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Mindscapes of Montreal: Quebec's Urban Novel, 1960-2005

Mindscapes of Montreal: Quebec's Urban Novel, 1960-2005

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Mindscapes of Montreal: Quebec's Urban Novel, 1960-2005

340 pages
5 heures
Oct 15, 2012


In examining a number of francophone Montréal novels from 1960 to 2005, this interdisciplinary study considers the ways in which these connect with material landscapes to produce a city of neighbourhoods. In so doing, it reflects on how Montréal has been seen as both home and not home for francophone Quebecers. Morgan offers an overview of the fiction; examines micro and macro geographies of Montréal, and identifies some key literary trends. In so doing, it reflects on the importance of the imaginary in our experiencing and understanding of the urban.
Oct 15, 2012

À propos de l'auteur

Dr Ceri Morgan is Lecturer and Acting Director of Postgraduate Research in the School of Humanities at Keele University.

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Mindscapes of Montreal - Ceri Morgan


Mindscapes of Montréal

Series Editors

Hanna Diamond (University of Bath)

Claire Gorrara (Cardiff University)

Editorial Board

Ronan le Coadic (Université Rennes 2)

Nicola Cooper (Swansea University)

Colin Davis (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Didier Francfort (Université Nancy 2)

Sharif Gemie (University of Glamorgan)

H. R. Kedward (Sussex University)

Margaret Majumdar (Goldsmiths College,

University of London)

Nicholas Parsons (Cardiff University)

Mindscapes of Montréal

Québec’s urban novel, 1960–2005

Ceri Morgan

© Ceri Morgan, 2012

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any material form (including photocopying or storing it in any medium by electronic means and whether or not transiently or incidentally to some other use of this publication) without the written permission of the copyright owner except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Applications for the copyright owner’s written permission to reproduce any part of this publication should be addressed to the University of Wales Press, 10 Columbus Walk, Brigantine Place, Cardiff, CF10 4UP.


British Library CIP

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN    978-0-7083-2533-9

e-ISBN 978-1-78316-539-1

The right of Ceri Morgan to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77, 78 and 79 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Cover: The Vieux Port and skyline of Montreal © Tibor Bognar/Corbis.

For my parents, Lynne and Cledwyn Morgan


Series Editors’ Preface



Chapter One: The Manichean City: The Modern City

Chapter Two: The City as Site of Trauma

Chapter Three: The Spectacular City

Chapter Four: Mixité in Montréal

Chapter Five: Montréal as Metropolis: The Globalised City

Chapter Six: Microspaces



Appendix: Novels and Critical Texts Translated into English


Series Editors’ Preface

This series showcases the work of new and established scholars working within the fields of French and francophone studies. It publishes introductory texts aimed at a student readership, as well as research-orientated monographs at the cutting edge of their discipline area. The series aims to highlight shifting patterns of research in French and francophone studies, to re-evaluate traditional representations of French and francophone identities and to encourage the exchange of ideas and perspectives across a wide range of discipline areas. The emphasis throughout the series will be on the ways in which French and francophone communities across the world are evolving into the twenty-first century.

Hanna Diamond and Claire Gorrara


I shall begin by thanking the person who set me along the path of working on Québec literature, society and culture, namely Bill Marshall, who has been, in his idiosyncratic way, inspirational. This book could not have been written without support. To this effect, I should like to thank Keele University for providing me with research leave. I should also like to thank the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC ) for a matching leave award in 2007. I spent part of this time as Eakin Fellow at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC). I am extremely grateful to the Eakin family for this opportunity, especially to Gail Eakin and Desmond Morton, who went out of their way to make me feel welcome. This period was a very important time in my life: many thanks go to Will Straw, then acting director of MISC, for integrating me into the life of the centre, for being an excellent academic role model and for providing much in the way of stimulating and entertaining conversation. Funding for research on the ‘bof generation’ novel came from a Government of Canada Faculty Research Programme award in 2005. Part of chapter 3 has been published as ‘Spectacular sexualities on la Sainte-Catherine’, London Journal for Canadian Studies, 22 Gender and the City (2006–7), 127–40. See http://www.canadianstudies.net/lccs/LJCS/Vol_22/index.html. I should like to thank M. Marcel Lévesque at la Société de Transport de Montréal (STM) for granting me permission to use an STM image. I am grateful to Sarah Lewis and her colleagues at the University of Wales Press for their support, encouragement and advice.

