Montreal is a city of ghosts. Usually when I tell people this, I’m bitterly referring to the fact that while I was living abroad for over a decade, most of my Montreal friends went and moved away  — or, even worse — grew up. After recently participating in the online version of the Haunted Montreal tour, I learned that Montreal is indeed a city of ghosts, but in the more literal sense.

Due to the latest round of COVID-19 red zone lockdown measures (Tabarnak!), the always-popular Haunted Montreal ghost tours have been, like much of our 2020 lives, relegated to purgatory of Zoom video-conferencing.

The tour started with Donovan King, founder of Haunted Montreal, standing in front of a green screen that at first cycled through campy Halloween backdrops.

As the presentation got rolling, King presented an introduction of Montreal’s early founding and colonial history, and why that has perhaps led to our humble island home being such a haunted place.

The bulk of the hour-long presentation involved King recounting four vignettes about Montreal’s haunted past, illustrated by historical images on the green screen behind him. The four tales were drawn from a mixture of the various in-person tours usually offered by Haunted Montreal: Haunted Downtown, Haunted Mountain, Haunted Griffintown, paranormal investigations of local haunted sites, and the always-popular Haunted Pub Crawl.

Being a history nerd, I appreciated learning about these macabre Montreal legends, most of which I had not heard before. These stories were in steady hands with Donovan King, who is a seasoned storyteller.

King’s background in both acting and history makes him the ideal vessel to disseminate these creepy snippets of Montreal lore. His delivery was part authoritative history professor and part P.T. Barnum, complete with makeshift sound effects and even a minor jump scare or two.

The tales included that of the ill-fated tale of Simon McTavish, and how his death led to sightings of cadavers tobogganing down the slopes of 1820’s Mount Royal. King went on to detail how much of Montreal’s shiny downtown was built on burial sites — both Native American and early European, as well as mass burial pits from Cholera outbreaks in the 1800s. A thumbnail sketch of Montreal’s cemeteries was also full of welcome factoids.

The climax of the presentation came with a recounting of the tragic story of Headless Mary Gallagher. The murdered prostitute is said to still haunt a certain intersection in Griffintown on the anniversary of her grisly death, every seven years.

The online Haunted Montreal Ghost tours will be running all winter long, with a special presentation being held on Halloween night at 7pm. Regularly updated stories about Montreal’s creepy past can also be found on the Haunted Montreal blog. I look forward to participating in tours led by some of the other talented Haunted Montreal presenters.

Oh…an odd thing happened just after the tour (Insert X-files theme whistle here). I closed my laptop and sat on a couch in the basement of a 100-year-old NDG house, listening to the radio and taking notes on the tour.

Suddenly, I heard static, and an old rock song from the 1960s replaced the newscast I had been listening to — the radio changed channels all on its own — which is something it has never done before. I experienced full-body goosebumps, turned off the radio, and ran upstairs like a terrified five-year-old.

So if you do take the tour…turn on your radio afterwards and see what happens. Warning: results may vary (insert Vincent Price’s Thriller laughter here)

Full disclosure: Jason C. McLean, Editor-in-Chief of Forget the Box, is a tour guide at Haunted Montreal. Matt Poll, this post’s author, is not.

The Haunted Montreal Virtual Ghost Tour is currently running in English and French. Visit hauntedmontreal.com for more

Featured Image: Haunted Montreal

Protests against systemic racism and police brutality continue as thousands gathered at Place Emilie Gamelin last Sunday.

Protestors spent their sunny afternoon marching peacefully in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, reignited by the death of African American man George Floyd, who died in police custody for a harmless infraction on May 25 after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes as he pleaded for his life.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Floyd’s death sparked international outrage, with protests against police brutality and systemic racism uniting folks from across the world to take part in actions towards police reform.

Montreal’s second major Black Lives Matter protest since Floyd’s death, the event initially sparked local backlash after organizers, Nous sommes la ligue des noirs nouvelle génération, invited the Montreal Police (SPVM) Chief to join the protest. The decision was contested by locals, and a day later the invitation was withdrawn. In an open Facebook message, the organization wrote that “citizens are terrified of the idea that [the police chiefs] will be there.”

Still, the invitation did not stop police from teargassing the crowd around 7pm.

At 11am, after a two-hour solidarity event reserved for the Black community, the thousands of protesters, most following organizers’ directions to stay masked, began to move downtown.

Organizers offered free masks and gloves to protestors to maintain safety. For many, it was the first major outing since the COVID-19 pandemic halted large scale collective gathering at the end of March, though with a crowd so large it was difficult to follow the two meter social distance requirements.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Most protests held signs, with different messages; some more humorous, shedding light on the unity and togetherness of the situation while others alluded to the seriousness of the crimes. A simple sign, “8:46”, paid homage to Floyd’s death; it represents the amount of time Floyd suffocated under the officer’s knee.

Most protestors dispersed around 2pm, where the march ended at Dorchester Square, though many continued into the day to march around the downtown area, eventually coming face to face with a wall of police in full riot gear, shields, face masks, and rubber bullet guns.

Stanley Courages, a protestor at the event, said he joined in support of the Black Lives Matter movements. To him, it’s a symbol that things are going bad, “and going bad for a lot of people,” he said.

“The system is sick, but we all know that. Nobody has the nerve to say it out loud,” he continued. “This is nice to see, Black, White, Latin, a little bit of Asian… it’s nice to see all kinds of people. […] Somehow, some way, people can relate to it, the sadness, whatever the problem they have with this kind of system. So I’m here for that symbol.”

The spotlight is on what he calls the Black movement because Black folks have been put at the bottom since colonization, he said. But Black folks aren’t the only ones suffering, he explained.

“The black movement – the same thing as the Black Lives Matter – that’s what I see as a symbol that everyone is not okay with this system,” he said.
Pascale Lavache, another protestor at the event and who is Black, said she is marching for her nine year old son.

“I want him to not have to march when he’s my age, when he’s grown,” she said.

“I’m happy to see there’s lot of the youth is present,” she continued. “it’s not just black people, it’s everybody. Everybody feels the injustice. Everybody feels the injustice, and I feel like this is a great movement and I’m happy to see everybody is standing up for this injustice that touches everybody. So I’m really marching for myself.”

