On the surface, Montreal seems like a pretty laid-back city. Our crime rates are low, and most of the people you meet are only crazy in the "I'm down to party" sense of craziness. But Montreal is also a city that contains a wild chemical mix of cultures, religions, and languages. Shake them together for long enough, and all sorts of weirdness start to bubble over. Dig deeper in the city's history, and you'll start to uncover a ton of secrets, involving everyone from the Catholic Church to the CIA.
Photo cred- Library of Congress
Project MKUltra - The CIA's Experimental Mind Control Program In McGill
Starting in the Cold War era in the 1950s, the CIA became obsessed with the idea that the Soviets have already discovered a way to wipe and reset human memories, Manchurian Candidate-style. They started funding a massive research program to discover how to do the same. One of these research labs was headed by Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron, in the Allan Memorial Institute of McGill University.
There, Cameron ran shockingly inhuman experiments, like giving patients a large amount of drugs to put them into a coma, and then repeating a tape loop of the same phrase over and over again for weeks to see if the patients internalised the tape's commands. Patients were also subject to electro-convulsive therapy (ie. being zapped with electricity), in order to forcibly induce amnesia.
Did it work? Nope. Dr. Cameron eventually discovered that while undergoing extreme trauma could wipe his patients' memory, he couldn't implant new memories to take their place. In the end, all he has left to show for the years of medical torture were a bunch of patients who entered the asylum for minor disorders, like stress or anxiety, but exited the asylum as blank zombies with no memory of their family, friends, or past lives.
Photo cred- w00kie
Chinatown's Geography - Montreal's Attempt To Physically Blockade Its Expansion
What do buildings like the Hydro Québec offices, the Guy Favreau complex, and Complexe Desjardins have in common? Constructed in 1962, 1975, and 1976 respectively, these buildings’ locations weren’t randomly chosen. Ever wonder why these ugly government buildings are so close to a bustling Chinatown and a picturesque Old Port?
Bun suggests this theory - the city of Montreal had purposely constructed new buildings around Chinatown’s borders. In Canada and the US, Chinatowns have long carried a dastardly reputation to outsiders, conjuring images of sly oriental deviancy and ingrained poverty. They’re basically Mos Eisley from Star Wars – you know, “a wretched hive of scum and villainy”.
After 1967, Chinatown has four metro stations within walking radius. For investors eying the area, the growing Chinatown was taking up valuable space and money. What’s a government, hot on new investments and nationalism, going to do about it? According to author Chan Kwok Bun, they can physically stop it's expansion, that's what.
Raëlism - the religious cult that handed out 10,000 condoms to Catholic schools
Raëlism was a religious cult founded in the 70's by a man called Claude Vorilhon, who was born in France but eventually moved to Montreal after everyone around him got tired of his alien theories. Raëlists believe that the human race was created by a species of extraterrestrials, which they call the Elohim. They also believe in - I'm serious - genetically-modified foods, human cloning, and lots of nudism.
In 1992, an ex-Raëlist went to major media outlets to accuse Vorilhon and the other Raëlists participating in pedophilia and child-sacrifice. Faced with the negative press, the cult fought back with the most insane sex-positive spin campaign ever.
In that same year, Quebec Catholic School Commission's removed condom machines from their high schools. Raëlists bought a "condom-mobile", which was a pink van decorated with flying saucers and condoms, and they put on white outfits decorated with swastikas. They then handed out over 10,000 condoms to French Canadian catholic teens during their recess breaks. The teens also received pink buttons that read "Oui aux Condoms a l’École".
The newspapers applauded the Raelians' liberalism and sex-positivity. The ex-Raëlist's history of drugs and petty theft was used to prove that his claims were unfounded. They probably were, but some noted that it was suspicious how quickly Raëlism became a quirky and harmless religious group again in the public eye.
1972 Art Heist - the largest art theft in Canada that might have been a money-laundering operation by the Mob
Maria Monk - a nun's story of abuse and infanticide in her 18th century convent
In 1836, a former nun called Maria Monk published her memoirs about her time in the Hôtel-Dieu convent (you might know it today as one of the three hospitals affiliated with the Université de Montréal). In her book, she claimed that the convent is filled with secret doors, underground tunnels, and subterranean prisons. Monk tells several horror stories about the priests there raping the nuns, which she also claimed was sanctioned by Pope Gregory XVI. The children of the nuns were allowed to be born and baptised, but they were then smothered and thrown into lime pits in the cellar. She described how her sisters were beaten and killed for disobedience.
But was it real? It was certainly a sensational best-seller that set Maria Monk up for life, but no investigation was launched, and no official report was ever made. Monk was pregnant and unmarried when she wrote it, so was she just trying to provide for her child in the easiest way she knew how? Everyone involved is dead, so we might never know.
Operation Fish - how the British Empire once stored $28.62 billion in Montreal during WWII
Winston Churchill, in 1940, was worried about Britain being invaded by Germany. The British government needed a backup plan, one where they could continue the war effort even if their homeland was overrun. To start with, they decided to ship all of the UK's liquid assets to Canada, so they can continue to fund their troops in the worst case scenario.
You know the Sun Life Building, near Square Dorchester? In WWII, all of the wealth of the British Empire was stored in its underground vaults, which was guarded 24/7 by the RCMP and meticulously accounted for by the Bank of Canada. That's $28.62 billion by today's numbers, and what makes it mindblowing was that not a single shipment was lost, despite the hundreds of tons of gold bars, jewelery, and art that had to be transported over the Atlantic.
It's public knowledge now, but at the time, millions of Montrealers had no idea that they were walking right above the biggest monetary transfer operation in the history of the Empire.
Photo cred - Wikimedia Commons
Abraham Lincoln's assassination - Montreal was a shelter for Lincoln's assassins
Back in the day (ie. the 1860s) French Canadians didn't give a damn about the Abraham Lincoln. They weren't confronted everyday by the reality of slavery and cotton fields, and they weren't too thrilled about their young men being recruited to fight in the American Civil War. The Catholic Church didn't like America: its high crime rate, its lawlessness, and its Protestantism. That in turn influenced many Montrealers' view of Lincoln as the immoral leader of an evil country.
Which was why the people who conspired to shoot Lincoln - John Wilkes Booth, John Surratt, and Lewis Powell - most likely made their plans in Montreal. In fact, when authorities arrested John Wilkes Booth, he was carrying a money order for $184,000 drawn from a bank in Montreal.
So Canada, a country famed for being an escape for American slaves, probably harboured the men who would then assassinate the guy who did the most to end slavery. Whoops.
Photo cred – KAR Photographie