My initial fieldwork in Québec was as a stagiaire de recherche at l’Université du Québec à Montréal (l’UQÀM) in 1997. I should like to thank Paul Chamberland for admitting me to the Départment d’études littéraires at that time, and Louise Dupré, Lori Saint-Martin and Barbara Havercroft for allowing me to sit in on their classes. I have retained my association with l’UQÀM and, before the construction of la Grande bibliothèque de Montréal, was granted library rights there on several research visits. In this respect, I am grateful to Max Roy and Michèle Nevert. I am a member of La Traversée: atelier québécois de géopoétique and am indebted to Rachel Bouvet, André Carpentier and others for welcoming me to the group and introducing me to a new way of working, as well as to a host of colleagues and friends. Important amongst these are Daniel Laforest, Audrey Camus and my greatly missed friend, Lucie Tanguay, who died in September 2009. I cannot write about the Saint Lawrence River without thinking of the wonderful boat trip we took along it during a workshop run by La Traversée: photographing each other on the front of the boat, we imagined ourselves to be millionaires.

Other Montréal academics to whom I am thankful for advice, along with interesting and enjoyable discussions, include Sherry Simon, Robert Dion, Annick Germain and David Leahy. I am also grateful to Marie-Jeanne Poirier, a former librarian at la Grande bibliothèque, for so many pleasurable lunches in her company.

Montréal is unimaginable for me without the following people: Martine Delvaux, Élie Beaudoin-Delvaux, Jarrett Rudy, Cynthia Kelly and Mathieu Lapointe. I cannot thank them enough for making a space for me in their lives and for helping to make Montréal what Daniel Laforest calls ‘ma deuxième ville’.

I should have been unable to write this book without the backing of family, friends and colleagues in the UK. I should like to thank my extended family for their enthusiasm for my project and for their patience in seeing it through. Thanks, too, to Pete Griffith, for financial and emotional support at a crucial time. Some of the ideas for this book came out of conversations started a long time ago. I am especially grateful to the geographers, formerly at the University of Southampton, who encouraged me to work on cultural geography despite having no formal training in the discipline, namely Jane Wills, Alison Blunt and David Pinder. Other key people I should like to thank are Dominique Belkadi, Hitomi Tobe, Jeremy Herbert, Ann Ireson, Erica Arthur, John Fagg, Richard Wild, Rosemary Chapman, Céline Gagnon, Nicky Marsh and Liam Connell. Still others include my colleagues in the School of Humanities, the Humanities Research Institute and the Languages Learning Unit at Keele University, including Robin Bell, Ilse Wührer, Concha Perez, Martina Wallner, Simone Clarke, Nathaniel Golden, David Amigoni, Ian Bell and Ann Hughes. Mark Featherstone read a draft of the manuscript and offered invaluable insights over coffee. The activities of the British Association of Canadian Studies, le Groupe de recherches et d’études sur le Canada francophone, the Canada–UK Cities group and the London–Québec Network have all been instrumental in fostering my research. I am particularly grateful to Richard Dennis, Steve Shaw, Leigh Oakes, Karen Fricker, Rachel Killick, Danielle Fuller and Jodie Robson.

Very special thanks go to Ike, Flora and Gwilym for making my life richer than I ever thought possible. Finally, I should like to thank Steve Hewitt, for giving me my heart’s desire.

The Montreal metro map. Reproduced by kind permission of la Société de Transport de Montréal (STM).


