(Editor’s note: former Liberal solicitor general Warren Allmand died December 7 at age 84. Allmand was a proud Montréaler who served nine terms in the Commons. In a November 27, 2009 interview with Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan, Allmand recalled the Montréal of his youth, then Canada’s largest city. Following is a transcription of his remarks)
The 1950s were very special to me. When I look back on it, it was exciting! I really enjoyed those years. There was optimism. The future looked to be great for all of us.
We had the baby boom so there were large numbers of teenagers. The high school that still exists in my area of Montréal had over 2,000 students.
I knew people who were arrested for stealing a case of beer, getting into schoolyard fights, stealing a car and going for a joyride. Probably these things did seem awful at the time, but it seems mild compared to the things we’re familiar with today. Most of the people I knew who got into trouble didn’t end up in the penitentiary.
Montréal had this reputation for being a naughty place, and maybe it was. It wasn’t dangerous, or the kind of place where you had to fear walking down the street – quite the opposite. As a matter of fact, it was a lot of fun.
There was political corruption. You elect people and you get all sorts. You get people who are educated, people who are not educated, car salesmen, farmers, lawyers, PhD’s, clergymen. Some of them are demagogues.
Jean Drapeau was elected mayor in 1954. He ran on a ticket with the civic action league to clean up corruption in city politics, and won. Drapeau wasn’t very respectful of the general democratic process. He ran Montréal as if the city councilors were there to serve him, and not the people.
Drapeau was almost unbeatable. Well, he was unbeatable. He finally retired because nobody of substance took him on.
I remember those years as a period of prosperity that brought a lot of problems to light. We saw there were issues that needed to be dealt with, and that’s when the discussions started, in the 1950s.
In Québec a married woman could not open a bank account. She couldn’t sign a contract without her husband’s consent. There was no divorce allowed under provincial law; couples had to petition Parliament to dissolve a marriage. I think the seeds that led to the rebellions of the 1960s were sown in that period. It was an incredible time.