To her, the Black Lives Matter movement is about standing up for what is right, and standing up for equal rights for everybody. “I think people need to understand that this is not just for [Black folks], it’s for everyone. And it needs to stop, this needs to stop. It’s a disservice for everybody when there’s no justice.”

Though most protestors broke up around 2pm, protests continued around the downtown area until around 7pm. It was then that police opened fire on the remaining protectors without warning.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

The use of tear gas, a chemical weapon that is banned in war, has been criticized by healthcare experts. It irritates the tear ducts, causing coughing, and potential irritation of the upper respiratory tract; all symptoms that could further spread the COVID-19 virus, experts say.

Already a violent weapon, its use at peaceful protests in the Canadian epicentre of the pandemic is problematic at the very least. Local healthcare professionals have called for police to cease its’ use – to no avail.

Though the protests have shed light on the systemic racism present in the Canadian justice system, Premier Francois Legault said publicly that systemic racism doesn’t exist in Quebec. The thousands of protestors that hit the streets last Sunday would disagree.

From racial profiling, economic insecurity, and a lack of representation in all facets, Quebec’s longstanding whitewashing of its’ history and culture and xenophobia; including the contested Bill 62 which bands all religious symbols in public, prove a different, darker reality.

One way to ease the injustice, Lavache said, is for there to be equal representation at every level – in both media, politics, and police force.

“We need to have equal representation, whether it’s for women, LGBTQ,” she said. “Everyone needs to be represented. The more there’s equal representation, the more there will be justice.”

Montreal will be temporarily converting 327 kilometers of city streets into what the city is calling the Safe Active Transportation Circuit. These will last throughout the summer and possibly into the fall, depending on the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic and containment efforts.

At a press conference this morning alongside Éric Alan Caldwell, the Executive Committee member in charge of mobility, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante spoke of a bike ride she took down Christophe-Colomb Avenue with her kids. Despite few cars on the street, cyclists and pedestrians were all crammed together trying to respect social distancing guidelines.

According to Plante, this plan will increase the space available to pedestrians and cyclists and allow them to travel while respecting the two meter rule. It will link parks, residential streets and commercial arteries and encourage people to shop and enjoy nature locally as much as possible.

Plante noted that businesses will benefit because there will be more place outside for people to line up two meters apart as pedestrians and cyclists pass by. She also said that this plan will allow for more terrasse space for restaurant and bar patrons to spread out if and when the provincial government allows those type of businesses to re-open.

When a reporter asked Plante if pulling back some of the regulations that limit drinking alcohol outside, the Mayor said that while alcohol regulations aren’t under municipal jurisdiction, it’s always good to think outside the box.

Caldwell stressed that the city took into account bus and truck delivery routes when planning this circuit. While admitting it will limit car travel with less space available to vehicles, both he and the mayor pointed out that there are fewer cars on the road already due to the pandemic.

Here’s the video the city released:

Schools and non-essential retail businesses across Quebec are re-opening today, except those in the Greater Montreal Area. While schools in the 514, 438 and 450 area codes are on track to re-open in two weeks, Montreal-area businesses will not re-open on May 11th as planned, but May 18th.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced during the government’s regular COVID-19 briefing today that he was pushing back re-opening Montreal because Montreal-area hospitals were getting crowded. He noted that there are still beds available in Quebec’s largest city and coronavirus epicenter, but not enough to re-open in a week.

This decision comes amid a rise in virus transmission in Montreal Nord. Legault said that there is not enough leeway in Montreal to deconfine as planned as there is in other regions of Quebec.

He also updated his original two world view. Now, Legault says there are three Quebecs: inside seniors’ residences, Montreal and everywhere else.

Re-opening the manufacturing and construction sectors are happening as planned, even in the Greater Montreal Area.

Quebec will be re-opening some parts of its economy during the month of May. The province, at this point, will not be relaxing social distancing rules imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic overall and will impose new regulations on businesses when the re-open.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced the plan in general at the government’s daily press briefing before passing it over to Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade with the details. So far there are three sectors re-opening:

  • Retail Stores: Retail businesses that are not located inside a shopping mall or businesses inside a mall but with a separate entrance will be allowed to open on May 4th across Quebec with the exception of the Greater Montreal Area and on May 11th in Montreal and its surroundings. Stores will remain closed on Sundays until May 31st.
  • Manufacturing: Manufacturing businesses across Quebec can open May 11th. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees working per day can re-open with full staff. Those with over 50 daily employees can open with 50 employees plus half the remaining staff. On May 25th, manufacturing businesses can open with full staff regardless of the size of the staff.
  • Construction: Construction businesses across Quebec can re-open May 11th.

Legault repeated remarks he made yesterday when talking about re-opening some schools as a justification for re-opening parts of the economy with COVID deaths and hospitalizations still on the rise. While situation is still dire in seniors’ residences, the population overall, excluding that sector, has been flattening the curve.

No word yet on when sit-down restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses where social distancing could prove difficult may re-open. The government did say that they will be making other announcements at later dates.

This summer was supposed to be the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival’s 30th anniversary edition. Now, due to COVID-19, the celebration and theatrical performances by hundreds of groups and performers originally scheduled to run June 1-21 will have to wait until next summer.

“I sincerely feel that as leaders in the Montreal cultural landscape, it is our responsibility to temporarily close our spaces and to postpone the Fringe Festival in order to protect the health and of our artists and patrons,” the festival’s Executive and Artistic Director Amy Blackmore said in a press release. “The conditions for in-person art-making and consumption amid this crisis are significantly challenging since many are unable to rehearse, have been laid off from work and are trying to manage shifting priorities.”

MainLine Theatre, which produces the festival, will also keep its performance and rehearsal space on St-Laurent Boulevard closed until May 31st as per public health directives. The festival will offer alternate online programming this June in place of the public theatre shows.

The Fringe is generally the event that kicks off Montreal’s jam-packed festival season. This year it is the first major summer arts festival to postpone or cancel due to COVID-19.

