Photo cred - Doug
Ebola, earthquakes, economic crashes - so disasters have been on our minds lately. Before we all panic and freak out about whatever's on the news this week, let's take a step back and review the times the city seemed equally on the verge of being wiped out.
Like most big events that started in Montreal, this one began in a bar. More specifically, the fire began in Brown's Tavern, on St-Lawrence. It destroyed half the city's buildings, one quarter of which collapsed in the first hours. Were people in the past just incompetent in stopping fires?
...yeah, they were. Despite living in houses made by (basically) kindling, Montreal's fire service was entirely a volunteer one. This was their plan of action: when there's a fire, a bunch of guys will volunteer to run to a well/river/pump, fill a bucket, and run back to the fire to put it out. And how many guys? Twelve. For a city that boasted 57,000 people in the 19th century , their fire brigade had half the amount of people on a decent hockey team.
In one year, from 1885 to 1886, Montreal-ers reported about 20,000 cases of smallpox. About 2% of the city died. Put that into perspective for the modern age - Montreal has 3.8 million people in its surrounding areas right now. If the same epidemic sweeps through the city in 2014, that's death toll of the entire population of LaSalle. Were people in the past also incompetent at stopping plagues?
...yeah, pretty much. A lot of the poorer, French-Canadian neighborhoods didn't believe in vaccinating their kids, so the majority of the deaths were concentrated there. That's obviously tragic, and what's even more tragic is that there are people today who think the same thing.
So the first couple of winters in Nouvelle France were completely shit-tastic (people who hate winter may argue here that every winter in Montreal is shit-tastic). Anyways, the settlers chose to build their little fort right next to St-Lawrence, and they were completely suprised when the river did what rivers do and flooded everything.
What would you do if you were a 17th century governor, and a flood is about to destroy your little village? Evacuate? Build dams? Nah man, you get on your knees and pray. Then you make a promise to God that if you survive, you will carry a cross all the way up a nearby mountain and plant it there. I personally would have gone up the mountain anyways to escape, you know, the giant flood, but de Maisonneuve operates on a different level than I do.
Anyways, the flood receded, and on January 6, de Maisonneuve actually did carry a heavy cross up Mont-Royal and "offered prayers". That's why people later built that giant, lit-up cross on Mont-Royal later, to commemorate this event. If this ever happens again, hands-up who wants to see Denis Coderre do the same thing?
Here's MTL Blog's very own photo summary. Does anyone really need me to explain this? Tiny child-me wasn't even here when it happened, but here's my favourite fact about the storm: the Canadian military deployed 16,000 troops for disaster relief, which is the largest effort undertaken since the Korean War. It's like every Canadian stereotype coming true all at once.
On a June day in 1994, a visible fireball streaked over the skies of New York and Quebec. The next morning, a bunch of farmers in a village called St-Robert, reported chunks of rocks falling out of the sky and scaring their livestock. One of the farmers, Stephane Forcier, saw his cows "standing in a circle staring at something."
The "something" are chunks from the St-Robert Meteorite, named after the village where they found most of the remains. St-Robert is only 50km north of Montreal, where they recorded a sonic boom from the meteoroid. Windows rattled, and doors shook. No one died directly, but it was close-call. If the meteorite was slightly larger, or if it landed slightly more south, who knows what could have happened?