It now turns out that some of the hamburger and most of the pepperoni served at Expo 67, Montreal's world's fair of nine years ago, contained diseased beef and horsemeat. This probably should have been discovered at the time, since at least one local pet-food company experienced telltale disruptions in its normal meat shipments, but the scandal came to light during public crime hearings only last year. It was a case of what you don't know won't hurt you, sometimes. Unsuspecting Expo-goers happily stuffed themselves on hamburgers and pepperoni pizza and the event was, by common consent, a smashing success.
Next week visitors to Montreal are being asked to overlook embarrassments they do know about and enjoy another extravaganza, the Games of the XXI Olympiad. The hoped-for spirit is nicely exemplified by Jean Lesi√®ge, a natty young man who works as a counselor in the city's tourist and public relations department. The pre-Olympic news from Montreal consisted mainly of construction hassles, soaring costs and word of unprecedented security arrangements. Lesi√®ge has been personally discomfited by the fact that his bachelor flat is across from Loews La Cité, a newly opened 500-room hotel that was rushed to completion in time for the Games.
"The construction was unbelievably noisy," Lesi√®ge says. "The cement trucks went by at two in the morning, and I could hear every one of them. The dust was awful, too." Then he brightens and adds, "But now that it's finished, I can say it. We need new hotels to handle all the Olympic visitors."
While Lesi√®ge is a booster, be forewarned that so are most citizens of the Olympic city. They never tire of pointing out that Montreal is the world's second largest French-speaking city and that it fairly crackles with joie de vivre. Even the most cynical of them describes the place as "livable" (never mind that apprehensive Olympic-goers really care only whether it is visitable), and words like "sophisticated" and "civilized" are also freely tossed about. And every last bellhop seems prepared to ramble on about how Montreal succeeds in blending the old and the new, the European and the North American.
July 18, 1976
All of this might be insufferable except that it is largely true. Take the business about blending the old and the new. Montreal is a city on the make in the best North American tradition, its once-drowsy downtown having been transformed into a forest of lean glass-and-steel office towers. But it is also a city that goes on anachronistically dividing its beer-drinking emporiums by law into "taverns"—which are set aside for men only—and "brasseries," where ladies and gents may guzzle together. "If a woman comes in here, I'll throw her out," says a bartender, polishing glasses in a tumbledown tavern called the Mansfield. It all seems rather quaint, but, then, what are French-speaking people doing drinking beer anyway? Or for that matter, sitting there talking about Johnny Bench? The feeling grows that there would be a slightly unreal quality about Montreal even without the added attraction of a $1.5 billion Olympics. Crowning a 30-mile-long slice of land in the St. Lawrence River, Montreal is less than an hour's drive from the U.S. border and it has much of the brawling, cosmopolitan flavor of that other island city called New York. But Montrealers are friendlier than New Yorkers and they keep their city so clean that newspapers tumbling along their gusty streets are invariably today's editions. Montrealers hang pots of fresh geraniums from their lampposts and are able to get taxis even in the rain. They believe in the eternal verities, especially now that the Stanley Cup is back with les Canadiens, where it belongs.
"People in Montreal are neatly dressed, and I'm not saying that just for business reasons," says Sam Bensmihen, owner of a men's clothing store in the city's predominantly French-speaking North End. "And they're polite. If you ask a question, they'll stop and answer." In the worldly surroundings of Big Syl's, a downtown watering hole where visiting National League ballplayers congregate in quest of a bit of soul, Sylvia Foster, the statuesque Barbados-born proprietress, says, "Montreal reminds me of Barbados. It's a warm, friendly sort of place." And, of course, on an island, too.
Such talk goes on even in the face of the acknowledged big-city problems that Montreal has lately endured. Alarmed by the local construction boom, many residents fret about shrinking green spaces and complain that too many of the stately Victorian mansions along Sherbrooke Street are going under the wrecker's ball. Others argue that the fortunes spent on the Olympics should have been applied toward sewage treatment and public housing, both of which are inadequate. Meanwhile, Montreal has been succeeded as Canada's commercial and financial capital by Toronto, its long dull but now bustling rival. Alas, it even appears that Montreal can no longer find comfort in its self-proclaimed role as "restaurant capital of North America." This past spring Henri Gault and Christian Millau, France's sassiest culinary critics, took potshots at such venerable institutions as the Café Martin ("distinguished banality") and L'Habitant ("very beautiful and very bad") and concluded that Toronto offered "much more sophisticated, elegant and brilliant restaurants than Montreal." It was an attack that Eddy Prevost, former managing director of the Quebec Restaurant Association, did his best to shrug off. "You can always find fault with anything," he said. "Why, some people even criticize the Pope."