We will update you if any other arts events follow suit.

Tourisme Montréal released a new promotional video a few days ago. It features…no wait, summarizing it can’t really do it justice. Just watch it for yourself:

In general, response has ranged from “WTF was that?” to polite attempts to find something positive about it. Even Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said “Huh. Okay, that’s interesting interesting,” before adding that at least it was getting people to talk.

But will that talk and the video it is about work? Well, I suspect it will work wonders for singer Mathieu Samson’s career.

Curious, I googled him and found another video he released, without
Tourisme Montréal funding, but with the same cheesy 80s-inspired effects. He just got huge exposure doing something completely in keeping with the style he was already going for.

But will Tourisme Montréal achieve its goal with this video? The short answer is maybe. This becomes more apparent when you properly define what the goal of this particular video is.

The chorus of the song goes “Québec, Reviens-Moi” and the outdoor scenes are winter scenes. The goal clearly isn’t to bring people from Vancouver, the US and Europe here in June, but rather to suggest Montreal as a winter destination, possibly just a weekend destination, to people elsewhere in Quebec.

Understood as such, foregoing beauty shots of the city in favour of a giant, miniature and normal-sized Samson visiting places everyone in the intended audience already know about makes sense. They aren’t even going full cornball. If they were, there would have been a shot of our infamous “ugly”Christmas tree.

Instead, the cheap 80s effects are a fun way to remind Quebecers on a budget that an affordable and fun vacation is just a (relatively) short drive or bus ride away. Still, the video does drop the proverbial ball a few times.

It seems to harp, both lyrically and visually, a bit too much on the Ferris wheel in the Old Port. Sure, it’s open year round, but I live here and haven’t felt inclined to take a ride, can’t imagine it being as big a draw as they think it is.

Also, while the Habs are definitely a sellpoint for the city in general, bringing up the fact that we still have pro hockey here, as the video does in one verse, may hit a bit of a sore spot for people in Quebec City. Plus, do we really need the Big O to make an appearance?

While some might see this as akin to the National Anthem for the Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles Borough the previous Coderre Administration paid $50 000 for out of our 375th Anniversary funds, it’s not. Sure, both are cheesy and municipally funded, but that’s where the similarities end.

The RDP/PAT anthem used (way too much) public money destined to promote the city as a whole internationally to placate some people in one borough. This video is a targeted campaign to bring a specific set of potential tourists to the city.

It may or may not work, but it’s not the vapid piece of hipster irony it comes across as to many, including me at first. Honestly, now after writing about it, I kinda like this video.

The prospect of Major League Baseball returning to Montreal has gone from one out and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth to runners on first and second, but a rookie coming up to bat. If I bungled that baseball metaphor, it’s because I haven’t really watched that much baseball since the Montreal Expos left town in 2004.

Now, though, the prospect of them returning seems to have shifted into the realm of possibility, though it remains a longshot. Here’s where we are:

  • Toronto Blue Jays pre-season games played in our Olympic Stadium continue to draw a crowd.
  • A recent report commissioned by business leaders hoping to bring a team here produced positive results provided there was a new stadium close to downtown.
  • Stephen Bronfman met with Quebec Premier François Legault to pitch the idea. Legault tweeted about the meeting and also told Bronfman that provincial investment in a new ballpark was possible if accompanied by private money.
  • While clearly not as gung-ho as her predecessor, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante has said she is enthusiastic about the idea and was happy about the results of the report, but she also reiterated her campaign promise that she would put any investment of municipal funds in a new stadium up to a referendum.
  • The Tampa Bay Rays are running into a bit of trouble and may leave a spot open in the American League East.

The last point may be the most significant. Montreal would need to be in the same division as the New York Yankees, Boston and Toronto to make it work.

Bronfman and company are pushing the idea that a local audience could support a team if they didn’t have to travel to the East End to catch games. That’s only half true, we would need the baseball tourists, too.

I can easily see Yankee, Red Sox and even Blue Jays fans regularly making the trek to Montreal to catch their team play ours, especially when the tickets are cheaper and easier to get. People from Atlanta, not so much.

Come to think of it, if the problem with the Expos the first time was really that we were in the National League and not the commute, why not use the Big O for a new team? Are you telling me that a Yankee fan who regularly travels to the Bronx to catch games would come to Montreal but balk at a trip on the Green Line?

OK, I know that’s not going to happen, MLB would never buy that argument. Just thought I would throw it out there. Moving on…

If We Build It, Will They Come?

Last time Montreal built a stadium, it was for the Olympics. We already had a pro baseball team at the time, and moving them into the new digs just made sense.

This time, we don’t have a team and have no other reason to build a new stadium but to host one. If we do decide to build, I seriously hope, at the very least, that it is with a team confirmed.

We don’t want a repeat of Quebec City building a new arena for the Nordiques and then not getting a team. If we do get a team and the new stadium isn’t ready, they can play in the Big O until it is.

So, let’s say that there is a team on its way and we are building a stadium in the Peel Basin, just across the canal from Griffintown, which seems to be the site of choice. The area isn’t residential, so we’re not looking at mass expropriations, which is good.

It is closer to downtown than the Olympic Stadium, but while the Big O is connected to Pie IX Metro, this is roughly a 20 minute walk from Bonaventure. There’s supposed to be an REM stop there, though, plus buses, you can bike to it, probably decent for driving, and if Plante gets the Pink Line off the ground, maybe a closer metro stop.

But what about when there’s no baseball game? Well, the Alouettes could use it in place of Percival Molson Stadium for regular season games, though they kinda have a good thing going there. The Impact could use it instead of Saputo Stadium, though that’s unlikely given how much money went into making them a permanent, soccer-specific home.

That leaves concerts and other non-regular events that require a large venue. Assuming we’re not going to try for another retractable roof, it would be either closed, in which case these events could happen year-round, or open-air, meaning they would be seasonal.

So, basically, the new baseball team would have to pack the place or at least come close for most of their season for a new stadium downtown to be feasible. They can’t rely on other organizations and events to make the enterprise worthwhile.

