Good old Toronto. It’s “over there” in Ontario, which some Quebec historians affectionately (or not) call the “Rest of Canada.” It is the business hub of the world, and Montreal’s unofficial sparring buddy since, well, a long time. Our story starts in 2002, when the Parti Quebecois government decided that it would be a great idea to merge Montreal’s municipalities just as Toronto had done some time ago, and huge city of Montreal with one big, happy family. But this was not to be.
Under the slogan “une île, une ville” (one island, one city), the government moved forward with their plan, merging various municipalities all around Quebec into larger agglomerations. In Montreal, what used to be individual cities such as Saint Laurent, Lasalle, and Anjou became the Unified City of Montreal, a great mass of just over 500 kilometres squared. (Toronto, on the other hand, has scant 630 kilometres squared.) Despite perceived economic benefits and more efficient management, as with anything controversial, especially something like a huge city merger, there were fights from the start. After all, who wants to lose their identity in a huge city?
When the Liberals came back to power provincially in 2003, they fulfilled one of their election promises: that is, a referendum so that the former municipalities could decide whether or not to be in this unified city of not. In 2004, most referendums were held, and fifteen former boroughs became independent municipalities. As a borough, the Unified City of Montreal lasted until 2006, when the demerger became official. To balance powers between the newly demerged municipalities, Montreal created an agglomeration that would still tie the municipalities in terms of certain services. And Montreal, in the geographic sense, has remained the same, more or less, ever since.
Today, there are fifteen municipalities and nineteen boroughs to bring to a total of 34 areas in Montreal. It’s a bit more complicated than that, of course, notably the curiosity that only part of a borough demerged and had to be combined with another borough, but that’s another story, to be told over the next weeks as we select a few of these areas to discover and learn about.