If you feel that mix of nostalgia, romance, and touristy curiosity that makes you take a ride in one of the horse-drawn carriages known in Montreal as the “calèches,” this year will be the last chance for anyone to ride one of those past means of transportation. The City of Montreal banned the calèches the previous year, although it provided for a period of grace that ends on December 31, 2019.
The picturesque vehicles will mark the end of their active presence in the city by promenading that day for the last time through some of the streets where they were a standard feature for a few centuries. Before they became a tourist attraction, horse-drawn carriages had been an indispensable and almost only means of transportation; of course, the introduction of trams, automobiles, and buses displaced them.
The main reason why the current city administration decreed the end of the calèche era was the alleged dire conditions in which the horses had to perform their task: extreme heat in the summer –the season where the carriages are most on demand– and extreme cold in winter, although the market was much lower in that season.
One of the questions that arose after the announcement to end calèches in Montreal was what would happen to the horses? Would they just end up in the slaughterhouse? Well, indeed the horses will enjoy a far more peaceful retirement: on April 10, the City of Montreal announced a partnership with the SPCA ensuring that. Jean François Parenteau, a member of the executive committee, signed an agreement on behalf of the City of Montreal, with the SPCA represented by Me. Sophie Gaillard. The partnership between the city and the SPCA will mean the transfer of horses to an animal sanctuary or their adoption by sympathetic families. For the implementation of the program, the SPCA would also count on the Association québécoise de protection des chevaux (Quebec Association for the Protection of Horses). The SPCA will pay for the care and transportation of the animals until they get to their retirement place. The City of Montreal will compensate horse owners with $1,000 for each animal. The horse owners willing to apply to the program could do it starting this May 1, on the websites of the SPCA or the City of Montreal.
What about the heritage aspect of the calèche era now coming to an end? The city has also planned to mark it: the Griffintown Horse Palace, the main stables used by calèche drivers, is being rebuilt and it will also include a museum and larger facilities, although it is unknown whether any horses will use those facilities once the calèche ban is in effect.
For horse-drawn carriages then, 2019 is their last year of activity in Montreal; however some echoes of the controversy will probably last for a while: were the animals mistreated, as some people claimed, or on the contrary, they were the object of care and dedication by their owners? Is the city needlessly eliminating a tourist attraction or is it acting humanely? Most likely the debate will continue for some time.