Montreal’s ban on horse-drawn carriages now in effect

Concerns about animal welfare have spawned a wave of public outrage

Luc Desparois, owner of Montreal’s largest Caleche barn feeds one his horses at the stable in Montreal, Sunday, December 15, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Luc Desparois, owner of Montreal’s largest Caleche barn feeds one his horses at the stable in Montreal, Sunday, December 15, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

It’s the end of the line for King and Maximus, Marilyn and Maya, and the rest of the gentle draft horses that live in an aging stable in Montreal’s Griffintown neighbourhood.

On Dec. 31, they will wheel their carriages out for the last time, making their way to the cobblestoned streets of Old Montreal.

As of Jan. 1, the city has banned horse-drawn guided carriage tours, citing heightened concern over animal welfare and a series of high-profile incidents involving the horses that spawned a wave of outrage and concern from citizens.

Depending on whom you ask, it’s a victory for the rights of the long-suffering horses or a tragic loss of a piece of the city’s heritage.

For Nathalie Matte, who has worked as a driver for 11 years, it’s the latter.

The horses “are what makes Old Montreal magic; it’s not the lights,” the 52-year-old said during a recent open house at the stables in Griffintown, as she finished the final harness adjustments on K.O., a chestnut gelding.

“It will be the first time you won’t have the sound of horses there.”

Matte vehemently denies the animals in the industry are mistreated.

“He weighs 2,000 pounds; I weigh 90,” she said as she patted K.O., who wore a dapper top hat perched atop his bridle. “If he didn’t want to go out, I couldn’t make him.”

But for opponents, including the current municipal administration, the horse-drawn carriages, known as caleches, belong in the city’s past.

“With heat waves in summer, climate change, extreme cold in the winter, construction and the number of vehicles on the road, we have a serious question on the animals’ safety,” Coun. Sterling Downey said.

He pointed to a number of incidents in the last few years, including a collision between a horse and a car, and a horse down on the ground after slipping on a metal grate. In 2018, a horse fell and died in the middle of a guided tour.

Downey insisted the administration has done everything it can to ease the transition, including giving a full year’s notice. They have worked with the provincial labour department to help caleche drivers find other work and have offered to pay the owners $1,000 per horse to retire the animals.

READ MORE: Hundreds rally in support of horse carriages outside Victoria City Hall

But many of the caleche drivers and owners, some of whom have invested tens of thousands of dollars in their businesses, say they risk losing everything and don’t know how to move on from an industry where many have worked for decades.

Luc Desparois described the ban as “political,” motivated by a small group of activists and city politicians eager to free up the valuable stable land for development.

He said his horses are well-treated and he has the veterinary records to prove it.

“They say the horses are being hurt doing this. They say the horses aren’t happy doing this?” Desparois said, gesturing at the scene. “Prove it, and I’ll stop tomorrow.”

He said that for years, the city refused simple requests to make things better, including installing poles to tie the horses on the street in Old Montreal for the safety of animals and pedestrians. He also blames the city for the incident of the horse slipping on the metal grate, saying drivers aren’t informed of roadwork.

For now, he doesn’t want to speculate about what he’ll do after the ban, refusing to accept the end of the industry.

“I don’t want to let this go, because it’s a bunch of lies,” he said.

READ MORE: Victoria considers limiting where horse-drawn carriages can go

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Allayah Yoli Thomas had recently turned 12 years old when she died of a suspected drug overdose April 15. (Courtesy of Adriana Londono)
Suspected overdose death of Saanich girl, 12, speaks to lack of supports, says mom

Allayah Yoli Thomas was found dead by her friend the morning of April 15

The Malahat SkyWalk will open to visitors in July 2021. (Malahat SkyWalk photo)
Malahat SkyWalk will open to visitors this July

Highly anticipated attraction will take guests 250m above sea level

Illegal goods seized in the simultaneous April 23 busts in Saanich and Sooke. (Courtesy of West Shore RCMP)
RCMP drug busts net trucks, cocaine, cash and Hells Angels gear

Simultaneous searches coordinated between West Shore, Saanich and Sooke police

The Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre on Wilkinson Road in Saanich. (Black Press Media file photo)
Police watchdog investigates after man found unresponsive at Saanich jail

Man was in Victoria police custody the day before being found

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O���Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of May 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you plan to travel on the Victoria Day long weekend?

It’s the unofficial start to the summer season. A time of barbecues,… Continue reading

B.C. average home price and sales level to 2023, showing steep drop in sales expected next year. (Central 1)
Forecast calls for B.C. home sales to ‘explode,’ then drop off

Average price to rise another 10% in 2021, credit unions say

Members of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. (File photo)
B.C.-wide #DayOfMusic to feature 100-plus free virtual concerts May 15

‘Our colleagues across the province have figured out new ways to perform and connect,’ VSO boss says

Two passengers were recently fined thousands of dollars after they faked their pre-flight COVID-19 test results. (Paul Clarke/Black Press)
2 passengers in Canada fined thousands for faking pre-flight COVID-19 tests

The government issued a warning Thursday to others thinking of doing the same – do it and you’ll be ordered to pay

(File)
With revenge porn on the rise in 2021, B.C. seeks feedback for new legislation

New legislation could help victims take down images and receive compensation

Port Alberni RCMP are investigating a homicide on Third Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
RCMP investigating homicide in Port Alberni apartment

Investigators are still trying to determine the identity of the deceased

(Kamloops This Week file photo)
Federal police unit takes over probe of B.C. regional district’s spending

Financial Integrity Sensitive Investigations Unit is now reviewing the case

Most Read