10 Of The Most Important Protests To Ever Take Over Montreal

History told through protests.
10 Of The Most Important Protests To Ever Take Over Montreal

Protests are a way of life in Montreal, and this week is a prime example of that fact.

Many criticize the individuals who act out against opposition and take to the streets in protest, but we believe it's what makes the city so unique. Montrealers are passionate enough to fight for a just cause, something you wouldn't see elsewhere in Canada.

In Montreal's long history, there have been too many protests to name, all inspired by different reasons and enacted by various groups. While we can't talk about them all, in light of the demonstrations going on this week, we'd like to highlight certain Montreal protests, chosen for their impact on the city, and their inherent peculiarity (at least in one instance).

See some city history spelled out with protests in our list of ten Montreal protests that completely took over the city.

The Quebec Charter of Values Protests (2013-14)

When the Marois-headed provincial government proposed Bill 60, otherwise known as the Quebec Charter of Values, citizens across the province were having none of it. For those who don't remember, Bill 60 was essentially a means to suppress religious freedoms, forcing public sector employees from wearing "overt" religious symbols while on the job.

Supporters of the bill claimed it to be a move towards a more secular society. Others were able to see through the thinly-veiled prejudices of Bill 60, as "traditional" religious symbols in public places (e.g. crucifixes) were deemed to be suitable under the charter while a worker wearing a hijab was not.

Various demonstrations were held to oppose the Charter of Values when it was proposed by the PQ in 2013, but the largest was likely the protest held in Montreal on Saturday, September 14th, 2013, where thousands of people marched through the city's streets all while sporting religious headgear and astute signs (my personal favourite: Dumbledore wouldn't let this happen).

The John Lennon-Yoko Ono Bed In (1969)

Despite only having two individuals in attendance, the legendary John Lennon and Yoko Ono, this Montreal protest may lack physical numbers, but it more than makes up for it with its immense cultural impact and continued relevancy.

After the first Bed-In held in Amsterdam, Lennon & Ono travelled to Montreal for their second non-violent protest against war, a direct evolution of the "sit in" form of protest. Arriving in the city on May 26th, 1969, the couple occupied four rooms at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel over the course of a week.

Gaining international press coverage for their experimental form of protest, the Bed-In received even more recognition when "Give Peace A Chance" was recorded right inside the famed couple's hotel room, with a variety of celebrities and journalists in attendance. The track would become an anti-war anthem, one still used (and heard) today.

Fun Fact: Montreal was actually the third choice for the Lennon-Ono Bed-In. NYC was the first choice (Lennon couldn't get into the US because of a marijuana charge) and their second the Bahamas, which was deemed far too hot.

The Sex Garage Raid/Station 25 Sit-In (1990)

Montreal history with LGBTQ rights and acceptance isn't quite as cheery as everyone thinks. Yes, today the city is heralded as a haven for queer communities (more than it should be, IMO) but that wasn't always the case.

Raids on Montreal queer establishments and bars were frequent in the 1960s and 1970s (like the Trux raid and protest of 1977) but it wasn't until 1990 did the LGBTQ struggle come into the spotlight, with the Sex Garage raid and following protests.

Sex Garage was an underground queer loft party held at 494 de la Gauchetière, and on the July 15th edition, with 400 people in attendance, two dozen police officers were sent to stop the event. The raid resulted in pandemonium, as the tension between the party-goers and officers ending in extreme violence. 8 were arrested and many more were injured.

The very next day, the queer rights activist organized a sit-in to be held right in front of Beaudry metro, and then another on the Sunday in front of Station 25, the SPVM station on Maisonneuve and St Mathieu. Hundreds attended, peacefully blocking traffic, yet were met with extreme violence as riot police descended upon the crowd. An SPVM spokesperson would later admit to extreme police brutality, as many were injured and arrested.

But despite the violence inherent in the memory of the Station 25, it marked the first time that violence towards the LGTBQ community was seen in broad daylight. Many believe this was a moment in which public opinion on Montreal's queer community began to shift, with others stating this protest is the Montreal equivalent to the Stonewall Riots.


The Anti-Trudeau Protest/Riot (1968)

It's hard to imagine any Canadians protesting against a Trudeau but happen it did on June 24th, 1968, at the annual St-Jean Baptiste Day Parade in Montreal, with angry Montrealers calling out the late Pierre Trudeau.

On the evening before an election, Trudeau was asked to attend the city's St-Jean Baptiste Day Parade, something Quebec separatists were far from happy about, given Trudeau had publicly commented on his goal to create a unified Canada. Separatist leaders called Trudeau a "traitor to the French Canadian cause" and so organized a demonstration against the Prime Minister.

At the parade, anti-Trudeau protesters hurled rocks at Trudeau, with 292 demonstrators arrested. Throughout the ordeal, Trudeau courageously took all the projectiles and slurs in stride, improving his public image quite a bit, as he basically looked like a complete badass. Trudeau won a majority Liberal government the next day. You can check it out the action in the video above.


