Mount Royal is in danger. Due to an invasive insect species, the emerald ash borer, the many trees found on the city's iconic mountain are being eaten up and damaged, to the point that they are beyond saving.

The only plan the City of Montreal has is to cut down up to 30,000 trees on Mount Royal. Sounds intense, yes, but forestry experts have deemed the massive removal of vegetation as a "best case scenario" in response to the worsening emerald ash borer problem.

But this isn't the first time thousands of trees on Mount Royal have been forcibly rooted out by Montreal.

In the 1950s, on the order of the mayor, vast amounts of trees were cut down on the mountain, turning Mount Royal into a veritable wasteland in contrast to the lush green space it was previously.

The reason for such an intense removal of so many trees on Mount Royal back in the day? To put it simply: because sex.

Yes, illicit and immoral acts performed in the bushes of Mount Royal were deemed such a "problem" in the 50s that the municipal government saw “les coups de la moralité/morality cuts” as the only solution. Well, maybe not all city leaders, but definitely mayor-of-the-time Jean Drapeau.


Mayor Jean Drapeau And "Morality Cuts"

First elected in 1954, Jean Drapeau had previously headed the city's morality squad, investigating police corruption. Directly following this experience, where some 20 officers were charged with corruption, Drapeau proclaimed he would campaign to become the Mayor of Montreal.

Drapeau would win, of course, and one can already see a link between morality and mayorship in Drapeau's career as the head of Montreal's municipal government. Drapeau wanted to "clean up" Montreal as mayor, a crusade that was taken to extreme (and sometimes disastrous) ends, at times.

The morality cuts enacted upon Mount Royal are a prime example.

Soon after Drapeau took office in 1954, the mayor believed that an unprecedented amount of immoral and illicit acts were being perpetrated on the mountain. Trees and vegetation were noted to add to the problem, providing cover for those enacting such "unholy" behaviour.

To put it more simply, folks were having sex in the bushes, and so Drapeau ordered trees be uprooted to inhibit such behaviour.

Who did Drapeau believe were committing the carnal crime of sex on the mountain? Some sources simply say "lovers and winos" while others cite "perverts and criminals" as the main demographic Drapeau was trying to prevent from sex'ing on the mountain. Both are believable, and likely true to a degree, but it's far more likely that Drapeau was targeting the gay community when enacting the morality cuts.

Sex in the bush is something of a gay stereotype, so it isn't all that hard to believe Drapeau believed the same. Years later, Drapeau targeted gay bars downtown in order to "clean up" the city once more, so again, it isn't a big stretch to think the previous mayor had it out for the gay community. Besides, this is the time before Grindr, so for all we know the mountain was the place to cruise in the 50s.

In all likelihood, it was probably a mix of different groups that made up the many folks doing the dirty on Mount Royal. A Juvenile Morality Squad already existed at the time, who were tasked by the SPVM to keep the youth honest; one of their tasks included patrolling the mountain for illicit/sexual behaviour.

There's also the possibility that there weren't really that many people sex'ing on the mountain, but older, stauncher folks simply thought so. Not like there's a census done for that kind of stuff anyway, so we can never really know.

Regardless, the end result was the same: Mayor Jean Drapeau ordered a devastation upon the vegetation of Mount Royal, with thousands of trees uprooted and cut down.


The Devastation Of Mount Royal

The exact number of trees cut down during the morality cuts crusade isn't known (the best estimates are set around 30,000) but the stark difference between the "before" and "after" of Mount Royal demonstrates just how much vegetation was completely destroyed.

In particular, the site of the mountain's cross went from being charming and serene to barren, uninviting, and alienating if you weren't a christian. The picture above displays this fact, with the cross-area looking like some creepy Christian monument.

Unfortunately, the damage done to Montreal's natural landscape wasn't only aesthetic. Soil-erosion became an immense problem following the morality cuts, changing the face of the mountain even more.

The complete decimation of Mount Royal's vegetation in the name of "morality" is also apparent from the nickname given to the mountain following the cuts. Since Mount Royal had lost so much of its greenery, citizens began to refer to the iconic landmark as the "bald mountain/mont chauve."

Mount Royal would stand as a shade of its former self until the 1960s. To combat soil erosion and bring green back to the mountain, 60,000 trees (which points to just how many trees were cut down in the first place) were planted on the mountain, mainly Norway maple and buckthorn species.

So what has arguably been the largest amount of damage ever inflicted upon Mount Royal wasn't caused by an invasive bug species or a severe storm, it was the City of Montreal. But hey, this time when Montreal cuts down thousands of trees on Montreal, at least the reasoning will be better than "because sex."


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