In Montreal they don’t know which way is north and it’s driving me crazy

Montreal in winter, as viewed from the top of the eponymous Mont Royal. Image: Jami430/Wikimedia Commons.

This week I've been in Montreal for a conference, the UITP Global Public Transportation Summit. I'm not bragging (I am bragging), but the fact I've spent much of this week walking round Montreal is kind of key to this story.

That's because of this:

Can you see anything wrong with this picture? Anything that might have confused me slightly?

Look more closely at the Rue Notre-Dame, just to the right of the map's centre:

Yep:

 

What the hell are they playing at.

 

 

So why doesn't Montreal seem to know which way north is?

In fact, this problem – yes, I'm comfortable referring to this ludicrous state of affairs as a problem – is so well known that it gets its own bit on Wikipedia. The "geography of Montreal" page explains that it is, in fact, all the fault of a river:

One quirk of common Montreal parlance is that directions (north, south, east, and west) along the street grid are sharply skewed relative to the actual compass directions. The St. Lawrence River is taken as flowing west to east (even though it flows north or northeast past the island), so that directions along streets parallel to the river are referred to as "west" and "east," and those along streets perpendicular to the river, "north" and "south."

But this is really only half an answer at best, since it serves mainly to make you wonder why someone decided the river flows east when it's very clearly flowing north. "Because it's heading for the Atlantic, which is roughly east," I suppose.

Except that's not an explanation at all is it? The Seine goes in all sorts of weird directions in its way around Paris. If the city authorities decreed the left-bank always counted as west just because the sea was roughly north, the compass needle would be spinning like a bloody top.

It gets worse:

In much of Montreal, "north" is actually northwest, and in some areas such as Verdun and Pointe-aux-Trembles it is actually due west. "Montreal directions" are used in naming street addresses and describing bus routes, among other things. As a result of this discrepancy, Montreal has been called "the only city where the sun sets in the north."

And nobody thought, at the point where the sun is literally setting in the direction that everyone thinks is north, that maybe they'd buggered up this whole geography thing?

One weird side effect of all this: if the St Laurence is assumed to be flowing to the east (which is actually north), then the Victoria Bridge, which connects the city to the suburb of Saint-Lambert, must be running from north to south (even though it’s is actually west to east). That means that the Saint-Lambert end must be the southern edge of the bridge.

Here’s a map.

Check out the state of this explanatory note on its own Wikipedia page:

Directions are according to traditional Montreal map where downtown (example, rue Sherbrooke) is east-west, with Mont-Royal to the north and the river to the south. "North" on the Victoria bridge is actually south-west.

Anyway, to sum up: this is why I got lost and was two hours late to the conference yesterday. Now let us never speak of this again.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Maps courtesy of Google. Which unlike the city of Montreal knows which bloody way is north.

 
 
 
 

Brexit is an opportunity for cities to take back control

Leeds Town Hall. Image: Getty.

The Labour leader of Leeds City Council on the future of Britain’s cities.

As the negotiations about the shape of the UK’s exit from the EU continue, Britain’s most economically powerful cities outside London are arguing that the UK can be made stronger for Brexit – by allowing cities to “take back control” of service provision though new powers and freedoms

Core Cites UK, the representative voice of the cities at the centre of the ten largest economic areas outside London, has just launched an updated version of our green paper, ‘Invest Reform Trust’. The document calls for radical but deliverable proposals to allow cities to prepare for Brexit by boosting their productivity, and helping to rebalance the economy by supporting inclusive economic growth across the UK.

Despite representing areas responsible for a quarter of the UK’s economy and nearly a third of exports, city leaders have played little part in the development of the government’s approach to Brexit. Cities want a dialogue with the government on their Brexit plans and a new settlement which sees power passing from central government to local communities.

To help us deliver a Brexit that works for the UK’s cities, we are opening a dialogue with the EU Commission’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier to share our views of the Brexit process and what our cities want to achieve.

Most of the changes the Core Cities want to see can already be delivered by the UK. To address the fact that the productivity of UK cities lags behind competitors, we need to think differently and begin to address the structural problems in our economy before Brexit.

International evidence shows that cities which have the most control over taxes raised in their area tend to be the most productive.  The UK is significantly out of step with international competitors in the power given to cities and we are one of the most centralised countries in the world.  


Boosting the productivity of the UK’s Core Cities to the UK national average would increase the country’s national income by £70-£90bn a year. This would be a critical boost to the UK’s post-Brexit economic success.

Our green paper is clear that one-size fits all policy solutions simply can’t deal with the complexities of 21st century Britain. We need a place-based approach that looks at challenges and solutions in a different way, focused on the particular needs of local communities and local economies.

For example, our Core Cities face levels of unemployment higher than the national average, but also face shortages of skilled workers.  We need a more localised approach to skills, education and employment support with greater involvement from local democratic and business leaderships to deliver the skills to support growth in each area.

The UK will only make a success of Brexit if we are able to increase our international trade. Evidence shows city to city networks play an important role in boosting international trade.  The green paper calls for a new partnership with the Department of International trade to develop an Urban Trade programme across the UK’s cities and give cities more of a role in international trade missions.

To deliver economic growth that includes all areas of the UK, we also need to invest in our infrastructure. Not just our physical infrastructure of roads, rail telecommunications and so forth, but also our health, education and care infrastructure, ensuring that we are able to unlock the potential of our core assets, our people.

Whether you think that Brexit is a positive or a negative thing for the UK, it is clear that the process will be a challenging one.  Cities have a key role to play in delivering a good Brexit: one that sees local communities empowered and economic prosperity across all areas of the UK.

Cllr Judith Blake is leader of Leeds City Council.