These recent troubles mock the lofty efforts of Jean Drapeau, the mayor for 19 of the last 22 years, to make Montreal "the first city of the world." This was a laughable boast, Montreal no longer being No. 1 even in Canada, but nobody chuckled when Drapeau brought major league baseball to town, staged Expo 67 or erected such wonders as the Place des Arts, the city's stunning cultural center, and the Metro, a subway as quiet (it runs on rubber wheels) as it is clean. And indeed, nobody guffaws today when Drapeau goes on talking about landing an NFL franchise for the Olympic Stadium.
But the Olympics are no laughing matter, either. Of the aforementioned $1.5 billion cost estimate, more than $1 billion is debt—and for what was supposed to be a $310 million, deficit-free affair. Amid fears that runaway Olympic costs might plunge the city into bankruptcy, post-Games investigations are planned into What Went Wrong and Whose Political Cronies Made How Many Millions. But hold it, wait a moment. The swimming and gymnastics and pole vaulting are about to begin, and Montrealers, remember, would prefer Olympic-goers to overlook gloomier subjects.
In the offices of Le Devoir, the most influential of Montreal's five French-language daily newspapers, Editor-in-Chief Michel Roy says, "There is the feeling that life in Montreal is becoming more difficult. People are worried about strikes and the Olympic financial mess. They are worried that our relaxed atmosphere might be disappearing. But they also know the reasons they are having these troubles. Because of the charm of the city, because of the special ethnic fabric, Montreal is a place where people, dare to try difficult things."
Perhaps Montrealers should occasionally take the trouble to squint through the thicket of new high-rise buildings for a reassuring glance or two at Mount Royal, their own Olympus. Known grandly as "The Mountain," it is actually a maple-lined affair that rises no higher than 763 feet. Yet it stands smack in the middle of the city, looming up like a kind of elevated Central Park to remind beholders, as American writer T. Morris Longstreth once observed, that "the world is not wholly made up of brick and prices."
From Mount Royal the city gets both its name and its bearings. If you stand at its southern foot, where the terrain begins to slope more gently toward the St. Lawrence, you are—in every sense—downtown. Travel among the two-car garages and nicely kept lawns west of The Mountain and you speak English. Venture eastward among the redbrick row houses with their corkscrew outside staircases and you speak French. Buy a haughty $200,000 stone palace in predominantly English Westmount or heavily French Outremont, rarified communities occupying the heights leading to Mount Royal's summit, and you have made it, able to look down on your conquests.
Montreal has led a charmed existence, and one must believe The Mountain has had something to do with it. The Breton sailor Jacques Cartier named it Mount-Royal upon discovering it in 1535 and Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, who founded the first settlement in 1642; is said to have gratefully planted a cross on its heights after menacing floodwaters had spared his colony's wretched cluster of log huts. In the years since, Montreal has survived Indian attacks, fires, epidemics and desertions; for some reason townsfolk always seemed to be dashing off to found other cities, LaSalle to Chicago, Cadillac to Detroit, the Le Moyne brothers to New Orleans.
Mount Royal is still crowned today by a cross, a large, illuminated successor to Maisonneuve's original, as well as a 500-acre park. If that seems to commit the city simultaneously to piety and pleasure, it is just one of the little tricks up Montreal's sleeve. Tension between the city's French and English citizens can be reminiscent at times of Cyprus and Northern Ireland, yet Montreal makes its uneasy biculturism such a tourist attraction that hotel occupancy last year was 70%, second in North America only to Las Vegas. Located 1,000 miles from the Atlantic on a river clogged by ice five months of the year, Montreal nevertheless became one of the world's great ports. That done, it became headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Air Transport Association and proclaimed itself "the air capital of the world."