Station Frontenac. Taking the escalator, he reached his hand inside my skirt. Time suddenly stretched out, and I wanted always to be there: young, beautiful, desired and desiring.¹

This book is about a particular set of mindscapes. Defined by Poul Anderson as ‘geographies of the mind as used in fiction’, mindscapes play an important role in people’s understanding and experiencing of the world.² In what follows, I shall look at a number of examples of these kinds of imaginary geographies. Québec’s urban novel is often seen as emerging in the 1940s. Antoine Sirois dates the period 1940–65 as representing a turning point in francophone and anglophone Québec fiction which broke with the past and looked to the city.³ He attributes this trend to increasing urbanisation that began in the late nineteenth century, with 63 per cent of the population living in cities by 1941 (p. 4). A key early example, namely Roger Lemelin’s Au pied de la pente douce/The Town Below (1944) is set in Québec City.⁴ However, it is Montréal that became the preferred setting for this literature.⁵ The city has dominated cultural production within Québec. As such, it is a site over which have been projected numerous personal and political desires. This study focuses on the francophone Montréal novel in its analysis of Québécois urban fiction.

Although it is not Québec’s administrative capital, Montréal is the province’s cultural and economic centre. The city is the largest urban conurbation in Québec, having a population of around 1.6 million in its central metropolitan area, and 3.8 million in the greater Montréal region.⁶ This is a little under half that of the entire province which, according to Statistics Canada, was around 7.9 million in 2010.⁷ Montréal is also the most ethnically diverse city in Québec, with 18.4 per cent of its population describing itself as foreign-born in the 2001 population census.⁸ The city’s two major natural landmarks are the Saint Lawrence River and Mount Royal.⁹ With its small downtown of postmodern skyscrapers providing a backdrop to the old town by the port on the island’s south shore, most of whose surviving architecture dates from the nineteenth century, Montréal shares a set of visual codes with a number of other, so-called ‘global cities’. This is underlined by Rosemary Chapman, who states that ‘in many ways Montreal might be thought of as comparable to any city in the western world (New York, London), and therefore as a place which is quite unlike the rest of Quebec’.¹⁰ Other cities in the province have very different atmospheres. Québec City, the administrative capital, retains much of its architecture from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries at its centre, and was designated a world heritage site in 1985, due in part to its being the only remaining fortified walled city north of Mexico. It is a prime tourist destination for those wishing to see what has been described as ‘a slice of Europe in North America’.¹¹ Places like Sept-Îles, on the North Shore of the Saint Lawrence River, and Chicoutimi, on the Saguenay River, are more industrial or, having seen their industries decline, have become tourist destinations. Their geographical distance from the economic, political, cultural and tourist centres of Montréal, Québec City and, by extension, Ottawa, Toronto and New York, means that they do not have the metropolitan urban feel associated with such facilities as extensive shopping and transportation networks, cafés, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, concert halls, art galleries, and museums, as well as with a high degree of social diversity.

The geographical importance of Montréal has been stressed many times.¹² The largest in an archipelago of islands, it is situated at the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River, which gives access not only to the Great Lakes, but also, via a network of other rivers, to an area that includes the Rockies and the Gulf of Mexico.¹³ In his Relations de voyage, Jacques Cartier, the first French explorer officially to claim the area for King François I, refers to the island he visited in 1535 by the Amerindian name of Hochelaga.¹⁴ Although he described it as containing an Iroquois village, when Samuel de Champlain visited the island in 1603 it was uninhabited. In 1611, Champlain established a trading post at what is now Pointe-à- Caillière, in Old Montréal, which became a seasonal meeting place between the Amerindians and the French.¹⁵ A map he published two years later refers to the island as Montréal. In 1636, the seigneurie of Montréal was granted to Jean de Lauson, director of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés that controlled New France.¹⁶ Four years later, it was purchased by la Société de Notre-Dame, a Catholic organisation founded in Paris, which aimed to evangelise the indigenous peoples. Led by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, who became governor of the settlement now named Ville-Marie, and Jeanne Mance, who aimed to found a hospital there, the project envisaged French and Amerindians living and farming together. Unsuccessful in their aim, the Société de Notre Dame ceded the seigneurie to the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in 1663. The same year saw the Compagnie des Cent-Associés give up control of New France, which was then placed directly under royal administration. According to Annick Germain and Damaris Rose, this marked an important shift: ‘henceforth, Ville-Marie, under its new name of Montréal, was less involved in missionary endeavours as it increasingly targeted commercial goals’.¹⁷ At the end of the seventeenth century, Montréal had a key role in the fur trade, functioning as a stop-off point for furs that were collected from the interior and then shipped to Europe.

