Happy New Year! Montreal Erases over 350 years of Intangible Cultural Heritage

I would like to begin by acknowledging that we live on the un-ceded Indigenous territory of Tio’tia:ke and that the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) First Nation is the custodian of these lands and waters.

Due to a lack of consultation or dialogue between stakeholders in the local tourism industry, it almost appears as though there is an ongoing process by the Plante administration to damage or erase the City of Montreal’s intangible cultural heritage.

In a nutshell, over 350 years of oral history and folklore have been effectively erased as of January 1st, 2020.

Calèche guides, who have ferried tourists around the city in horse-drawn carriages for centuries, are now banned. The law, designed to protect animal rights, has serious repercussions on the city’s culture, tourism industry and the livelihood of longstanding and talented tour guides.

While the topic of whether or not horses should work in Old Montreal is an emotional one, with strong arguments on both sides of the debate, this article does not take a position the animal rights issue.

Instead, it looks at the consequences of the ban for Montreal’s intangible cultural heritage, and by extension the tourism industry.

RESULT 1: Destruction of Montreal’s intangible cultural heritage

An intangible cultural heritage is a practice, representation, expression, knowledge, or skill considered by UNESCO to be part of a place’s cultural heritage; it comprises “nonphysical intellectual property, such as folklore, customs, beliefs, traditions, knowledge, and language.”

UNESCO subcommittee to discuss safeguarding intangible cultural heritage

Given that the carriage guides have over 350 years of collective history, experience and storytelling that has been passed through the generations, the folklore that they have collected will cease to be transmitted to anyone, meaning that this important oral history will be lost forever. I was able to collect a small sample of this incredible knowledge when researching a ghost story called “The Phantom Calèche” for the Haunted Montreal Blog.

The rest of the Montreal folklore will essentially disappear because City Hall made no provisions to record, preserve or transmit it.

It is reminiscent of the Plante administration’s attacks against the intangible cultural heritage of Montreal’s Irish community.

RESULT 2: Loss of Livelihood for over 50 of the City’s best tour guides

The ban on the calèches has effectively destroyed the livelihoods of dozens of guides and the result is that some of the city’s best storytellers and knowledge-keepers are now forbidden from transmitting Montreal folklore, even if guiding on foot.

This ban on foot-guiding is due to outdated by-law G-2, which forbids anyone from delivering a guided tour unless they have obtained a permit following an 8-month, $2200 course at the ITHQ. The program has traditionally been seen as too Euro-centric and lacking in Indigenous history, perspectives, language and contemporary issues such as Truth and Reconciliation. As an educator, I advised them to update their curriculum.

This by-law has resulted in serious systemic racism and discrimination in Montreal’s tourism industry, as pointed out in my submission to the OCPM

Many of the guides have decades of experience and will now have to look for employment outside of their traditional industry because the City refuses to allow them to guide on foot.

While there were pleas to Deputy Mayor Sterling Downey, who has been active on the file, to allow the guides to legally work on foot, he was unable to honor the request at this time. When Montreal’s Irish community requested his assistance to protect the Irish heritage the city, he was also unable to offer immediate assistance, although there are hopes he will in the future because in the past he has been a strong supporter of the Irish in Montreal.

RESULT 3: A more Racist Tourism Industry in Montreal

The third result is that the tourism dollars that traditionally went to the carriage guides will now likely be funneled to the systemically racist A.P.G.T. cartel, which is estimated at 98% white in a city with 34% visible minorities and 2% Indigenous people.

While historically there have been many Mohawk and other Indigenous horse guides, that option is no longer available.

Instead, the cartel will run the show. In the past, the A.P.G.T. has received complaints about racist language and discourse among its mostly white tour guides. For example, on May 18, 2017, a letter of complaint, from a conscientious local citizen, was sent via email to the A.P.G.T. and Tourisme Montréal.

Good afternoon,

I live in Montreal and work in Old Montreal.

Tuesday of this week, as I was walking by the statue of Maisonneuve in front of the church, I could hear an English speaking tour guide telling his group (of about 20 tourists) about the ‘savages’.

He kept on talking and repeating ‘savages’ (with emphasis) and then I realized he was referring to our First Nations people.

I was at first very ashamed that we (Montreal) are referring to our native people this way- and the impression it must leave with the tourists. After all, we invaded their land and they were just defending themselves.

I did not react at that time- so I did not see which/if any ‘badge’ the tour guide had, therefore I am unable to say for whom he worked.

But I feel it is your responsibility to make sure ALL tour guides do not continue to refer to our natives as ‘savages’.

I will return every day during my lunch hour to that square- with my camera so if I see/hear this sort of language again- I will be able to film it. (if I do film this, I will send you a copy).

I sure hope that you are able to remedy this situation asap. Because it is not kind nor fair and I am embarrassed to be associated this.

Please advise your employees not to refer to them as savages.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this.”

The racist guide was repeatedly pointing at the 1895 Maisonneuve Monument, which occupies the heart of Montreal’s tourist district in the center of the Place d’Armes. Surprisingly, this racist centerpiece of Montreal’s Tourism Industry was recently refurbished in 2009 instead of being removed from public sight and placed behind glass in a museum, where it belongs as a colonial relic of the past.

Because tourism dollars will now be funneled to the systemically racist tour guiding cartel, the ban on carriage guides will almost certainly result in even more whitewashing, racism and mis-representation of Indigenous people in the local tourism industry.

It is noteworthy that animal rights activists have a long history of harming Indigenous communities by refusing to listen to or consult them regarding the results of their activism. The award-winning NFB documentary by director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril Angry Inuk examines these dynamics from an Inuit perspective.

