Posted by: kaleidophonic | October 3, 2011

“The sounds of old Montreal”

Hello my little Kaleidolings!

Today I handed in the first chapter of my dissertation. Huzzah! This means that I will soon be back at the library basking in the warm light-bulb glow and listening to the whirrrrrrr-chunk-a-chunk of the microfilm machine. I’m actually a little excited to get back at it, having put the primary research on the backburner over the summer while I taught, and then again while I was putting together my chapter throughout September.

I was going back through the notes I’ve made from old issues of the Montreal Gazette and came across a little gem that I thought I’d share with y’all. From May 1966, this is an article by Edgar Andrew Collard: “The Sounds of Old Montreal”:

“In the 1920s, the actor Sir John Marti-Harvey… was writing from England about his memories of Montreal. […] Thinking nostalgically of his visits here, he spoke of remembering the sound, along Sherbrooke street in winter, of the broken chains rhythmically striking the mudguards of the motor cars as the wheels turned round. Sir John Martin-Harvey’s letter is a reminder of how many sounds die away with the passing of the years. Chains on automobile wheels in city streets in winter are now almost unknown. Snow tires have silenced that echoing sound of broken chains… yet not many years ago this was one of the characteristic street sounds of a Montreal winter.

When a city is transformed by time, people most often speak of ‘the changing scene,” and of how different the city looks to what it used to be. But the sounds of a city change as much as its appearance. A city comes not only to look different, but to sound different. Every generation of Montrealers has had its own sounds; the sounds of yesteryear are heard only in the memory.”

This got me thinking about what kinds of sounds, common in Montreal’s past, might be ‘extinct’ now. The first that came to mind was the clip-clop of horses’ hooves and the clatter of wagons. While you might hear horses hooves around the vieux port if you happen upon one of those  carriages aimed towards tourists, this is now the exception to the rule – the rule being the reign of the automobile. Traffic sounds are omnipresent in our urban soundscapes, a background hum that many of us have learned to tune out. But it might be interesting to imagine a city soundscape without traffic noise. What other noises might be made more prominent if the white noise of traffic were to disappear? Might we notice birdsong more? Or overhear more of the conversations of passers-by? What would a world without gasoline-powered engines sound like?

Personally, I think that would sound like music to my ears.

A demain!


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