Montreal references


For 45 minutes on the evening of December 6 1989, one of Canada's worst mass murders occurred inside Montreal's École Polytechnique. The tragedy would become known as the Montreal Massacre. It began when an armed and deranged 25-year-old murderer walked into an engineering class. He separated the men from the women and then opened fire on the group of female students. Unable to cope with his own failings, the killer blamed women for his plight, feminists in particular, and screamed "I want women" and "I hate feminists" as he roamed the halls searching for victims. In total, 14 young women were killed and 13 more were shot and injured before the gunman turned the weapon on himself.

Geneviève Bergeron, 21, civil engineering student

Hélène Colgan, 23, mechanical engineering student

Nathalie Croteau, 23, mechanical engineering student

Barbara Daigneault, 22, mechanical engineering student

Anne-Marie Edward, 21, chemical engineering student

Maud Haviernick, 29, materials engineering student

Maryse Laganière, 25, budget clerk in the École Polytechnique's finance department

Maryse Leclair, 23, materials engineering student

Anne-Marie Lemay, 22, mechanical engineering student

Sonia Pelletier, 28, mechanical engineering student

Michèle Richard, 21, materials engineering student

Annie St-Arneault, 23, mechanical engineering student

Annie Turcotte, 20, materials engineering student

Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, 31, nursing student

The incident led to a mass outpouring of sympathy and support from coast to coast. Candle light vigils were held, men wore white ribbons in support of ending all violence against women, and university campuses nationwide observed moments of silence. The social impact was followed by political action which included a 1992 gun control law and an eventual federal fire arms registry. Each December 6th since, candle light marches have been held in Montreal and the flag on Canada's Peace Tower is lowered to half mast to observe an official day of remembrance.

"...She used to like lavender pantsuits
Long black velvet gloves
Smiles across crowded rooms
To the only boy she ever loved"

"...Won't you give me the chance
The chance to explain
Ah well, explain away"

The song "Montreal" references the massacre and its aftermath. The lyrics are at first grief-stricken and then angry. The narrator describes a young victim who was engaged and loving before hurling a disgusted stare towards the killer and demanding an explanation. The songs distressed voice then dismisses the thought, realizing no explanation could ever do, and no psychopath should ever be granted a chance to give one. It's an understandable reaction, an appalled: 'ya know what, I don't even want to hear it.' "Well, explain away."

"...Don't you worry
Her mama's gonna make her look good"

Various rumours have surrounded the origins of this lyric, but it would appear on the surface to be the narrator off-handedly informing the killer that his attempt to snuff out the beauty of his innocent victim has failed. It evokes the heart-wrenching image of a mother, perhaps as part of a funeral process, preparing her daughter for one last beautiful goodbye. Gord has introduced Montreal with "a song about the identification process," recalling another sad image of a mother or father standing over their fallen daughter. 

"...Because a coward won't die alone."

What can be said about this line. No explanation necessary, but it deserves recognition. It is in my opinion the most beautiful, poignant and angst-ridden lyric the band has ever written.

"...Poor Old Montreal."

A lyric that at once describes the pall that fell over Montreal after the shooting, and the city's famed Old Port. Montreal's waterfront, the heart of her downtown, looks just as it did in the 18th century. The city has maintained the style, atmosphere and architecture of the period right down to the horse drawn carriages and cobble-stone streets. The area is known locally as "Old Montreal."

"Montreal" played live in Montreal

On December 7, 2000, the day after the 11th anniversary of the massacre, The Tragically Hip played "Montreal" for the first time in nearly a decade inside Montreal's Bell Centre. The song had been slated to appear on 1991's "Road Apples," but was never released. In what is now one of the most famous stories in Hip lore, the band accessed this website backstage so that Downie could re-acquaint himself with the lyrics before heading out before the crowd.

That 2000 version contains the line "She didn't care for... sending men to electric chairs" for added political bite. The bootleg of that recording remains one of the more sought after online, and the song itself remains the greatest piece of Canadian rock never released.

Play live version of song 12/07/00 in Montreal

Original recording via Youtube

Oh, and if "Montreal" is new to you, then also say hello to the brilliant Get Back Again. An older song recorded for Road Apples but never released.