RESULT 4: The normalization of ignorance, hate and harassment in Montreal

When I contacted the Anti-calèche defense coalition to express my concerns about the results of their “activism” on Montreal’s Tourism Industry, I was met will a wall of resistance by the spokesperson from their Facebook group (who refused to identify themself).

I informed the spokesperson that there are no Indigenous guides operating legally in the City of Montreal due to racist by-law G-2 and proposed that we should be fighting to change that. When I suggested that the business taken away from the carriage guides should go to Indigenous guides in the Age of Truth and Reconciliation, the spokesperson started dropping the names of the group’s lawyers in a threatening manner.

Ironically, one spokeswoman of the Anti-calèche defense coalition named Mirella Colalillo is described in Westmount Mag as “an advocate for the rights of human and non-human animals. She’s lead [sic] the Anti-calèche Defense Coalition grassroots community for eight years…”

However, many of the now-unemployed guides and their supporters have described the campaign against them by Anti-calèche defense coalition as something akin to a “hate campaign”, including frequent harassment, misrepresentation, defamation, etc. One guide, who shall remain nameless to avoid repercussions, stated:

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The unknown spokesperson confirmed this genre of hatred during our communications by making sweeping generalizations against the talented guides that can only be described as abusive:

Furthermore, the spokesperson for the group who refused to identify themself explained that allowing Indigenous guides to operate legally on their un-ceded territory was “on the wrong side of history”, despite claiming they speak on behalf of “Indigenous people”. This rhetoric essentially painted the spokesperson as both hypocritical and apparently racist against Indigenous people.

When I disagreed and pointed out that my work as an educator is Truth and Reconciliation based, and sent a news report about anti-Indigenous racism in the Tourism Industry, the spokesperson started harassing me and even sent the following hate mail before blocking me from the Facebook page:

Far from being advocates “for the rights of human and non-human animals” the Anti-calèche defense coalition demonstrated though its actions and communications that the group appears to actually be in favor of denying human rights, including the rights of Indigenous people to legally guide on their un-ceded territory.

In another case, during a “silent vigil”, a spokeswoman for the Anti-calèche defense coalition screamed “GET THE F*CK OUT OF OUR FACES” through a megaphone into the face of a brave guide. The guide was trying to defend the historic work of the calèche drivers and his own horse in an angry mob of “animal rights activists”, risking his own personal safety to try and tell the other side of the story, which was never told by Anti-calèche defense coalition. Instead of offering a balanced approach, members typically defamed the guides with one broad stroke by describing them as all as “incompetent”, “drunk”, “abusive”, “evil”, etc.

This type of abusive behavior only leads to the normalization of ignorance, hate and harassment in Montreal, something that is already very problematic and needs to be challenged. 

RESULT 5: Nobody has pledged to pay to feed and stable the horses, meaning it is quite likely many will be sent to the slaughterhouse.

Perhaps the saddest irony is that neither City Hall or the Anti-calèche defense coalition created a permanent plan to care for the now out-of-service horses for the rest of their lives. The City offered a mere $1000 per horse and hopes the SPCA and a horse welfare organization called Galahad will be able to find homes for the horses. However, to date only one of the 50+ horses has found a new home.

Maintaining horses is an expensive venture, costing thousands of dollars a year per horse in feed, stabling, veterinary and dentistry bills and other expenses such as salt, horse-shoeing, etc . Because no permanent funding is in place to care for the horses, many of them will likely end up in the slaughterhouse.

Sadly, this demonstrates that far from being the noble animal rights activists they claim to be, the Anti-calèche defense coalition will likely be responsible for the unethical slaughter of the very horses the group pledged to defend.

While the Anti-calèche defense coalition may think that I am “too dumb to educate anyone”, despite holding a brevet d’enseignement (or International Teaching License), I beg to differ with the glaring ignorance of their spokesperson.

In exposing their mistreatment of humans, failure to guarantee the protection of animals and their racist objections to Indigenous people guiding on their un-ceded territory, I have fulfilled my mandate an an educator on behalf animal rights, human decency and Truth and Reconciliation initiatives.

In particular, I would like to highlight the importance of the Calls for Justice from National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls:

15.2 Decolonize by learning the true history of Canada and Indigenous history in your local area. Learn about and celebrate Indigenous peoples’ history, cultures, pride and diversity, acknowledging the land you live on and its importance to local Indigenous communities, both historically and today.

15.4 Using what you have learned and some of the resources suggested, become a strong ally. Being a strong ally involves more than just tolerance; it means actively working to break down barriers and to support others in every relationship and encounter in which you participate.

15.5 Confront and speak out against racism, sexism, ignorance, homophobia and transphobia, and teach or encourage others to do the same, wherever it occurs: in your home, in your workplace, or in social settings.

15.8 Help hold all governments accountable to act on the Calls for Justice, and to implement them according to the important principles we set out.

Image result for Calls for Justice from National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Here’s hoping the “activists” of the Anti-calèche defense coalition stop wasting their time writing hate mail and defaming educators and tour guides and start studying these important documents for the sake of Truth and Reconciliation.

Please contact the SPCA to demand that the innocent horses that were put out-of-service by the Anti-calèche defense are not slaughtered. As “animal rights activists”, it is incumbent upon them to pay for the upkeep of the horses who cannot find homes for the rest of their natural lives.

Please also email Mayor Valerie Plante and ask her to rescind racist and discriminatory by-law G-2 so the carriage guides can continue working in the tourism industry on foot as tour guides, not to mention Indigenous guides, on whose un-ceded territory we live. She can be reached here: mairesse@montreal.ca 

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