The Seven Years’ War (1756–63) saw imperial clashes between France, Britain and other powers within Europe which impacted upon North America. A decisive battle on the Plains of Abraham just outside Québec City in 1759 resulted in New France’s being ceded to the British in the Treaty of Paris (1763). Following the conquest, the number of anglophone traders increased in what was now the province of Québec.¹⁸ Changes in the fur trade from a permit system to one that was closer to free trade gave the British living in Montréal an advantage over French Canadians.¹⁹ Some of the key names of the period, such as James McGill and Simon McTavish, formed the North-West Company in 1779 better to compete against the Hudson Bay Company operating in the west of Canada. The companies fused in 1821, a moment which Paul- André Linteau cites as marking the end of Montréal’s status in the fur trade.²⁰ McGill and his contemporaries were members of a merchant class made up largely of Protestant Anglo-Scots which dominated economic and public life. However, as Linteau points out, there was interaction between the city’s two majority groups.²¹ The same point is made by Donald MacKay, who describes the various marriages and business partnerships that took place between new anglophone traders entering Montréal in the eighteenth century and the more established francophone families including McGill, who married Charlotte Trottier Desrivières, widow of the fur trader, François Desrivières, and McTavish, who married Marie-Marguerite Chaboillez.²² Subsequent generations replaced fur trading with interests like timber, commerce, steamships and the railway. Francophones gradually opted out of, or found themselves implicitly displaced from, business affairs; choosing instead to enter law, politics, or the Church.²³

The end of the eighteenth century and first half of the nineteenth century saw Montréal undergo enormous change. The population grew rapidly, aided by mass immigration beginning with the American War of Independence (1775–83) and continuing with the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Economic difficulties in Ireland and the high birth rate amongst French- Canadians also contributed to the rise.²⁴ Another contributing factor was the migration of hundreds of thousands from rural Québec to industrialising Montréal as well as cities in New England.²⁵ According to Jean-Claude Robert, it was the increase in immigration from Great Britain as well as the primarily francophone rural exodus that gave rise to the demographic mapping of Montréal into a francophone east and an anglophone west.²⁶ This is echoed by Linteau:

the new ethnic composition inscribed itself clearly onto urban space: the English and the Scottish dominated in the west, the Irish were concentrated in the south-west, whilst the east constituted the territory of the Canadians. These divisions were evidently not watertight, because francophones could as easily be found in the west, and anglophones in the east.²⁷

Linteau makes the important point that the Irish represented an anglophone proletariat, which had not been very much in evidence up until that point.²⁸ Many of these worked on the Lachine Canal, which opened in 1825 following lobbying by the city’s merchants. Previously, goods had to be portaged past the Lachine Rapids. From 1832, ships no longer had to stop at Québec City, further up the Saint Lawrence, to pass through customs, but could arrive directly at Montréal. Other major developments include the construction of the railway, with the first line built in 1836, and the telegraph. After the failed Rebellions of 1837 and 1838 – sparked by discontent at the balance of power in favour of anglophones in what was then Lower Canada – Canada became unified in 1840.²⁹ Montréal briefly became Canada’s capital city, from 1844–9, at which time it had an anglophone majority.³⁰ Tensions between francophones and anglophones, along with pressures from Britain that Canada take on more financial responsibility, led to Confederation in 1867.³¹