The Maple Spring/Quebec Student Protests (2012)

No one needs a reminder of the student protests against tuition hikes that occurred a few years ago, we can still hear the echos of pots and pans banging in the streets. Few protests in the city's history saw such intense commitment and involvement, all of which was for a very just cause, namely access to education.

A rather dark element to the Maple Spring, as the Quebec Student Protests were later named, was the reaction by Montreal's leaders, and specifically the police. Countless acts of police brutality were documented, many of which were caught on film, showcasing the militaristic mentality of the city's police force.

Personally, I remember exiting the metro and seeing a squad of riot police marching towards a demonstration, all of whom seemed ready to keep the "peace" by any means necessary. The climate of the city was rife with tension (as the video above showcases), and it will be a very long time until the memories and feelings left by the 2012 student protests fade.

The Public Transit Fare Increase Protests (1955)

An increase the price of fares for a bus or metro ride is almost an annual occurrence in Montreal, and while people get pissed, we bear through it. Apparently, in 1955, Montrealers weren't quite so accepting of fare increases, and a two-and-a-half cent added charge sparked a rather violent protest.

On December 10th, Montrealers angry with the fair increase took to the streets and damaged a total of 236 streetcars (Montreal used them back then) and buses, totaling $50,000-$102,000 in damages. $50,000 was noted in lost revenue, as the rest of the fleet were forced to retreat back to stations for the rest of the day.

Technically this would be deemed more of a riot than a protest, but the extreme actions exhibited by the citizens of Montreal for something as "small" (at least by today's standards) as a fare increase was worth mentioning, at least in my not-so-humble opinion.


The (Incredibly Ironic) Protest Against Police Tactics (2013)

Following the student protests, Montrealers weren't happy with the SPVM, specifically for how they handle situations (read: violently handle situations) and so a protest was organized on Friday, April 13th, 2013 against police tactics. Specifically, the protest used to criticize bylaw P-6, which allows the police to designate a protest as illegal if an itinerary isn't provided.

Held at Place Émilie-Gamelin, the demonstration met a rather ironic end, as the Montreal police quickly deemed the protest illegal, as the protesters chose not to provide the SPVM with any details. A total of 279 individuals were arrested, though no injuries were reported.

Similar protests were held before this specific instance (which the video above showcases), including the annual Montreal protest against police brutality.

Occupy Montreal (2011)

The Montreal contingent of the global Occupy movement, otherwise known as "Occupons Montréal," formed on October 15th, 2011, with protesters converging at Square Victoria. In the span of a few hours, the group went from the size of a few hundred to over 1,000, and the demonstration only kept on getting larger.

By day five of the Occupy Montreal movement, 168 tents were set up in Square Victoria, along with two generators, six outdoor toilets, recycling and compost bins, a live-stream, and even a savings fund to ensure the group could buy items needed to get through the winter together. Talk about ingenuity.

But all things come to an end, and on November 25th, the Occupy Montreal protesters were evicted from Square Victoria, but not without a struggle. Protesters chained themselves to the tent-structure even while it was being torn down, though everyone was cleared out by after a second eviction notice was received.

The Montreal Scientology Protest (1986)

Here's a protest that makes the list solely for its inherent strangeness. Well, actually, the protest itself isn't really that strange, it just involves the Church of Scientology, which inherently makes it a tad peculiar.

On April, 1st, 1986, 100 members and supporters of the Church of Scientology enacted a protest against organizations who wish to "destroy the social influence of religion," specifically targeting organizations formed by Quebec psychologists as well as ACEF-Centre, who issued statements criticizing Scientology as a religion.

Led by Quebec actress Claudine Chatel, the Scientology-supporters marched from the base Mount Royal all the way to Notre Dame Basilica. That's pretty much where the story ends, and while this wasn't quite the most "important" event in Montreal history, it's pretty interesting that a rather secretive religion like the Church of Scientology would enact such a public display.

The La Presse Newspaper Protest/Riots (1971)

A night of extreme violence erupted in Montreal when a demonstration was held in protest against the La Presse lockout of 1971, with the newspaper being shut down and hundreds of employees losing their job.

Beginning at Square Saint Louis, a group of 8,000 marched towards the La Presse HQ, an area that was banned from hosting any demonstrations by Mayor Jean-Drapeau.

Quite literally tearing up the streets along the way, the protesters (a conglomeration of workers unions, separatists, and other groups) met a police barricade upon arriving at the La Presse building on Craig street, protesters met a police barricade, but that didn't stop them.

Protesters violently attacked the barricade, causing the police to briefly retreat before reinforcements arrived. But the police fought back, bypassing their own barricade and jumping into the fray, willingly beating down all protesters with three-foot clubs, no matter the person's size or age.

In total, 300 demonstrators and 46 police officials were injured, with 60 arrested. Demonstrations continued concerning the La Presse lockout, though none were on the same scale, with the Gazette citing it as the "worst night of violence since the police strike of 1969," otherwise known as the Murray-Hall riot.

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