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.

 
 
 
 

Academics are mapping the legacy of slavery in Britain’s cities

A detail of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership map showing central Bristol. Image: LBS/UCL.

For 125 years, a statue of the 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston stood in the centre of Bristol, ostensibly to commemorate the philanthropy he’d used his blood money to fund. Then, on 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters pulled it down and threw it into the harbour

The incident has served to shine a light on the benefits Bristol and other British cities reaped from the Atlantic slave trade. Grand houses and public buildings in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and beyond were also funded by the profits made from ferrying enslaved Africans across the ocean. But because the horrors of that trade happened elsewhere, the role it played in building modern Britain is not something we tend to discuss.

Now a team at University College London is trying to change that. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project is mapping every British address linked to a slave-owner. In all, its database contains 5,229 addresses, linked to 5,586 individuals (some addresses are linked to more than one slave owner; some slave owners had more than one home). 

The map is not exact. Streets have often been renumbered; for some individuals, only a city is known, not necessarily an address; and at time of writing, only around 60% of known addresses (3,294 out of 5,229) have been added to the map. But by showing how many addresses it has recorded in each area, it gives some sense of which bits of the UK benefited most from the slave trade; the blue pins, meanwhile, reflect individual addresses, which you can click for more details.

The map shows, for example, that although it’s Glasgow that’s been noisily grappling with this history of late, there were probably actually more slave owners in neighbouring Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish political and financial power.

Liverpool, as an Atlantic port, benefited far more from the trade than any other northern English city.

But the numbers were higher in Bristol and Bath; and much, much higher in and around London.

 

Other major UK cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – barely appear. Which is not to say they didn’t also benefit from the Triangular Trade (with its iron and weaponry industries, Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University said in 2007, “Birmingham armed the slave trade”) – merely that they benefited in a less direct way.

The LBS map, researcher Rachel Lang explained via email, is “a never-ending task – we’re always adding new people to the database and finding out more about them”. Nonetheless, “The map shows broadly what we expected to find... We haven’t focused on specific areas of Britain so I think the addresses we’ve mapped so far are broadly representative.” 

The large number in London, she says, reflect its importance as a financial centre. Where more specific addresses are available, “you can see patterns that reflect the broader social geography”. The high numbers of slave-owners in Bloomsbury, for example, reflects merchants’ desire for property convenient to the City of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the district was being developed. Meanwhile, “there are widows and spinsters with slave property living in suburbs and outlying villages such as Chelsea and Hampstead. Country villas surround London.” 


“What we perhaps didn’t expect to see was that no areas are entirely without slave owners,” Lang adds. “They are everywhere from the Orkney Islands to Penzance. It also revealed clusters in unexpected places – around Inverness and Cromarty, for example, and the Isle of Wight.” No area of Britain was entirely free of links to the slave trade.

 You can explore the map here.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

All images courtesy of LBS/UCL