At first glance, it might seem to be merely one more of its sly tricks that Montreal manages to maintain a Gallic flavor in what amount to subarctic surroundings. But Charles Bronfman, president of The Seagram Company Ltd., a Montreal civic leader and an expert on the agony and ecstasy of living there—he is chief owner of the Expos while cousins Edward and Peter Bronfman control the Canadiens—feels the weather is largely responsible for the city's uniqueness.
"Montreal has joie de vivre, like everybody says, but it's mainly because of our harsh winters," Bronfman explains. "In winter we burrow into our houses and never see our neighbors. When it gets warm we go into the streets and everybody is friendly. I think that's also why the city is clean: after the mush and muck of winter, everybody wants to keep things tidy."
Something like eight feet of snow descend on Montreal each winter. To combat it, miniplows are used even on sidewalks, and the roadways are thick with salt, which falls into the category of a necessary evil. Car buyers spend an extra $100 or so for "rustproofing," which only partly prevents salt-caused corrosion, and carpets suffer, too. In the 11-story Drummond-Medical Building the signs on office doors attest to an unsettled etiquette, some of them instructing visitors to leave boots in the hall, others announcing that mats are provided for boots outside, still others promising paper slippers. All agree:
PLEASE REMOVE OVERSHOES
S.V.P. ENLEVEZ VOS CAOUTCHOUCS
Montreal has been hit with 10-inch snowfalls well into May, but this does not prevent newspapers from greeting spring's official arrival with giddy editorials (IT'S SPRING—GIVE THANKS!) and displaying ads for the kind of above-the-ground backyard pools that the Olympics almost had to use for swimming. And before long, sure enough, gray, potholed Montreal blooms with candy-striped awnings, and the sidewalk cafes on Place Jacques Cartier begin filling with tourists and bearded students. Then, too, the shopgirls, those leggy, dark-eyed clothes ponies—a French city, after all!—break out their reflectors to steal a little noon-hour sun.
Writing about his changing hometown in The Favorite Game, Montreal-born novelist and poet Leonard Cohen comments: "The Victorian gingerbread was going down everywhere and on every second corner was the half-covered skeleton of a new, flat office building. The city seemed fierce to go modern." For Cohen, Montreal's women were the only comfort: "They were beautiful. They were the only beauty, the last magic. Everything else was fiction."
The fierceness to go modern has also produced Montreal's "sheltered city," a multilevel, climate-controlled labyrinth beneath buildings and streets in which one can avoid snow and salt, not to mention the heat waves that bake Montreal in summer. Lined with shops, the sheltered city tunnels this way and that, connected by concourses and the Metro to hotels, office buildings, the Forum and the Olympic site. It has some of the flavor of a suburban shopping mall except that it is concentrated underground and downtown, an arrangement that modern-minded Montrealers like Donat Burnham find irresistibly convenient.
Burnham, an interior designer, lives in a 20-story luxury building connected at a basement level to the sheltered city. He shops in the stores below and gets up at dawn to jog on the deserted concourses. Since his office is located in another building plugged into the sheltered city, Burnham was able to ride out a long spell of bad weather a couple of years ago by going 27 days without once stepping outside. He went to the movies, ate at fine restaurants and dated habitués of trendy boutiques, all of which he found in the sheltered city. "Fresh air?" Burnham shrugged, padding one day through a well-lighted arcade. "The air outdoors is dirty. It's the air in here that's fresh." Isn't it just like tricky Montreal to contrive to enjoy spring all year round?
Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock once described Montreal as a place where people keep off the grass in two languages. Wrong. Toronto is the place where people keep off the grass; free-spirited Montrealers walk wherever they please, which is also how they drive. Leacock's formulation, while taking into account the 67% of the populace that is of French ancestry and the 15% that is Anglo-Saxon, has the further disadvantage of neglecting those known as les autres, the others, an ethnic hodgepodge that is most conspicuous along St. Lawrence Boulevard, also known as "The Main." This neighborhood is where Montreal's immigrants traditionally settle on arrival and where they shop even after moving on to greener pastures, stopping by to pick up cookies at the Dutch Pastry Shop, cold cuts at Le Shalom Delicatessen or bedtime reading at Libreria Las Americas.
