Jump to content

Recommended Posts

Echoes of Montreal in Louisville

Trading port, rivers and cultural centres are just some of the many similarities these cities in two countries share


Published On Fri May 07 2010

By Cleo Paskal Travel Reporter


LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY—It’s a funny thing about Louisville. I’ve never been here before, but it’s felt familiar since I arrived yesterday. For some reason it feels like a smaller (population around 1.2 million), warmer version of my hometown, Montreal. So, I am sitting here on this bench, in this park, in Louisville, and I’m going to try to figure out why.


I think it probably starts with the rivers. I can see Louisville’s river, the Ohio, from here. It’s a bit smaller than Montreal’s river, the St. Lawrence. And it’s not particularly exciting or picturesque. It just burbles and flows — until it hits the rocks and stumbles and tumbles over the Falls of the Ohio.


This water hazard reminds me of Montreal’s Lachine Rapids. Both the Falls and the rapids stopped the first travellers along these rivers, forcing them to get out of their boats and portage around them.


The earliest archaeological finds around Louisville date to around 1,000 BC — although the grumbling about having to lug the canoe around the falls; and who isn’t pulling his weight — can probably still be heard whispering in the winds, if you listen carefully.


Soon the portage sites build up into camps. And the camps into towns.


At this time, Montreal and Louisville have their first recorded encounter. One of the Seigneurs of Montreal, Réne-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was also one of the first Europeans to reach Louisville, when set off on an expedition down the Ohio River in 1669 (claiming as much as he could along the way for France). Just under 100 years later, France lost the area to Britain.


In 1825, the Lachine Canal created a bypass of Montreal’s rapids. In 1830, the Louisville and Portland Canal did the same for Louisville. But by then both had become major regional trading centres.


Then Louisville went its own way for a while. One of its mainstays in the early 19th century was the sale of people. The term “being sold down the river” originated in Louisville, as black Americans were grouped in Louisville before being sold to markets farther downstream.


After the American Civil War, Louisville was reborn as a surprisingly interesting, diverse city, benefitting from the new ideas and people that passed through its port.


Many of Louisville’s 19th-century mainstays are still with us. The Kentucky Derby was founded in 1875. The city was a charter member of professional baseball in the U.S., with the Louisville Slugger bat being invented sometime in the 1880s. The American Printing House for the Blind, now the world’s largest creator of education products for the visually impaired, was founded in 1858. And don’t get me started on the bourbon.


And in odd, and unexpected ways, Montreal and Louisville kept echoing each other. The great landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted was commissioned to create a series of parks for Louisville. He had already completed Mount Royal Park in Montreal. The Jewish community in Louisville set up the pioneering Jewish Hospital not long before the Montreal community set up one of its own.


Louisville, which was largely segregated, roiled and boiled through the African-American civil rights movement. This time is beautifully captured in the Muhammad Ali Center, which illustrates and celebrates the hometown boxing great’s six core values: respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, giving and spirituality.


This combination of trading port, affordability and social awareness also resulted in — as with Montreal — Louisville becoming a cultural centre. Residents set up art galleries, a ballet, an opera, theatre company and what is now one of the U.S.’s oldest Shakespeare festivals, the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival. It also produces 90 per cent of the disco balls in the States. How can you not love a town like that?


Louisville has gone through its ups and down, but today, sitting on this bench, the strands of common history, born out of common geography, are coming together for me.


The park has the casual grace of Mount Royal. The river has the utilitarian glint of the St. Lawrence. The university students, off to eat surprisingly good (and amazingly cheap) multicultural meals at owner-operated restos, buzz and tweet like the students in the McGill ghetto. The meticulously dressed ladies, out for an early dinner before the theatre, could be on a walkabout from Westmount.


Louisville is not a McTown. It’s not out to impress the world. It’s trying to be the best it can be for the people who live there. It is a city that lives for itself.


Louisville is unique, but it feels familiar. Which is a very good thing indeed. Now if only we could get Montreal to make more disco balls….


Cleo Paskal’s column appears the second Saturday of the month.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've been to Louisville on 4 occasions and i never really felt it was much like Montreal. (Don't get me wrong though, Louisville is a nice town.) I'd say some areas of Philadelphia, New York City and Boston are much more like Montreal than Louisville.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...