Our Survey

While Bronfman may have done a survey and produced a report, he obviously was hoping for certain results, and he got them. I’m sure his process was accurate, but why not get a second opinion from different people with (presumably) different questions and no desired result on our part.

With that in mind, here are seven quick questions and a spot to add your comments. You can also add your comments in the comments below.

We will publish the results when we have enough responses to get an accurate picture. It takes less than a minute, less than a Buzzfeed quiz. Have your say on everything but the team name, because we all know it should/will be the Montreal Expos: 

Featured image by Eric Molina via WikiMedia Commons

After being infamously evicted from his St. Laurent Boulevard location by his landlord last October, Terry Westcott has re-opened his jewel of a bookstore, the Librairie T. Westcott.

The revived store is in the St. Hubert Plaza, a bustling shopping area that promises to provide a new community of devotees for the beloved old landmark. The address is 6792 St. Hubert, and its accessible location – halfway between the Jean-Talon and the Beaubien metro stations – makes it an easy destination for bibliophiles. (ED’s Note: Yes, we know the area is currently under construction, but even in Montreal, that won’t last forever)

“It’s a good location, it’s a nice long store,” Terry says, “and I have the same number of bookcases I had before.” The space is indeed long and narrow – actually quite a bit longer than the previous store – and perfect for housing Mr. Westcott’s extensive collection.

Not so long ago, on a bleak and rainy day, I’d been a grim witness to the effects of rising rents, as a chunk of the 20 000-volume Westcott collection was carted away by a 1-800-GOT-JUNK dump truck for recycling. I asked Terry how much of his collection he’d been able to save.

“There are certain sections I’ve had to rebuild – my Latin American history section, my Jewish History section, my travel books, my Chinese History, my Russian History.” But, after 25 years, he’s not starting over from scratch.

Most of his treasured collection survived the purge. Concerned about his wide-ranging science fiction section, I was relieved to discover it was intact, although still packed up.

Did he have any misgivings about opening an English bookstore in a largely francophone part of town?

“Oh, I looked around,” he explains. “The problem with NDG, for example on Monkland, or in Verdun – they’re busy on the weekends but they’re slow during the week because those are mostly residential areas. People are at work. Children are at school. So on weekdays it’s very quiet. But St Hubert Plaza is quite crowded, seven days a week. That’s what a bookshop needs to survive. And of course it’s much busier on the weekends.”

Terry adds: “There are a lot of people moving over to the Petit-Patrie from the Plateau. Everything’s so expensive over there and so things are shifting over here.”

I wonder how it seems to be working out so far, considering the preponderance of English in the store. Terry is upbeat.

“A lot of French people are glad to have an English bookshop [in the area],” he says. “There are two French book stores down the street – a Renaud-Bray and Librairie Raffin– and there’s also a second-hand bookshop, Parenthèse. Most people in the Montreal area that read are fluently bilingual. So they’re happy to get an English bookshop. This is their chance to get a lot of English books, and also publications like Indiana University Press or South Georgia University Press that are never going to be translated into French.”

As before, Terry will no doubt make use of every square foot in the store, where the books were organized by subject and piled almost to the ceiling. Finding what you wanted was sometimes a challenge, as well as a balancing act, but Terry seemed to always know what he had, or at least, where it was likely to be found if he had it.

I express my relief that he didn’t have to retire and spend his days watching golf on TV, something he’d contemplated during the demise of the old shop. Instead, he’s now looking forward to having his bookshop become a new community hub again, like it was in the old location on St. Laurent.

Then I notice a photo of an impressive feline on the wall. Terry denies that it’s there as a reminder of his previous cat companions Emma (as in Jane Austen) and Eliot (as in T.S.) who had the run of the place.

“It’s a Florida panther,” he explains, “and they’re endangered. So I leave it up there so people can see…. He’s got a very intelligent look on his face. No deception: ‘I am what I am.’”

Whether deliberate or not, there couldn’t be a more apt metaphor for Terry Westcott and his resilient bookstore. While some see bookstores as endangered, Terry is steadfast in his chosen occupation.

He is what he is – and so as long as there are people with a passion for books, Terry Westcott and his Librairie will serve a vibrant new community of readers.

* Photos by Dan Svatek

Recreational cannabis is now officially legal across Canada. We are the second North American country to do this, with Mexico having decriminalized marijuana for personal use in small amounts in an attempt cut back on drug violence. It must be said that legalization should not be taken as an invitation to smoke weed more often, and that while recreational use is legal, it is not without restrictions.

I’m here to help.

This article is a brief crash course on the legalization of cannabis and how it will be implemented in Quebec. Other provinces have set their own rules so if you’re reading this from outside of Quebec, you’d best contact the local government about it or give it a google.

The new laws divide cannabis into two categories: cannabis and illicit cannabis.

Illicit cannabis is cannabis is that is sold, produced, imported, or distributed by anyone not allowed to do so under the federal Cannabis Act and corresponding provincial acts. In Quebec, it is the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC), a subsidiary of the Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ), that can legally sell marijuana and marijuana products in Quebec.

They open their first 12 stores at 10am today (in Montreal people have been lining up since 4am) and have already started selling online. They have three strains for sale: indica, sativa and hybrid. They won’t be advertising their products in the window as advertising cannabis products remains illegal.

The SDAQ website has a list of all locations across Quebec and the three Montreal locations are:

  • 970 Ste-Catherine Ouest (near Peel downtown)
  • 9250 Boulevard de l’Acadie (near Marché Centrale)
  • 6872 St-Hubert (in Rosemont-La Petite Patrie)

Private dealers’ activities will continue to be illegal under the new law. While the legal stores will offer dry bud, oils, pre-rolled joints, oral sprays, as well as pills, they will not be offering edibles. Prices will start at five dollars and fifty cents in order to be competitive with the black market.

Though the federal law says that it is legal to possess and cultivate up to four cannabis plants for personal use, in Quebec it is illegal and carries a fine between two hundred and fifty and seven hundred and fifty dollars. This is undoubtedly a measure to ensure the Province’s monopoly on sale and distribution.

As of midnight, it is legal to possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis or cannabis products in public. The government measures these amounts according the weight of dried cannabis.