At the turn of the twentieth century, two-thirds of Canada’s wealth was represented in Montréal’s Golden Square Mile at the base of Mount Royal.³² However, as the century went on, the balance of economic power shifted westward. Linteau suggests that this marked the end of Montréal’s status as Canadian metropolis, tying the city much more closely with the rest of Québec.³³ One decisive moment in this transformation was the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959 – a system of locks and canals that linked the Great Lakes, Montréal and the Atlantic. John Dickinson and Brian Young suggest that the rise of nationalism may also have been a contributory factor to Montréal’s decline in favour of Toronto (p. 312). The city became a prime site in the struggles at play during the period of national assertion that has come to be known as the Quiet Revolution. This is popularly dated as beginning with the death of conservative Union nationale leader Maurice Duplessis in 1959, and Jean Lesage’s Liberal Party’s coming into power in Québec on a platform of social change in 1960. Drawing on French and US models of modernisation, the government combined largescale projects with an embracing of mass consumerism in what was figured as a drive to make francophone Québec catch up with other industrialised nations. In common with English Canada and other places such as the US, the UK and Australia, Québec experienced a baby boom in the post-war period.³⁴ As this generation came of age, the public sector was greatly expanded, with the state assuming responsibility for matters like education and welfare, which had previously been the domain of the Catholic Church.³⁵ Religious practice had been declining in Québec since the Second World War. The Quiet Revolution saw an embracing of a more secular vision, with the French-Canadian values based on Catholicism and a rural way of life deemed outmoded. Against this pan-Canadian cultural nationalism was developed a territorial nationalism, which defined Québec as the ‘home’ of Canada’s francophones. The same period saw immigration from countries other than the British Isles increase, adding to Montréal’s cosmopolitanism.³⁶

During the Quiet Revolution, Duplessis was vilified for what was figured as his outmoded stance. More recently, historians have considered the extent to which this was a construction of the technocrat elites of the modern nationalist movement. For example, Jean-Jacques Simard claims that,

if the ‘revolution’ that broke out after 1960 was so ‘quiet’, it is because it was already underway since at least the end of the War in attitudes and behaviours: it was not so much a question of overthrowing the established course of things than reconciling with these openly, officially, proudly and ostentatiously.³⁷

One key technocrat was Jean Drapeau, Mayor of Montréal between 1954–7, and again from 1960–86. Intent on putting Montréal – and, by extension, Québec – on the world map, Drapeau carried out a number of ambitious projects, such as the creation of Montréal’s metro system and the construction of the ‘cultural complex’, Place des Arts.³⁸ He ensured that Montréal hosted both the 1967 World Fair and the 1976 Summer Olympic Games. Expo 67 was the far more successful venture. It combined technical innovation, such as the partial construction of l’île Sainte-Hélène and the entire construction of l’île Notre-Dame – island sites in the Saint Lawrence River where most of the fair was situated – radical urban planning and architecture, as with Moshe Safdie’s modernist cube apartments, Habitat 67.

