Back when areas like the Plateau were considered old, decrepit and nasty, rather than trendy and desirable, a number of affluent suburbs did all they could to distance themselves from the working-class neighbourhoods downtown. One popular move was to ban clotheslines, which were considered unsightly and indicative of poverty — after all, only those who couldn’t afford dryers would hang their clothes outside.
Now, of course, it’s well-understood that dryers are inefficient energy hogs and clotheslines are a perfectly effective and energy-saving way of drying clothes. In fact, drying clothes in the sun actually has several advantages over drying them in a machine: the sun eliminates odours and removes stains, and it is less harsh on natural fibres. Unfortunately, many municipalities across North America still maintain bans on clotheslines. Hampstead is one of those municipalities.
Eagle-eyed Fagstein, while doing his usual community-newspaper rounds, came across an article from the West End Monitor that suggests that Hampstead has no plans to do away with its clothesline ban, which carries fines of at least $300 for anyone caught using the device. “Hampstead still hates the environment,” he declared, tongue-in-cheek, and it’s hard to think of another reason why Hampstead would possibly keep such a silly law on the books.
Actually, let me take that back: it’s possible that Hampstead politicians simply fear the wrath of narrow-minded constituents who still associate clotheslines with poverty. The Monitor’s story contains this great passage describing efforts by some Côte St. Luc residents to get clotheslines banned in their suburb:
Six years ago in neighbouring Côte St. Luc, a group of Rosedale Avenue residents complained (to what was then the borough council) that they were unhappy with the sight of laundry hung in back yards near their homes. They demanded that a clothes line ban like Hampstead’s be adopted in Côte St. Luc.
“It’s generally acknowledged that laundry on outside clothes lines is one of the primary characteristics of a slum,” Juris Kalnavarns, a spokesman for the group at that time, had said, adding that “aside from matters of aesthetics and appearance, the presence of laundry definitely has a major effect on property values in the neighbourhood.”
I’m sure the negative impact of clotheslines on neighbourhood property values explains the skyrocketing home prices in Mile End, the Plateau, Villeray and other clothesline-abundant neighbourhoods, right? In recent years, a number of North American states and provinces have passed “right-to-dry” laws that override municipal clothesline bans. Ontario is already working on just such a law; maybe it’s time for Quebec to do the same.
In the meantime, anyone who enjoys the sight of clotheslines — I personally find them very attractive — should check out the wonderful Flickr group, Les cordes à linge de Montréal.