Lalonde, Valois, Lamarre, Valois et associés – later known as SNC-Lavalin – built the Ville Marie Expressway. In 2008, SNC-Lavalin inspected the expressway for the government, sounding the alarm on its “critical” state. Yet neither the CEO of SNC-Lavalin, Pierre Duhaime, nor anyone else representing the company has said anything meaningful since the emergency closing of the thoroughfare.
Best comment on this event was posted on Alan Hustak’s FB page: They’ve spent so much time over the years inspecting the language on signs; they totally forgot to inspect the roads and bridges.
Ville Marie roof collapse: A narrow escape
Montreal narrowly escaped tragedy Sunday morning when a concrete beam and a section of the roof it was supporting collapsed onto the Ville Marie Expressway, somehow missing the hundreds of motorists that were on the road at the time.
About 9 a.m. Sunday, a transversal beam fell onto the eastbound half of the highway. The beam was supporting a concrete grid over the transitional zone at the entrance to a section of the Ville Marie Tunnel, which also fell. At least 15 metric tonnes of debris scattered across the roadway. A720: chaos annoncé dans le secteur
22 July
The editors of the Montreal Gazette have chosen the beginning of the annual construction holiday to address the existential question that most of us have been debating for decades – probably since 1971.
It might be time to rethink the construction holiday
It seems they have woken up to the fact that “these two weeks are prime time for construction work. And while not all construction projects will shut down for the holiday – work will continue on most vital road-repair undertakings – many private-and public-work sites will shut down for that optimal time, and work to complete them will stretch that much more into the frigid months when the weather is less conducive to quality workmanship. Some in the engineering field suggest this to some extent explains the alarming decay of so much of our infrastructure at this latitude.” Journalism and civic mindedness at their finest.
13 July
Meanwhile, Montreal’s traffic nightmare gets worse
Turcot repairs close Ville Marie, Décarie
The concerns about the Champlain Bridge are not new. The Globe & Mail carried a story
(Canada’s crumbling infrastructure: the silence is deafening) in April about the absence of discussion of decaying infrastructure problems in the election, and cited in particular the Champlain Bridge.Champlain Bridge repairs to cost millions, fix nothing
21 June
As though our transportation problems weren’t bad enough, Bixi program to lose millions for Montrealers, auditor general says (CTV) Bergeron’s report states that from its infancy in 2007, the fast-tracked implementation of the BIXI program was poorly planned, with no feasibility studies, no market research, no cost-benefit analysis, little risk analysis of any kind. More
‎17 June
Montreal construction Turcot and St Jacques
CBC provides a helpful interactive map for anyone who ventures onto the streets An overview of construction in Montreal
Réseau routier: l’inquiétude gagne le monde des affaires ;



A thoughtful column by Rick Bluethat encouraged equally thoughtful debate and some good reading suggestions

Those of us who can see clearly know full well the impact of Quebec nationalism and the subsequent language laws on the decline of Montreal. Those of us not protected from reality by the spin of the Quebec political class.
But is it not probable that Montreal’s economic decline began even before that, with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959?
That was when trans-oceanic shipping no longer had to stop here. And trade could bypass Montreal and go directly into the great lakes.
That was when the ascendancy of Toronto began in earnest.
I wonder if the architects of the seaway foresaw the coming political crises in Quebec. If they understood that Montreal would end up being on the wrong side of the Quebec border and, therefore, they had to make a preemptive strike.
The seaway had a large effect on the ecology of the great lakes. Ocean-going vessels brought various species into the water that had never been there before, Zebra mussels to name one. These consequences are well documented in books.
But there is not much to be found on the political motives of the major players in this engineering feat, which was built between 1954 and 1959 as a federal government project by Louis St. Laurent’s Liberal government.
Most of the literature I could find only talks about the politics between Canada and the U.S., the rocky road to how it eventually became a bilateral project.
Because it happened before the rise of Quebec nationalism, there is no discussion about that as a motive for its creation.
But in retrospect it has had so many detrimental effects to the economy of Montreal that one would figure that some of its more astute architects must have foreseen them. Before it ships had to be unloaded in Montreal and the goods put on trains. Wheat and other commodities were trained from the interior to Montreal and put on ships here. That diminished after the seaway.
And the national railroads that once had their head offices here have moved out.