There is a degree of debate as to when the Quiet Revolution ends, with some commentators dating this to the defeat of the Lesage government in 1966, when the Union nationale returned to power.³⁹ Others see the close of the Quiet Revolution as coinciding with the victory of the indépendantiste Parti québécois (PQ) in the 1976 provincial elections, or even a short time after this.⁴⁰ Formed in 1968, through the coming together of René Lévesque’s Mouvement souveraineté-association, the Ralliement national and the Rassemblement pour l’indépendance nationale, the PQ won 23.1 per cent of the popular vote when it stood in the 1970 provincial election.⁴¹ Supporters were exercised by what they saw as the economic and social privileges of an anglophone minority. Anxieties around the status and future of French were also a factor. A cause for concern was the fact that immigrants to Québec whose first language was neither French nor English tended to choose to educate their children in English-language schools. It was perhaps not surprising then, that the first piece of legislation passed by the PQ after coming to power was Bill 101, the Charter of the French Language (1977). This made French the sole official language of Québec and ensured its primacy in all areas of life. Demands for Québec independence were expressed in referenda on sovereignty-association – which proposed that Québec secede from Canada but retain economic and military links with it – in 1980 and 1995. Set against these was the bilingual federalism of Pierre Trudeau, Canadian prime minister from 1968 to 1979 and again from 1980 to 1984. Jean Chrétien, prime minister of Canada from 1993 to 2003 and in power at the time of the second referendum, could be said to have continued Trudeau’s federalist vision.

Nationalist discourses of the Quiet Revolution figured Montréal as a problem; a perception of the city that haunted the remarks made by Jacques Parizeau, then leader of the PQ, on the night of the 1995 referendum, when he infamously blamed ‘money and the ethnic vote’ for the narrow ‘no’ majority.⁴² Québec has a long history of welcoming incomers from countries other than Great Britain or France. Indeed, Pierre Anctil reminds us that, from 1900 to 1950, Yiddish was Montréal’s third language.⁴³ The second half of the twentieth and the start of the twenty-first centuries have seen a rise in the number and diversity of immigrants.⁴⁴ To date, these have tended to settle primarily in the Montréal region. During the last thirty years, there have been attempts to rework what some critics consider to be the ethnic nationalism of the Quiet Revolution to accommodate these communities. Following Québec’s Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences (2007–8), it is a notion of interculturalism that is being promoted as a means of dealing with cultural difference. This is not a new concept, as Samuel Shapiro points out.⁴⁵ However, interculturalism is summarised in the report by commissioners Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor as:

a) institut[ing] French as the common language of intercultural relations; b) cultivat[ing] a pluralistic orientation that is highly sensitive to the protection of rights; c) preserv[ing] the creative tension between diversity and the continuity of the French-speaking core and the social link; d) plac[ing] special emphasis on integration; and e) advocat[ing] interaction’.⁴⁶

Montrealers are accustomed to negotiating difference – with various degrees of success and failure. Québec’s ‘regions’ are increasingly facing some of the challenges and tensions that accompany diversity.⁴⁷ They made their presence felt in the support for Mario Dumont’s Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ) in the 2007 provincial elections.⁴⁸

Rather like French literature, which is, by and large, centred on Paris, Québécois literature – both francophone and anglophone – is primarily associated with Montréal. In this way, writing on francophone cultural production, Pierre Nepveu and Gilles Marcotte propose that ‘it is obvious that, without Montreal, Québécois literature does not exist’.⁴⁹ This is a contrast with Canadian fiction more generally, which has not tended to be associated with the urban. The Montréal novel is a recognised genre in a way that, to date at least, the Toronto or Vancouver novel is not.⁵⁰ Will Smith, one of the rare critics working on the Toronto novel, suggests that the city is given little attention in analyses of anglophone Canadian fiction, which have a tendency to focus on themes around wilderness.⁵¹ The link between Montréal and its literature is due to a number of factors. As noted above, it is Québec’s only major city, and, owing to its association with an anglophone elite and, more recently, increasingly heterogeneous immigrant communities, it has functioned as a site where social tensions crystallise. It is also the centre of Québec’s cultural industry, and many publishing houses, such as Boréal and Leméac, are situated there, as are numerous writers – francophone and anglophone. These include stars like Nicole Brossard, Dany Laferrière, the late Mordechai Richler and Gail Scott. In terms of francophone fiction, the Montréal novel is often identified with Gabrielle Roy’s Bonheur d’occasion/The Tin Flute (1945).⁵² The social-realist novel by the franco-Manitoban writer who went on to become ‘la

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