The federal government has published a list indicating what a gram of dried cannabis would be equivalent to in other products:

  • 5 grams of fresh cannabis
  • 15 grams of edible product
  • 70 grams of liquid product
  • 0.25 grams of concentrates (solid or liquid)
  • 1 cannabis plant seed

In private residences it is legal to possess up to 150 grams of cannabis – once again using a measure of dried cannabis as a reference to determine amounts. This maximum applies regardless of how many people are living in the residence at any given time. That means that if you are, for example, living with three other roommates, you are legally only allowed total of 150 grams in the household, amounting to 37.5 grams each if you were divide the cannabis evenly between you.

If you were living alone, that 150 could legally be all yours. However, the law also says that you cannot have that amount in multiple residences, meaning that the maximum you would be allowed to possess stays at 150 grams regardless of whether or not you have multiple homes.

Anyone who exceeds the 150 gram limit is looking at fines ranging from $250-$750. Similar fines are in place for possession of cannabis on the premises of educational institutions and childcare and daycare centers, though there is an exception for student residences at college-level institutions.

Minors cannot legally possess or distribute cannabis and there will be strict penalties for people caught selling or giving it to them. In Quebec, the age of majority is 18 years old (in many other provinces it’s 19). Cannabis has to be stored in a place that is not easily accessible to minors. Minors caught in possession or giving cannabis are liable to a fine of $100.

With regards to where you can smoke it, the rules are similar to those for cigarettes. There is no smoking on the grounds of health and social services buildings, on the grounds of post-secondary schools, and places where activities for minors are provided, with an exception in the latter if activities are in a private residence.

It is also illegal to smoke it in most enclosed public spaces, the common areas of residential buildings containing two or more dwellings, private seniors’ homes, palliative care facilities, and tourist accommodation establishments. Smoking marijuana is also illegal in restaurants and other places offering meals for money, casinos, public transportation, and in the workplace unless said workplace is in a private residence.

Anyone who breaks these rules is looking at fines ranging from $500 to $2250.

There are, however, exceptions, as health and social services centers, seniors’ homes, and palliative care facilities can set up enclosed rooms for the purposes of smoking cannabis. Same goes for the common areas of private residences containing two or more dwellings.

Cannabis is officially legal now Amidst all the celebrations, remember the rules.

Café Le Cagibi has long held down the fort as a sort of (meta)physical gateway to Mile End at the corner of St-Laurent and St-Viateur. Yet after more than a decade—and amidst a strip dizzyingly gentrifying—the iconic café and show venue is moving on up.

Faced with—among other things—rent spikes north of 200%, Le Cagibi has opted to restructure. The metamorphosis actually began over a year ago, says Jess Lee, one of the proprietors. “As a group we tackled the issue of our lease, discussed landlord negotiations, and weighed pros, cons and feasibility of our various options,” she says.

“We decided moving was the best option.”

The iconic Mile End strip of St-Viateur between St-Laurent and Parc, built and popularized by places like Le Cagibi, has been gentrifying for years. Yet the gradual price edging of yesteryear has tipped over into something of a point of no return.

As documented by Gazette‘s T’cha Dunlevy, Le Cagibi’s rent increase came at the hands of Jeremy Kornbluth and Brandon Shiller, proprietors of upwards of seven properties on the strip, in addition to properties housing the controversial Starbucks in Marché Jean-Talon and the (now defunct) Gordon Ramsay remake of Le Laurier BBQ.

Yet according to Lee, there’s a silver lining to all this jazz. “Cagibi has always tried to provide a space for employees to learn and develop new skills and take on projects they’re excited about. The coop really formalizes this and takes it to the next level, allowing more folks to access the work, responsibilities and profits of ownership,” she says, noting that the new space will allow employees “to have more input into how the business runs,” and that regular nonworking members are also set to “benefit financially by receiving profits of the business and be able to choose where and how money goes back into the business.”

As such, Le Cagibi will join a growing cadre of city co-ops, such as nearby Touski and Divan Orange. The latter two proved particularly inspiring to Le Cagibi, according to Lee. “(These co-ops) were doing similar business operations and Touski provided us with an understanding of their structure which we definitely used as a springboard for discussing our own.”

So when will Le Cagibi as we know it be dissappearing? Having held its final show, the latest word is that current Le Cagibi will close around April 3rd. Lee says that the new space—on St-Zotique near St-Laurent—is slated to be open “as soon as possible… in time for Spring.”

The food menu might see some changes, though the details are still being hammered out.

As for the fate of the iconic Mile End of St-Viateur east of St-Laurent, things are much less certain.

“I think it just becomes more palpable and stark as financial capital begins to explicitly dominate the landscape,” says Lee of the changes. “But I think there’s a lot of resistance in Mile-End to allowing things to progress and a lot of continuous local support for long standing neighbourhood institutions.  I think the real estate corporations buying into the neighbourhood are aiming to make Mile End a new Griffintown or Notre Dame in St. Henri, but in my opinion, they’re overshooting in their expectations.”

“If they continue to blow out the locale economy,” she says, “in five years time my guess is there will be many unrented facades, a lot of business turnover and a few boutique operations or multi-national corporations using their storefront as advertising rather then as a points of sale.”

Cagibi has a fundraising campaign, where you can also find out about joining the collective

Featured image via Flickr/bittermelon / Creative Commons reuse.

If you have a regular spot along Ste-Catherine where your friends know they can meet you during the annual Montreal St. Patrick’s Day Parade, you won’t be going there this year. Well, I suppose you can, but you’ll just be standing on a street corner, quite possibly day drinking in public alone, for a few hours.

For the first time in over half a century, the parade will be a block up, running along de Maisonneuve from City Councillors to MacKay, where it will head south to René-Lévesque and finish. That’s right, it will also be running east to west for the first time in my lifetime at least.

This is due to major renovations on Ste-Catherine, currently underway around Bleury and making their way to Atwater over the next four years. While Mayor Valérie Plante may be changing some of the specifics of the plan, it was former Mayor Denis Coderre who set the timeframe, so you can blame him (or Montreal’s outdated sewage system) for the change.