No delegation of Olympic athletes will pine away in Montreal for want of its own on-the-spot cheering section. Montreal's polyglot flavor was apparent enough at this year's St. Patrick's Day parade, when a white-haired gent lowered himself uncertainly onto a green chair at Ste. Catherine and Guy, staking his claim to the choice spot by announcing grandly, "I'm Ukrainian, but my ex-wife was Irish." And the city's sometimes odd fragmentation is underscored by the fact that it has three dental societies—one mostly French, one English and one Jewish—whose members tend to refer patients to specialists only within their own groups. "The English Club is the one that wants to be alone," insists Cecile Leclerc, executive secretary of La Société Dentaire de Montreal.
What Montreal does do in two languages is bicker. The city is the stronghold of French Canadians, who number six million on a continent of 343 million and often feel steamrollered by their English-speaking neighbors. On the streets of Montreal the defeat of the Frenchman Montcalm by the British General Wolfe in 1759 is both reenacted and avenged daily. The French regard les maudits anglais as so many overfed robber barons while the English look upon the "pea-soups" and "Pepsis," nicknames derived from food and drink supposedly favored by the French, as laughable louts. Montreal-born novelist Mordecai Richler relates one of the kinder jokes:
"Hear about the Pepsi, watching hockey on TV, who lost $100 betting on a goal?"
"He lost $50 on the goal, another $50 on the instant replay."
Montreal has two school systems, one Catholic and mostly French, and the other Protestant and almost entirely English. English-speaking whizbangs enroll at McGill University while French scholars matriculate at the Université de Montréal, giving the city its own Cambridge and Sorbonne. On Saturday afternoons kids in ski jackets and knitted hats can be seen lining up at East End movie houses for French-language matinees (EN SONORAMA!) while youngsters dressed exactly the same way queue up in western neighborhoods for Walt Disney's No Deposit, No Return. At Montreal's lone remaining tattoo parlor, bearded, burly Professor Clement Demers is equally prepared to inscribe MOM or MAMAN on the customer's body, although he confides, "I don't know why, but the French don't go for that one as much as the English."
For many years French and English faced each other like warring armies across the symbolic battleground that was downtown Montreal. The English minority had the heavy artillery, controlling the banks and insurance companies, and any Frenchmen entertaining serious hope of getting ahead were pretty much obliged to speak English. Then, in the 1960s, Quebec began to modernize its educational system, at the same time finding itself besieged by terrorists demanding that the province secede from Canada. A wave of fire bombings and kidnappings culminated in the October crisis of 1970, during which Quebec Cabinet Minister Pierre Laporte was abducted while tossing a football around with neighborhood kids outside his suburban Montreal home. Laporte's body was found in a car trunk a week later; he had been strangled with the religious chain he wore around his neck.
Reacting to the violence, many Montreal-based corporations fled to Toronto while anglais bosses who stayed behind began hiring French-speaking employees and boning up on the language themselves. The change was dramatically evident at the recent dedication of a new $210 million downtown office-hotel development called Complexe Desjardins. The ceremonies were attended by a full complement of business leaders and politicians and not a single word of English was heard.
While the Battle of Downtown is pretty much over, separatism by peaceful means remains a hot political issue and some French-speaking people, infused by the new nationalism, refuse to reply when addressed in English by fellow Montrealers. "I'll speak English to Americans because they have an excuse," says TV script girl Viviane Legault. Feelings run high over Bill 22, a law enacted by the Quebec government two years ago in an effort to channel more immigrant children, most of whom have been educated up to now in English, into French schools. Bill 22 touched off angry sit-ins in Montreal's Italian neighborhoods and the language issue in general led to the recent nationwide strike by Canadian airline pilots, who were protesting the use of French in addition to English in control-tower instructions at Quebec airports. But French Canadians feel that measures protecting their language are essential to their cultural survival.
One who feels strongly about the fragility of that culture is Lise Payette, a large, radiant woman whose weekly talk-variety show on CBC's French-language TV network has earned her the sobriquet, "The Johnny Carson of French Canada." Payette pointedly rejects the comparison, noting, "When we French talk, unlike Johnny Carson, we must say something." Which is what she did one evening after taping her show in a Montreal TV studio.
