I spent much of last week in Montreal. It is not far from New York City. The drive is relatively easy and pleasant — a straight shot north without any traffic through the Hudson River Valley and the Adirondack Mountains. The drive only takes about six hours.
Crossing the Canadian border was simple enough. My car was the only one in line. The border guard subjected me to an interrogation that lasted all of two minutes. “Be safe,” he said gently as he handed my passport back to me.
Quebec looked like a winter wonderland, with picturesque frozen lakes and rivers dotting the landscape. Montreal, named after the triple-peaked mountain “mont royal” in the center of the island on the St. Lawrence River, was slippery and snowy, though its residents noted to me that “we have had a mild winter.”
“The snow usually comes down like a bastard, excuse my language, around this time of year,” said the clerk at the hotel where I was staying. On one of the days of my visit, the snow came down at least like a jerk. The downfall was three inches or so, enough to make walking around tricky, especially when it froze. The winds off the river didn’t help, making any strolls through the city punishingly uncomfortable. But then I had my red Trump “Make America Great Again” hat to keep my head warm.
Nobody commented on it, though a few folks smiled or looked at the cap quizzically. One lady challenged me to “say something in French.” All I could come up with was: “Je deteste Obama.” She laughed and said in broken English, “I like Obama.”
Most Canadians are politically correct liberals, even the French Canadian ones who should know better. Montreal is basically a French city with a Catholic past and a pagan present. Historians have often described Montreal as a “struggle between Romanism and Anglicanism.” It is clear that the latter has won. Catholicism is dead as a door nail in “Catholic” Quebec.
Montreal is overflowing with Catholic churches, yet most of them are empty. Next to my hotel was an impressive pre-Vatican II seminary for the Sulpician order, with a stunning chapel inside it. I made a visit; the place looked like a ghost town. I chatted with the man at the information desk. He told me that it once housed “300 seminarians” and now houses “25.” Were Fr. François Vachon de Belmont, the 17th-century Sulpician who came to the slope of Mont Royal to set up a mission, alive to see the seminary today, he would no doubt comment that today’s Catholics are no less clueless than the Indians he tried to convert.
The man at the information desk couldn’t even give me the name of Montreal’s archbishop. “I don’t know,” he said sheepishly. Nor did the lady at the Notre Dame Basilica bookstore. She struggled for a few seconds to come up with his name and gave up.
The Notre Dame Basilica, which is one of the city’s architectural jewels, is treated more like a museum than a church. A Catholic can’t even go inside to pray without first paying a five-dollar admission fee.
At another church I tried to visit around 7 p.m., a man greeted me at the door with the odd question, “Are you here for the cabaret?” A wing of the church was hosting one.
Some of the churches appear to be used as administrative offices. Perhaps a city code prevents the companies that take these churches off the Vatican’s hands from dismantling them and turning them into more conventional structures. It is obvious that the Church, culturally speaking, has been routed in Montreal. The archbishop of Montreal must keep a very low profile, given that the otherwise well-informed concierge at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel also couldn’t come up with his name. “I have no idea who he is,” she said.
When I opened the Montreal Gazette one morning, the two biggest issues under discussion were euthanizing the elderly and enfeebled at hospitals and the legalization of recreational pot.
Though Montreal retains some of its charming French past and maintains through “Bill 101” French culture by keeping all official literature and signs in French and requiring all children to learn the language at government schools, it is succumbing more and more to the nonsense of the Canadian nanny state. Its central planners are comically selective in their moralizing, pooh-poohing cigar lounges while opening up marijuana shops, talking anxiously about “date rape” and “sex trafficking” while celebrating the sexual depravity and pederasty of “Le Village,” Montreal’s version of the Castro.
Visiting Chez Ramezay, a mansion on a hill overlooking the St. Lawrence River which Ben Franklin and some other founding fathers occupied for six months as they tried to lobby French Canadians to join the American cause, it became clear to me why French culture in Quebec survived. The British had to let Quebecers keep their region French or they risked losing them to the American colonists.
In the end, however, the British, through their ideological offspring in modern-day Canada, have snuffed out French culture at its deepest level — at the level of Catholicism. The culmination of this conquest is a secularized modern ruin — a once-colorful city with an edifying past that is wobbling toward an increasingly colorless and ignoble future.