This Will Be…Different

So what will a St. Patty’s Parade on de Maisonneuve look and feel like? Possibly a little more cramped and awkward than usual.

While de Maisonneuve may offer a slightly wider street than Ste-Catherine at parts, sidewalk space is, for the most part, considerably smaller (hence the cramped). That is unless you close the bike path and use it as spectator space, which I’m guessing they will do (hence the awkward).

The floats and marching bands will have enough space to make their way down the route. If you want to watch them go by, though, picking a good spot could be crucial to your enjoyment.

Most businesses in the area benefit from the parade. During the parade itself, that’s mainly depanneurs, coffee shops and restaurants. The categories won’t change this year, but those specific businesses used to dealing with a sustained rush (and in some cased inflating prices) will be relegated to a larger than normal clientele thinking ahead and vice versa.

The route

For many, myself included, parade day is also about the mid-afternoon after-party. That’s what it’s all about for area bars who have one of their biggest days of the year on a Sunday afternoon.

While there are some major bars along the parade route located between de Maisonneuve and Ste-Catherine, most that cater to the St-Patty’s crowd can be found heading south towards René-Lévesque or along Ste-Catherine itself. This is especially true in the Guy-Concordia area.

All bars in the area will, of course, be packed to one degree or another this year, but I wonder if altered proximity to where everyone is coming from will make a difference in just how packed certain places will get. This is one time of year when passing by one place first instead of another just down the street can make a difference.

But Not That Different

While a key part of the ritual that is the Montreal St. Patrick’s Day parade will be different this year, there are at least three key things moving up a street can’t change:

The Show: It’s the same parade, pretty much. The Irish dancers will still be there, so will the Shriners, the high school marching bands, the university floats, the corporate product placement, the fire department from some random town in Ontario and, of course, local media. Well, not all local media, FTB still doesn’t have a float. Sure, we never asked for one, but still… Different street, same parade.

Unexpected Meetings: My favourite part of parade day are all the chance encounters with people I haven’t seen, except for online, since the previous year, or sometimes for a lot longer. You never know just who you’re going to run into and randomly hang out with for a few minutes or a few hours and that won’t change with a different route.

Montreal Spring: No matter how cold it may be outside on the day, or the fact that it was significantly warmer the previous weekend, this is really the first sign that spring has come to Montreal. We’re all outside for a decent period of time together and we’re enjoying it.

And we can do that on de Maisonneuve just as well as we can on Ste-Catherine.

* The 195th Annual Montreal St. Patrick’s Day Parade starts at noon on Sunday, March 18th

St. Laurent Boulevard is set to lose a jewel of a bookshop as rising rents force a beloved bookseller into early retirement after 25 years.

On October 26th workers from 1-800-GOT-JUNK carried armfuls of books to the back of a dump truck. Inside Librairie T. Westcott, hidden behind stacks teetering on the verge of collapse, Terry Westcott sat behind the cash and sold books like it was a regular day.

The customers seemed more or less unaware that the bookstore he had run for so many years was being taken apart piece by piece behind him. For his part, Terry seemed to be playing along with the facade.

“Do you have a copy of Old Man and the Sea?” a woman asked. Terry smiled and pointed to a shelf a short distance away. “If we have any Hemingway it’s in the Literature section. But I don’t think we do at this time.”

“Oh well, I had to ask,” replied the woman and headed for the Literature shelf, dodging a worker clearing out books as she passed.

Outside, it started raining. The worker dutifully dumped his armload onto the growing pile of soggy books. “Don’t worry, it’s going in the recycling, not the dump,” the worker offered, as if trying to downplay some sense of personal culpability.

During a pause in the dramatic scene that was unfolding, I got a chance to ask Terry about his bookstore, why it was closing and his fondest memories of the place. Soft-spoken to the point of a whisper, he graciously obliged.

“My lease ended September of last year in 2016. Then in June the landlord came and told me that he had advertised the store for rent online and he’d received an offer of $4500 a month. There’s no way I can maintain a used bookshop at $4500 a month.”

Terry told me he would stay open as long as possible, until he was locked out. Some books would be donated, some would be sold, but most were headed for the dump truck.

“Yeah, it’s all going into the recycling. Around 20 000 books, altogether. It’s ridiculous.”

The inability to meet exorbitant rental fees is a familiar story along St. Laurent Boulevard. Every block of The Main contains at least one or two shuttered businesses. While Quebec has excellent rent control legislation in residential zones, small businesses like Terry Westcott’s survive at the whim of landlords, who can increase their rents to whatever price they can get from new tenants.

The loss of Librairie T. Westcott is a blow. A small store, Terry made use of every square foot. Organized by subject, piles of books reached close to the ceiling in places and navigating the aisles was sometimes a challenge. Whether Terry planned it this way or not, it had the effect of making each ‘find’ more gratifying, especially if you did it without causing a bookvalanche.

This is not to say things were disorganized. Once I laid down a number of heavy books I’d wanted to buy and when I came back for them five minutes later discovered that Terry had silently placed them all back in the their respective sections.

“A bookstore is a community, not just a business.” Terry said. Apart from hundreds of customers drawn in off the street, dozens of dedicated regulars came through his shop each month. “I read a sociological study that if a bookstore’s in the area, the crime rate drops by 30%. Somebody told me that Paris protects their bookshops [from rent increases]. I don’t know if it’s true or not.”

When asked about his fondest memories, he tells me it’s the community that he helped foster that he’ll miss the most: “People that are still book buyers and have a passion for books.”

He’ll also miss his two devoted regulars: “I had two little cats in the store and they’re a very fond memory. One died at 19, the other at 18.”

Their names? Emma (after Jane Austen) and Eliot (after T.S.). “The veterinarians could never get his name right, spelling it ‘Elliott’ like Pierre Elliott Trudeau.”

I ask him what he’ll do after he retires.

“Well, I’m 74 but I don’t want to retire. I’m still healthy and mentally active, I was hoping to continue. So I have no plans in particular. Maybe I’ll watch golf on television, read the newspaper. Maybe I’ll take in another cat, an older one. They have their lives to live too.”

At the time of writing, hundreds of books have been trucked away. The entire back wall is now bare in preparation for renovations by the new tenant.

