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.

 
 
 
 

This app connects strangers in two cities across the world. But can it tackle urban loneliness?

New Delhi, in India, where many of Duet-App's users come from. Image: Ville Miettinen

“You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people”. Olivia Laing, The Lonely City

Our relationship to where we live and the spaces we inhabit define who we are and how we feel. But how often do we articulate the emotional impact of this relationship, whether this be loneliness, frustration or even civic pride?

“When I moved to a new city, started living alone, wanted to drink less, stay indoors more, and when I realised that I cannot make any more best friends.”

A new social network, a simple app that connects two individuals from the UK and India, aims to counter some of these issues.  Over the course of a year connected pairs receive one question a day through the app and their responses are exchanged with each other. A simple interaction that gradually builds a series of one-on-one relationships and invites users to imagine, over time, the other person living their life.

Distant geographies are an implicit part of the experience, therefore many of the questions nudge users to explore correlations between their physical and emotional landscapes. The data shows us that many of the Duet-App users are located in populous urban cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Manchester, Leeds and London, places that can just as often discourage feelings of belonging and place-making as much as they foster them.

“I had thought I'd never be able to live here again. but here I am living again at home after almost a decade living elsewhere. Living in Mumbai is a contact sport, and I can't do without it's chaos and infectious energy.”

Mumbai, India. Image: Deepak Gupta

In general cities are getting bigger and spreading wider at the same time as our communications are increasingly being conducted online and via digital gateways.

There is a sense that much of our online personas project an idealised version of ourselves; we increasingly document and express our daily lives through a filter and we are not always comfortable with a spontaneous expression of ourselves. Duet-App seeks to foster alternative digital relationships that through their anonymity allow us to be more honest and free.

“I feel a lot of people assume that I always have a lot going on for me and everything's always happy and amazing. I wish they could appreciate... how much of my own anxiety I swim in every single day. I appear and behave “normal” on the outside, calm and composed but there are always storms going on in my head.”

In exploring the responses to the questions so far, those that often garner the most replies relate directly to how we feel about our personal position in the world around us. Often these questions act as provocations not only to share responses but to reflect and articulate our thoughts around how we feel about what we are doing in the here and now.

Manchester, another popular city for Duet-App users. Image: Julius 

“Sometimes I feel sad about it [getting old] because I saw how easy it would be to feel lonely, and the fact that the world is set up for able-bodied young people is a bit of a travesty.”

Although many social media platforms allow for distant engagement and access into the lives of others we are in the main still curating and choosing our friendship circles. Through Duet-App this is randomised (and anonymised) with the intention of bypassing the traditional mechanics of how we broker online relationships. While directly exploring the digital space as a place for intimacy.


“Where do you go for peace?

“Well the internet, really. I do some mindless browsing, peek into the fandoms, listen to a few songs. Calms me down.”

Snapshots into the lives of someone existing and playing out their lives remotely can highlight shared concerns that break down preconceptions of how life is lived by others. Prompted by the reflections of a stranger exposed to our lives, digital relationships can encourage us to address the physical space we inhabit and the effects that the cities we live out our lives in have on our own well being. 

Catherine Baxendale is director of Invisible Flock.

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