Changes in Montreal’s Geography During the 1960’s

Research Methodology

The original contribution of this paper is to track the changes in Montreal’s geography during the 1960’s and how they have affected the city and Quebec itself to this day. To solve this problem, I first sought out relevant films that depicted Montreal as it was in the 1960’s. To do this, I looked at academic papers analyzing Quebec cinema, identifying three films that met the criteria that I put forth: Le chat dans le sac, Le matou , and Albedo. Each of these films depict different aspects of 1960’s Montreal, giving a full-spectrum view of the city during a time of change. For example, Le matou looks at the emerging Quebec middle class and their desire to become more prosperous after the lengthy tenure of Maurice Duplessis (Bilodeau, 2007). In addition to watching the movies and reading critical commentary about them, I studied plot synopses in order to ensure I fully understood the themes and motifs present in each film.

Furthermore, to separate out the changes that occurred in specific areas of Montreal architecture and culture, I created several categories by which I would judge and analyze how the city changed during the 1960’s. Because merely saying “this is how the city has changed” or something like it is too imprecise, using these categories will allow me to specify what each change is and how it happened, bringing me to a more complete vision of how Montreal has changed as a city. The categories I chose are city services, urban mobility, spatial patterns of urban development and land use, housing, city expansion, religious institutions, and urban space.

City services refers to the civic services that the city of Montreal provides to its inhabitants, such as policing, education, mass transportation, and more. In particular, I chose to focus on educational institutions due to the rapid transformation they underwent in the 1960’s. Additionally, the importance of education in shaping the minds of young people and instilling values in them means that it cannot be ignored when it comes to a topic such as this. Education and how a society approaches it will determine its future, so I sought to specifically analyze this aspect of Montreal’s geography.

To gather data about education in Montreal in the 1960’s, I looked at films—and scholarly papers that analyzed those films—that featured “coming of age” stories or other plotlines that involved schooling and growing up. For example, as pointed out in Le chat dans le sac, prior to the Quiet Revolution, education in Quebec was largely dominated by the Catholic Church (Euvrard, 1988). Educational instruction was steeped in the teachings of Catholicism, with not only no thought given to secular or non-Christian concerns, but little thought given to Protestants and other non-Catholic Christians.

As laid out by George Grant in Lament for a Nation, Duplessis’ government sought to marry technological and economic development with traditional Catholic values, which led his government to align itself closely with the Catholic Church in all ways possible, as well as suppress certain non-Catholic Christians groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Films depicting characters growing up and dealing with the Quebec school system and papers discussing said subject are the ideal means by which I can analyze this subject, since these movies directly tackle the subject matter. To analyze the data, I will contrast what I find with the way in which education works in Montreal and Quebec today. Without a means of comparison, data collected in this manner is useless, and given the tumult of the 1960’s, there is a wealth of information available on how education in Montreal has changed since this time period. In particular, Quebec education has secularized in many ways, with the Church no longer occupying a central role in the administration of educational institutions in the province. By looking at education through this lens, I aim to show which changes have unfolded and what effect they have had on the city of Montreal.

My second category is urban mobility. This refers to the means by which residents of Montreal access and move throughout the city: mass transportation, walking, car ownership, and more. I chose this criteria because rapid changes in transportation methods were a significant influence on culture not only in Montreal, but across North America. In the United States, the post-World War II was known for the phenomenon of “white flight”: newly affluent whites relocating out of major cities and into newly built suburbs. They were aided in this by the government’s construction of highways and limited-access roads that were designed solely for the use of automobiles.

The Interstate Highway System, initiated by President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950’s, unified individual state highway construction projects into a massive system subsidized by the federal government. Canada was not immune to these trends: growing prosperity in Toronto and Montreal and the increasing popularity of “car culture” led to the construction of highways similar to those in the U.S., such as Ontario’s 400-series highways. In Quebec, the Autoroute system sought to replicate the U.S.’ interstate highways and Ontario’s 400-series highways with a network of controlled-access roads allowing motorists to travel to their destinations much faster and with less hassle. The construction of these highways necessitated not only large amounts of government money, but the demolition and reconstruction of neighborhoods and towns, as old buildings were seized and demolished to make way for the shiny new Autoroutes. At the same time, public transportation fell into disfavor due to its association with poor people, who were perceived as using it because they could not afford a car. I chose to use urban mobility as a category because these changes were huge and caused significant disruption to Montreal’s culture. The shift from major cities to suburbs and the collapse of public transportation were the direct results of North American car culture during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

To gather data on how urban mobility changed in Montreal during the 1960’s, I looked at films that depicted city neighborhoods in a state of flux. For example, Albedo is set in Montreal’s Griffintown neighborhood, which was regarded as a “bad” neighborhood during the time period due to its poverty and levels of crime. Similarly, Le matou looks at the emerging middle class of Montreal during the 1960’s and their desire for cars, as well as how society was reshaped to accommodate that desire (Bilodeau, 2007). These films show the massive changes brought by the shift from public transportation to motoring in the 1960’s. To analyze this data, I will compare it to how transportation in Montreal works in the modern era as well as how it worked prior to the 1960’s, in order to get an expansive look at how urban mobility transformed during this period.

The third category I developed is spatial patterns of urban development and land use. This refers to how urban planning in Montreal shifted away from traditional city planning as the city modernized. In particular, Expo 67 and the construction of Mirabel Airport represented massive changes in how Montreal was laid out and how it was perceived. Prior to the 1960’s, while Montreal occupied an important position as the center of the Canadian financial industry, the city had fallen into disrepair due to Maurice Duplessis’ policy of favoring rural areas and development over urban ones.