But one thing is certain— as long as he can manage to keep his doors open, Terry and Librairie T. Westcott will continue to enrich the community he helped foster for the last quarter century.

* While it’s still open, T. Westcott Books is located at 4065 boul. St-Laurent

Montreal is a great city. The diversity of our population is unmatched in most of Canada, we are unilingual by provincial law, bilingual by federal law, but if you walk down our streets you’ll hear everything from Tagalog to Hebrew spoken.

We have an impressive nightlife and artists from around the world come to perform at our annual festivals. Despite all its diversity, and action, there are many areas where Montreal could use some improvement, especially if you drive a car.

Parking in Montreal is a nightmare.

Part of the city’s parking problem is due to all the construction. When snow and ice aren’t interfering with road work, parking is compromised by construction that takes huge chunks out of the streets.

There’s very little indoor parking despite high demand, and the existing indoor and outdoor lots in the downtown core are heavily taxed by the City. What’s left are areas taken up by signs reserving parking spaces for residents, and everything else seems to have a parking meter on it.

There’s a saying that in life there’s no such thing as a free ride, but in the City of Montreal there’s no such thing as free parking.

Montreal Parking Law

To prevent a few headaches, I’ve decided to give you all a crash course on Montreal’s parking laws. These rules apply only to the City of Montreal, which includes such boroughs as NDG/Cote des Neiges, the downtown core, and the Plateau. Areas on the Island that operate independently of the City of Montreal, such as the City of Cote-Saint-Luc and Westmount have their own rules.

The City of Montreal’s parking rules should be easily accessible online, but they aren’t. Most of the city’s online resources for parking are devoted to helping people pay parking meters and tickets.

The law itself is the By-Law Concerning Traffic and Parking and is almost impossible to find online unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. The most updated version is only available in French so if you don’t know the language, you’re screwed.

montreal-parking-meter
Image: WikiMedia Commons

If you get a parking ticket, the ticket WILL indicate what rule you are deemed to have violated, but it will usually list the number of the offense, not the whole rule, probably due to the size constraints of the ticket itself.

Here’s what the law says:

On public land belonging to the City of Montreal, you are not allowed to park anywhere prohibited by a sign. If a sign states that there’s no parking in an area outside of certain hours, you are not allowed to park there outside of those hours. If the sign says the spot is reserved for other vehicles like taxis, for example, you can’t park there if you’re not driving a taxi. Unless there’s a sign posted expressly allowing you to park in an alleyway, it is illegal. Same goes for parking on median strips or traffic islands.

If a parking space is blocked or barred by an official barrier, a system of orange lights, a removable no parking sign, or there’s a cover on the parking meter, you’re not allowed to park there. If stopping is forbidden in a designated area by law, bylaw, or regulation, that area is not a viable parking space either.

Parking is forbidden in public parks except in areas officially designated for parking by signs. Offroad parking is also forbidden.

If a spot has a parking meter, you can’t park there without paying it. The exception is if you parked in that spot outside of the hours in which you are obliged to pay, and those are always indicated on the meter.

The City parking meters only accept Canadian currency, but thanks to modern technology you can pay by credit card and even by app. It is against the law to do anything that will keep the parking meter from working, and no two vehicles can take up one spot covered by a single meter.

Getting a Parking Ticket

If you break the rules, you will get a parking ticket either handed to you, left on your windshield, or sent to you by mail. The ticket, officially called a “statement of offense” will require you to pay a fine. Fines for parking violations range between thirty and two hundred bucks.

You have two options for responding to the ticket: you can plead guilty and pay it, or plead not guilty and contest it. Both options have a deadline of about thirty days. If you do nothing, a judge may rule against you by default and order you to pay the fine and any additional costs.

Contesting the ticket is entirely up to you, but there a few things to consider. You need to think about the cost of biting the bullet and paying the fine versus the time, cost, and stress related to contesting the ticket in court. You also need to brutally honest with yourself as to whether or not you deserved it.

If you opt to contest the ticket, you can do so by giving notice within the thirty days you have to respond. Just follow the instructions on the back of your ticket. The court will eventually send you a hearing date. On court day, bring any documents you have to prove your version of events such as photos taken the day you got the ticket, and bring a copy of the police report.

If you live and work in an area facilitated by Montreal’s public transit system, you can avoid the problems and cost of a car by investing in tickets or a pass. The bus and metro have their own set of problems, but in many ways they are a lot faster than taking a car.

If you have a driver’s license you can always follow many Montrealers in occasionally renting a car or joining a carshare service like Communauto so you have access to a vehicle when you occasionally need it.

Parking in Montreal is a pain, and with everything going on, we could all use less of it. Don’t suffer.

* Featured image: Goethe.de, Creative Commons

A young cyclist died after a collision with a truck on Monday afternoon in Montreal. The driver didn’t see the 24 year old woman when he made a right-turn at the intersection of Iberville and Rosemont. The opposition in City Council, along with advocacy group Vélo-Québec, are calling, once again, for enhanced protective measures for cyclists.

“It’s terrible,” said Luc Ferrandez from Projet Montréal, as quoted by Radio-Canada. “We are lagging behind. And Mayor Coderre is the mayor of these citizens who are getting hurt and who are dying. He should do something.”

Coderre responded by underscoring the work that is already being done on some intersections to make their configuration safer for cyclists. He also reminded the opposition that some changes have already been implanted in the existing regulations (namely law 107).

The issue keeps resurfacing as accidents keep happening. A few times a year, a cyclist gets run over and the city council promises that they are working on ensuring fair and safe sharing of the road.

Now, there is another phantom-bike to add to the city’s rapidly growing collection.  At the rate we’re going, they will soon be as much of a banal part of our urban landscape as the infamous orange cones.

Rising Accident Rates

Montreal is by far the Canadian city with the biggest number of cyclists and the largest number of bicycle lanes. While there is no doubt that Montreal’s bike culture is alive and well, the same can’t be said for its cyclists.

The number of bicycles on the road is on the rise and so are the number of accidents. There were 763 recorded bike accidents in 2015, including three lethal ones: a 16% increase compared to the previous year.