The shift towards Toronto began in the 19th
You can trace the decline to the late 19th century battle of the heartland to control the hinterland. Unfortunately, the Montreal business elite, mostly all anglophones, were not as aggressive as their competitors in Toronto at branching out into rural Canada to create business. This is especially true for the small farming towns around Toronto, which would later help Toronto grow into the conurbation that it would become. Even in the 19th century, though Toronto was much smaller than Montreal, the Queen city had a better articulated urban system, where a large city is surrounded by many smaller cities and towns to create an ideal economic region. Places like Oshawa, Aurora,Newmarket, Burlington, Hamilton, St. Catherines – parts of the Golden Horseshoe. Even places like Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph, Brantford and Barrie have helped Toronto grow economically since the 19th century. In constrast, though Montreal was a larger city at the time, it was not surrounded by many small towns for which the Montreal business elite could do business in. Not to mention those rich anglos might have balked about doing much business in towns with mainly French populations that were poor, uneducated and overly committed to relgion. The small towns surrounding Montreal are so few they can be counted on one hand – Ste. Hyacinthe, Granby, Drummondville, St. Jerome, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. A little further away are Sherbrooke and Trois-Riviere, but that’s it. Hence, Montreal would only become a metropolis, and not a conurbation like Toronto. With an avantageous urban system and an aggressive business class, it should not have come as a surprise that Toronto was beginning to catch Montreal economically and would by the mid 20th century, surpass it.
A good book to read, if you can find it because it is rare, is Jane Jacobs’ Canadian Cities and Sovereignty Association. Another book that she wrote which touched on this topic was The Question of Separatism. Both were published in 1980 and in both books she wrote excellently about the Montreal-Toronto dynamic and Montreal’s choice of being a regional city, like Winnipeg and Edmonton, or becoming it’s own national cultural capital distinct from Toronto, either within or outside of the Canadian context (in an indepedent Quebec).
In case you cannot find the Jane Jacob’s book, here is a link to a blog that has the chapter she wrote about Montreal’s decline and Toronto ascension.
Part 1 : http://altavistagoogle.blogspot.com/2006/09/jane-jacobs-montreal-and-tor…
Part 2: http://altavistagoogle.blogspot.com/2006/10/jane-jacobs-part-ii-of-montr…
The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle over Sovereignty (Jane Jacobs, Random House, New York, 1980)

2 Comments on "When did the decline of Montreal really start?"

  1. Antal (Tony) Deutsch October 25, 2011 at 3:01 pm ·

    A brief note on the strike at McGill.

    1. Strikes traditionally assume that there is no agreement on wages/working conditions between a certified bargaining agent representing the workers, and the employer, hereafter Acme Corp.
    As the union undertakes the legally required steps to get into a position to declare a strike, it has to consider that during a strike the workers have no earnings, thus they face an existential pressure to settle. The management of Acme Corp. has to consider the loss of output/profits during a strike, thus they too feel pressed to settle. In most cases, they eventually do, and life goes on.
    2. McGill, unlike Acme Corp., has no profits and no shareholders. It usually operates at a deficit, and its over-all spending budget is determined by the Quebec Government. Because of the government imposed spending limit, any extra dollar paid to a particular employee group has to come out of the hides of the other employee groups, or the students. Generosity to the striking group implies short-changing some other members of the community, the classic zero-sum game. There seems to be no shortage of people on campus to point fingers at other potential losers, but there are no volunteers to assume the role.
    3. You would think that the long- payless strikers would now press their negotiators for a reasonable compromise. To complicate matters, one of Canada’s major public service unions stepped in (they have no other dealings with McGill) and pay $75 a day to each striker. My speculative explanation for this generous behaviour is to make sure that a high-profile strike in the public sector is successful, at a very low cost to the donor, because by its standards the affected McGill group is miniscule.
    4. A quick solution to this mess is for the Quebec Government to impose compulsory arbitration to replace the strike/negotiation mechanism in establishing the condition of MUNACA’s next contract. This is a legal step, but using it would require a measure of political courage.

    What happens next? I do not know. The Quebec Government has appointed a conciliator, an official with powers to tell the parties to be nice to each other.
    I hope that this is a fair summary of where we are now.

  2. Antal (Tony) Deutsch October 25, 2011 at 8:54 pm ·

    On the decline of Montreal:
    1. Some place the turning point at the death of [Sir Herbert] Holt in 1943. That, I am told but have not checked, more or less coincides with the passing of the trading volume on the Toronto Stock Exchange over their counterpart in Montreal.
    2. With the opening of the St.Lawrence Seaway (1959) the head of navigation ceased to be Montreal.
    3. The rise of Quebec Nationalism in the Sixties did not improve the attraction of investing in Quebec over, say, Ontario. Language legislation imposed extra costs on businesses that operated in English everywhere else. Tax rates in Quebec were high as compared to Ontario.
    4. The start of the decline, as described above, became a further cause of investment unattractiveness in Quebec as compared to, say, Ontario and Alberta.

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