Expo 67, a massive event that drew attendees and investment from all over the world, necessitated that the city go through a significant overhaul in terms of crime, cleanliness, and safety. Similarly, the construction of Mirabel Airport was intended to signify Montreal’s emergence as a world leader in finance and tourism, a project that failed in its mission and brought significant issues to the city. I chose to use this category because the changes that occurred in Montreal’s urban development mirrored those that had been occurring in other North American cities over the past two decades. The shift towards gentrification and pushing poor people out to the margins of cities, as well as development geared towards car use and class stratification, shaped Montreal’s landscape and how its urban culture would be reconfigured in the years to come.

To gather data for this criteria, I looked at films and papers that depicted Montreal’s neighborhoods as they were during this period. For example, as mentioned above, the film Albedo is set in Griffintown, which was regarded as architecturally unattractive in the 1960’s and thus an undesirable part of the city in which to live (Jansson, 2007). Scholarly research also focuses on Expo 67 and the development of the Mirabel Airport, outlining how the Canadian government sought to use both to boost not only Montreal’s prestige, but the prestige of the country as a whole (Edwards, 2016). To analyze this data, I intend to look at how these trends in urban planning evolved and shaped Montreal’s development in the following decades. The changes that occurred in the 1960’s significantly reshaped Montreal’s architecture and layout, aiding the process by which the city became what it is today.

The fourth category I chose for my methodology was housing. I chose this as a continuation of my studies into changes in Montreal’s urban planning and mobility. During the 1960’s, the Montreal area went along two separate tracks, with inner-city neighborhoods being gentrified into high-rise, expensive apartments for young, urban professionals, while housing on the margins of the city shifted towards prefab, suburban homes. This reflects the increasing class stratification of North American society, with cities becoming homes for the wealthy and the poor, while the middle class migrates to suburbs. As a result, analyzing the changes in housing development in Montreal is absolutely important when it comes to assessing the city’s transformation.

To gather data on this subject, I was able to draw on the same resources I used for categories two and three. As mentioned already, the film Albedo was an invaluable resource for looking at the urban transformation of Montreal’s neighborhoods in the wake of the Quiet Revolution (Jansson, 2007). To analyze the data, I will compare depictions of housing in Montreal during the 1960’s to the periods before and after, in order to contrast the appearance of the city in different epochs.

The fifth category I elected to use was the expansion of Montreal’s suburbs. This ties into the previous three categories, which is why I elected to separate it out and study it. As mentioned before, suburbanization was a driving trend in North American urban development in the post-World War II era, and Montreal was not immune to this trend. The 1960’s saw the rapid growth of suburbs such as Longueuil, fueled by newly-empowered middle class families and consumers who sought cheaper, bigger housing outside of the city. Suburbanization was also driven by crime considerations, as families sought to insulate children from urban decay and the social problems that invariably followed it.

Suburbanization in Montreal was also driven by language, a factor that did not exist in other Canadian or American cities. Montreal’s Francophones and Anglophones, long distrustful of each other, sought to separate themselves in order to preserve their cultures, a process that accelerated when Quebec nationalism was ignited by the events of the Quiet Revolution. Ultimately, suburbanization had a major effect on Montreal by stratifying the city by class and changing the culture from one of urban intimacy to suburban distance. An analysis of the city’s geography during the 1960’s is not complete unless these changes are noted.

My method for gathering data on this subject involves utilizing similar films and resources as the ones I used for categories two through four. This is because as a related subject, the films and scholarly articles have information that overlaps to multiple categories, interweaving all of them into a unified whole. The changes to Montreal neighborhoods that are outlined in Le matou, showing the middle class’ desire for increased wealth and comfort, are specifically relevant to this subject (Bilodeau, 2007). My analysis for this data will involve comparing the civic life of Montreal before, during, and after the 1960’s, in order to get a better idea of how suburbanization impacted the city.

My sixth category of data is on the religious institutions of Montreal. I chose to study this because of the important role of religion—specifically Catholicism—in Quebec life prior to the 1960’s. The Catholic Church occupied a powerful role in Quebec society prior to the Quiet Revolution, with high rates of church attendance among Montreal residents and an open alliance between the Church and the provincial government of Maurice Duplessis. The 1960’s saw the province secularize in record time, as the Church was removed from the functions of government and Quebecers became nominally atheist. This change is too significant to ignore in an analysis of Montreal’s geography, which is why I am including it.

To gather data on this subject, I sought out films and papers that showed the changing role of religion in Quebec society during the 1960’s. For example, Le chat est dans le sac shows the dominance that Catholic clergy held over Montreal society and how they rapidly lost power during the Quiet Revolution (Euvrard, 1988). To analyze this data, I will compare depictions of religion in Quebec before, during, and after the 1960’s.

My final category is urban space, which refers to such civic events as the Saint-Jean-Baptiste parade and their importance to Montreal. Montreal has countless traditions and events that stretch back to the city’s founding, and these events serve to give the city its unique flavor and culture. I chose to analyze this subject separately because I wanted to see how each of these events play a role in shaping the city’s unique culture. I also wanted to see how the perceptions of each event changed in the wake of the massive social upheavals of the 1960’s. Given the seismic shifts in Quebec culture during that time, it’s important to see how the city’s traditions were changed during the time period.

My method for gathering data on this subject was to look at movies that shined a light on important Montreal cultural events and artifacts (Gérin, 2014). The film Le chat est dans le sac is one of the movies that depicted important Montreal cultural touchstones in the time of flux that was the 1960’s and the Quiet Revolution (Euvrard, 1988). To analyze the data, I will compare how these cultural events were presented and viewed in the past compared to how they are viewed today, in order to get a strong perception of how the 1960’s altered Montreal’s culture, architecture, people and environment.

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