In fact, a study published in 2015 crowned the city as the Canadian queen of bike accidents. According to the Pembina Institute, Montreal has seven bike accidents for every 100 000 rides; much more than all the other large population centres in the country. In fact, a bike ride in Montreal is seven times more likely to come to a brutal end than it is in Vancouver.

These findings were based on data from 2008. However, considering that both the number of bicycles on the road and the rate of accidents have risen since then, the current numbers are probably even worse.

We Need to Keep Up

But wait, isn’t Montreal the most bike-friendly city in North-America, or something? Well, it was.

In 2013, Montreal ranked as the 13th most bike-friendly city of the world in the Copenhagenize Index. It was the only North American city in the top 20. But we’ve been slipping since then and Minneapolis (Minnesota) has surpassed us.

Montreal desperately clings to the 20th spot in this year’s ranking.

As population growth and air pollution put more and more pressure on urban centres, cities around the world are wising up. Investing in biking infrastructure is not progressive and cool anymore; it’s necessary.  It seems that our political leaders have failed to recognize that in today’s context, not going forward means falling behind.

Quebec’s ambitious plan of reducing its greenhouse gas emission by 38% in the next 14 years does not even contain any consideration for encouraging cycling as alternative transportation. And the strategy it put forward instead to address car-related pollution is being called into question.

According to the City of Montreal’s own numbers, there are now 1.3 Million bike riders on the Island. Consideration for their safety should amount to more than a couple of days of indignation after every tragic accident.

Getting our respectable number of protected lanes connected into a coherent network, and, for the love of God, ensuring their proper maintenance, would be a great place to start.

As the Copenhagenize Index recommends:

“Better winter maintenance is a must, cycle tracks along main arteries should be a no-brainer (especially with the shocking state of the asphalt on the roads), and feel free to borrow traffic-calming inspiration from Paris and Barcelona.”

* Featured image: homeexchange.com

Canada Day is coming. For many Canadians that means drinking beer and watching fireworks, but for most Quebeckers, Canada Day is moving day. With overwhelming numbers of young people unable to afford buying a home, most of us will end up renting. Thousands of residential leases end on July first and those who choose to move on will fight tooth and nail to get a mover to take their meager belongings to new digs.

But moving day isn’t all about the movers.

It’s also about leases and in order to live happily in an apartment you need to know what’s expected of you and what your rights are as a tenant. Luckily, that’s pretty easy to find out because your landlord is legally required to mention it in your lease, which he has to give you a copy of within 10 days of signing it.

Here’s some of what the law says about leases.

You are legally required to pay your rent on time – meaning on the day of the month specified in your lease. Most leases will say it’s the first of the month but it’s really up to you and the landlord. The landlord, in turn, must be able to receive the rent, meaning that if he says he’s going to pick it up between 5 and 7pm on the day the rent is due and he doesn’t, the fact that the rent is late is a strike against him, not you, and he can’t hold you responsible.

Your landlord is bound to guarantee that the property is fit for habitation and to maintain it for that purpose. Neither you nor your landlord can change the form or use of the property during the lease. That means you can’t up and turn your apartment into a restaurant or your rented house into a B&B. The lease can’t say otherwise and any clause to that effect is invalid.

Standard Quebec lease form, image educaloi.qc.ca
Standard Quebec lease form, image educaloi.qc.ca

Your landlord has to guarantee the property against legal disturbances like noise complaints and disturbances of the peace. If another tenant is making too much noise or putting you in danger, call or send a letter to your landlord. He, in turn, will have to act by investigating and, if necessary, warning the offender that further problems will result in eviction.

As a tenant you are legally bound not to act in ways that would keep other tenants from enjoying their property. That means no gratuitous stomping on the floor, no loud noise during crazy hours, and no criminal activity. Act that way and you’re legally bound to make reparations for the harm done by you or anyone you let use or have access to the property.

That means, for example, that if you let someone use your apartment while you’re away on vacation and she regularly runs baths that overflow, showering the neighbors below, you’ll be responsible for the damages. If it happens too often or you refuse to make amends, your landlord can apply to the rental board to have your lease ended early.

If you notice a serious defect or deterioration of the property, you are legally bound to inform your landlord. If you do everything you can to inform your landlord or you tell your landlord and he takes too long to fix it, you can fix it yourself or hire someone without a court’s permission but only if the required repairs are “urgent and necessary to ensure the preservation or enjoyment of the leased property.”

If your landlord realizes your intention and comes to his senses, he can intervene at any time to make the repairs himself. If you end up paying for the repairs, you’re legally entitled to reimbursement of the cost and, if necessary, can withhold the cost of it from your rent.

In order to save yourself any legal hassles from a landlord who’s being a jerk, be sure to send him a registered letter explaining that you tried to get him to fix things and his lack of response has forced you to do it yourself. The beauty of a registered letter is that he has to sign for it so you’ll know for sure he got it.

If you want to sublet your place or transfer your lease, you need to give notice to your landlord. The notice has to include the name and address of the person you intend to transfer the property to and you can’t sublet or transfer your lease without the landlord’s consent.

However, the landlord cannot refuse the new tenant without a serious reason and his refusal has to reach you within 15 days of his receipt of the notice. If you don’t get his refusal within that time, you’re allowed to consider that he accepted the new tenant.

A rent increase is considered a modification of your lease. Your landlord is obligated to inform you of an increase no less than three months and no more than six months prior to the end of your lease.

That means that if your lease ends January 1, 2017, your landlord has to let you know of an increase between July 1 and October 1, 2016. You have one month after receiving the notice to indicate whether you accept the rent increase and agree to renew the lease. If you don’t get back to the landlord in time, the lease is considered renewed with the rent increase desired by the landlord.

You ARE allowed to renew your lease and refuse the rent increase at the same time. You can then either try and negotiate with your landlord or if he’s being particularly obstinate, tell him to go to the Regie du Logement who will set the rent according to the costs related to the dwelling i.e. if electricity is included.

Knowing your rights is important especially regarding something as sacred as a home. Read your lease and know your rights.

* Featured image by Ashley Brown via Flickr Creative Commons