Hold Your Horses (For Good!) Montreal’s Calèche Ban
By Julia Bifulco
Can you guess what is the most controversial part of the tourist-traps in the Old Port of Montreal? I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t the price of the ferris wheel tickets, nor is it the overwhelming amount of advertisements for Terasses Bonsecours’ Wet Wednesdays in the summer, but instead, the calèche rides. If you’ve been to the Old Port, you’ve definitely seen the horse-drawn carriages among the cobblestone streets; no matter the weather or time of day, tourists and Montrealers alike have jumped at the chance to tour this part of the city in luxury.
On the first day of January this year, the bylaw banning calèches in Montreal was put into effect, removing one of the city’s most popular and lucrative attractions. In 2016, Denis Coderre, the mayor at the time, put a moratorium in place, temporarily banning the activity. His plan was to rid the city of horse-drawn carriages for a year in order to grant the city more time to reevaluate the rules and regulations regarding this recreation. This was not received very well by Montrealers, and after calèche owners won a court injunction, Coderre refused to continue to pursue the ban.
Similarly to Coderre, the current mayor Valerie Plante’s main goal regarding the new bylaw is to make the city safer for animals and people alike. In 2018, she announced that she would put a permanent ban in place, and although this, too, was met with negativity, she persisted. Calèche owners were given a full year to prepare for the ban. The bylaw was passed last year, and Montreal has entered the new decade without horse-drawn carriages.
Many videos have surfaced of horses involved in the calèche practice being mistreated, not only by their owners, but by customers as well. There are countless cases of horses passing out on the job; the animals have had to deal with the bitter cold and overwhelming heat. Some have even died, as they have also been involved in car accidents, given that they share the road. This is not only unsafe for the horses themselves, but for the people in the carriage, the driver, and people in the cars on the street.
"Similarly to Coderre, the current mayor Valerie Plante’s main goal regarding the new bylaw is to make the city safer for animals and people alike."
There are 23 calèche permits in Montreal, and because the horses work in shifts, there is almost double the amount of calèche horses in the city. Many people are not only having their jobs taken from them, but their horses as well. The same way one would consider their pet dog their best friend, the drivers of horse-drawn carriages see their horses as family.
The city has put a sort of retirement program in place for this exact purpose. Organizations such as the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and Galahad, a horse rescue group, are adopting horses that were previously part of the calèche business. Instead of living in the city, they will be spending the rest of their lives in the country with other animals. Compensation for horse owners is also a part of this plan; they receive around one thousand dollars and the right to visit their horses at least once a year. The issue with this is that not every horse will be guaranteed a spot in this program, and owners will have to continue to care for their horses without being allowed to work with them.
Calèche owners have fought this bylaw by arguing that horse-drawn carriages are an important part of the city’s heritage, and it is a crucial element of Montreal tourism. Some have moved outside of the city to continue their practice. They are adamant about the fact that they treat their horses well both on and off the job, and are insulted by the accusations made against them. The calèche owners argue that horses live outside in the wild twenty-four hours a day and deal with more than having to carry a few people on carriages. They view the incidents of horses dying and being injured while on carriage rides as freak accidents, and not things that should reflect nor represent who they are as a community.
Many people are still fighting for court injunctions, just as it happened in 2016, but Plante’s stance seems unfaltering. No matter the development of this bylaw, something tells me that the Old Port’s popularity is going to decrease quite a bit for wedding pictures.