"Visitors to Montreal see friendly faces and are misled," Lise Payette said in the gloom of the now-darkened studio. "We French Canadians are very alone. We are too far from the mother country to consider ourselves French and do not always have the appetite for success of our neighbors on this continent. We are not Americans and we are not really Canadians. Sometimes I feel we are more like the Russians than anything. We are open with strangers, but inside there is a great sadness."
Until the sport recently began to outdo itself, the Richard Riot of 1955 was one of hockey's most shameful hours. It occurred after NHL President Clarence Campbell suspended the Montreal Canadien superstar Maurice Richard for slugging a referee in a late-season game. The suspension covered the final three games of the regular season and the entire playoffs, and when Campbell arrived at the Forum for a St. Patrick's Day game with Detroit the trouble began. One fan slapped Campbell, another smeared him with a tomato and somebody else set off a tear-gas bomb. The game was forfeited to the Red Wings, after which a mob roamed the streets near the Forum, overturning cars and smashing store windows.
The passions of that evening are easier to understand in light of a heartfelt French Canadian need for homegrown heroes. These can be as dissimilar as Richard Blass, a hoodlum who received standing ovations in seedy Montreal bars before police shot him down last year in the Laurentian Mountains (a tawdry magazine-style publication, Blass. His Life. His Death, sold 100,000 copies) and folk-singing idol Felix Leclerc, whose protest songs drew ovations during a recent engagement in a smoke-filled Montreal bo√Æte √† chanson called Le Patriote. But hockey players are the greatest heroes of all, none greater than Richard, a fiery performer who during 18 years with the Canadiens led the "Flying Frenchmen" to eight Stanley Cups.
It no doubt added to Richard's stature that Montreal during his era was, hockey excepted, a determinedly sleepy minor league town. Novelist Richler recalls that during his boyhood kids were let free into the left-field bleachers at Delormier Downs on weekdays to watch the Montreal Royals, and that local heroes included Yvon Robert, "who week after week gave the blond Anglo-Saxon wrestlers what-for at the Forum." Today everything in town smacks of the big time. Once-humble Blue Bonnets Raceway now boasts the $100,000-added Prix d'Été, one of harness racing's richest events (although the most wondrous thing about the place is still the way the nimble-tongued track announcer calls races in two languages), and Place Bonaventure, the local exposition hall, was the scene this past spring of a dog show offering, almost inevitably, the biggest purses of the year anywhere.
But Montrealers are discovering that traveling first class has its discomforts. Jean Drapeau's tireless courtship of the NFL has only further undermined the money-losing Alouettes, the local Canadian Football League entry, while the Expos, who have never finished above .500 in seven years at Jarry Park, last season fell below the million mark in attendance for the first time. Charles Bronfman decided to put up the money for the new franchise in 1968 after brooding on the matter alone for two hours in his office at Seagram headquarters, a building modeled after a Scottish castle. Now Bronfman sits in the same office, brooding over what will happen when the Expos, in the cellar this year as usual, make their scheduled move into the Olympic Stadium next year. "Montrealers are getting used to the best," the Expo boss frets. "If you're major league, they want you to be major league. And if we're in a fine new stadium like that, that's all the more reason we'd better be a good attraction. We are going to have to start winning."
There also is continued pressure on the Canadiens, a team that finished the past regular season with the best record in NHL history (58-11-11) and then won 12 of 13 Stanley Cup playoff games, polishing off the Philadelphia Flyers in the finals in four straight. The extraordinary season further burnished a mystique that has long since elevated the Forum, where no smart-aleck homemade banners are allowed to offend the gaze of the faithful, to the status of sacred shrine. For all that, there were always empty seats when Washington or Kansas City came to town, for which a 50ish fan named Mike Dydyk supplies the ritual explanation, "I remember when hockey was hockey. Now it's watered down like the Scotch."
A different kind of dilution was caused by elimination of the rule that used to allow the Canadiens automatic draft rights to the top two French players every year, assuring them the services of every Maurice Richard and Jean Béliveau who ever skated down a frozen Quebec river. There were nine Frenchmen on this year's club, including NHL scoring leader Guy Lafleur, but the rule change cost the Canadiens the likes of Gilbert Perreault, Marcel Dionne and Richard Martin, with consequences that Trainer Eddy Palchak lamented during a game at the Forum against Buffalo. "I was down checking some equipment in the dressing room and I heard this tremendous cheer," Palchak says. "In the old days that would have meant we scored a goal." Palchak shakes his head in disbelief. "I came running out and...Gil Perreault had scored for the Sabres."
The official word is that the Canadiens would take the ice without a single Frenchman, if necessary. Well, just let them try. After coaching the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1971, Al MacNeil was sacked, partly because the local French-language tabloids, vigilant in such matters, made an issue of his inability to speak French. Scotty Bowman, the present coach and a Montreal anglais, is bilingual, but when he benched popular Defenseman Pierre Bouchard for a time last season, the tabloids were enraged by his treachery and diners at the steak house run by Pierre and his father, onetime Canadien star Butch Bouchard, grieved over their bifteck. "Hey, Butch, that's terrible how they're treating Pierre." somebody would sympathize. And the elder Bouchard would shrug and say, "Pierre is a big boy—he can take care of himself." Restored to Bowman's favor, Pierre played a more or less regular shift in the playoffs.
But there is a danger, in sport, anyway, of making too much of the French-English business. The teen-age girls who gather outside the Forum would no doubt squeal Il est beau (He's so handsome) when Ken Dryden passed, even had the Ontario-born goaltender not bothered to make himself fluent in French. Similarly, when Maurice Richard says today, "I'd feel bad if the people stopped recognizing me," he is not just thinking of French people. At any rate, Richard need scarcely worry. At 54, with graying hair and a bit of a paunch over his belt, he is part owner of a fuel-distributing firm and runs a small fishing-line business. And when he makes the rounds with the fuel trucks or delivers his fishing tackle, he is mobbed by admirers, both French and English, who want to shake his hand and get his autograph.
Some of them also want to talk about the Richard riot. Social historians have suggested that the disturbances at the Forum on St. Patrick's Day two decades ago were a precursor of Montreal's later separatist upheavals, pitting the aggrieved hockey fan against that Anglo-Saxon authority figure, Clarence Campbell. But Richard, a plain, direct man who has always felt in his heart that Campbell's action was too severe, has news for the heavy thinkers. "Eve heard that stuff and it's nonsense," he said recently in the living room of his ranch-'style home on the North End. "I bet there were just as many English boys outside the Forum making trouble that night as French boys."
"Then they didn't riot because Campbell was the anglais oppressor?"
Richard's features darkened. "They rioted because he suspended me."
Mark Twain once said it was impossible to throw a stone in Montreal without breaking a church window. Montreal does indeed abound in steeples and stained glass and the city has further seen fit to name 126 streets after saints, reflecting a piety that prompted an early mayor to call it the Rome of the New World. And throughout Montreal's history, no individual traditionally exercised more authority than the local parish priest.
But Montreal is also the onetime bailiwick of Camillien Houde, a homely 250-pound bullfrog of a man whose see-no-evil tenure as mayor in the 1930s and 1940s was interrupted by four years spent in federal internment camps during World War II for agitating against conscription. Reelected upon his release, he later told a convention of doctors, "I feel close to you fellows. I was an intern once myself." During Houde's early years, booze trickling down from Montreal lubricated Prohibition-parched American throats and his postwar regime found truck drivers from New England comparing the wide-open city not to Rome but to Gay Paree and even Tijuana. But Montreal was never wholly godless: many of the 100 brothels that flourished in those days closed on Good Friday.
Nowadays construction workers find it convenient to drop off for breakfast served by the topless waitresses at Giustini's, a restaurant nowhere near any major building site. But Montreal's bordellos are gone and public morality comes under the scrutiny of Jean Drapeau, who, during a conversation not long ago in his oak-paneled office in Montreal's 50-year-old rococo city hall, declared, "It may be impossible to do away with sin, but it is possible to suppress the commercialization of it." Drapeau's views on the subject are of interest because it was he, as a reform candidate first elected mayor in 1954, who cleaned up the town. In place of now-forbidden pleasures, Drapeau offered cultural and sports events; in the absence of old spiritual comforts, he preached the 20th-century gospel of Tourism and Leisure Time. His regie de grandeur was also motivated by nationalism, the need to show that French Canadians could build their own sphinxes and Eiffel Towers.
Drapeau is a complex man. He can preside with overbearing solemnity at city council meetings in one of his somber, vested suits, yet he can also leave the chauffeur behind to drive the mayoral limousine to Quebec City at 100 mph, arias from the tape deck engulfing the car. Always a caricaturist's delight—horn rims up here, bit of a chin down there, slapdash mustache in between—he became even more of one with his evocative promise, uttered just after bagging the Olympics for Montreal in 1970, that the Games "can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby." That line, while justly famous, has unfortunately obscured other splendid Drapeauisms.
To critics griping about Montreal's vanishing green spaces: "If you want to see the country, you go to the country."
On pollution: "It is going down all the time, but it is only reported when it goes up."
Ruling out cost-cutting alterations on the Olympic Stadium: "Never, never, never did we think of changing the design. It would have been like carving a beautiful statue of bronze and then completing it with feet of wood."
Drapeau's cost-be-damned approach and his almost mystical penchant for secrecy contributed to Montreal's Olympic woes, but so did labor trouble and inflation, over which he had less control. There was also some plain bad luck, prompting even Nick Auf der Maur, an opposition city councilman, prominent Drapeau-baiter and author of a new book on the Olympics entitled Billion Dollar Game, to wonder "if there's a curse upon those who would tamper with the gods of Olympus."
When the Province of Quebec assumed command of Olympic construction last November, the one put in charge was Dr. Victor Goldbloom, a cabinet member who is also a part-time pediatrician—a fine irony in view of Drapeau's business about the pregnant man. Gold-bloom's bedside manner in the months since has earned him the nickname Le Ministre Valium and L'éteignoir (the candle snuffer). If Goldbloom is a bit too plodding to be considered a miracle man, well, neither is that phrase any longer squandered on Montreal's mayor: returned to office with 92% of the vote as recently as 1970, Jean Drapeau will have trouble living down his Olympic performance should he run in '78.
Yet Drapeau is not quite ready to play humiliated, either. He claims that if Olympic lotteries were allowed to continue, the resulting revenues would eventually pay off all deficits and, he insists, vindicate him. At the prospect of Victor Goldbloom becoming the man of the Olympic hour, he declares, "When a relay team wins a race, the spotlight is on the last runner. But, you must remember, it is sometimes the first runner who is more important."
It is possible that Jean Drapeau's long-favored city has finally fallen from grace. If so, the blame might well be shared by the airline pilots who, when not on strike altogether, have been profanely alerting passengers to look out the window not at Mount Royal but at the $800 million—yes, $800 million—Olympic Stadium. Or by all those weekend drivers who stream slowly past the Olympic site gaping in open-mouthed awe at the same man-made wonder. Staring right back are stubble-faced construction workers with cigarettes dangling from their lips. Their wages bloated by overtime to $50,000 or more a year, they are the first Olympic winners.
On the other hand, it could also be that Montreal's Olympic woes have been merely a test of faith. There is something oddly comforting about the fact that long-polarized Montreal, along with the rest of Quebec, has been pleading with one voice that the Canadian government bail out the Olympics. The government has agreed to extend the national Olympic lottery for three more years, a step in the direction advocated by Drapeau. But it has refused other financial aid, leading even some English-speaking Montrealers to half-seriously suggest that the Games be officially opened not by Queen Elizabeth as planned, but by Quebec's separatist leader, René Lévesque.
A go-it-alone-if-necessary attitude is in the air even in places like Le Carrefour, a bar in the huge Place Ville-Marie office complex frequented by English-speaking, attaché-carrying young executives of the sort who supposedly lost the Battle of Downtown but are doing very nicely nevertheless. Sitting one evening at the circular bar, Tom Richards, a stockbroker and lifelong Montrealer, mused, "A while ago everybody said that Montreal would never make it and that the Games would be moved to Mexico City. They said the Olympics were Canada's national disgrace. I was upset about the cost and the delays, too, but all along I remembered one thing. The French love a good party. You wait and see. Montreal will pull it off."
Well, so far, anyway, Montreal always has.