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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The Moving Day mess

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115,000 households packed up and moved on Tuesday, making it quite possibly the single largest instance of a mass moving day in North America. Even on normal days there’s a lot of junk left out in Montreal streets and alleys, but nothing compares to the days following July 1st, when thousands of people get rid of surplus or unwanted furniture by simply leaving it for someone else to take.

Needless to say, this creates quite a problem with cleanliness, especially since there is usually several times more trash dumped on the street than actual reusable objects. Earlier this week, Fagstein documented the aftermath of Moving Day on his blog, snapping some photos of abandoned furniture, trash heaps and impromptu yard sales near his apartment in Villeray. “Anyone who wants to understand the vast excess of western society need only walk around anywhere in Montreal on July 1. There, you’ll find discarded furniture, empty boxes and lots and lots of garbage. What gets me most about it, though, is the thought that before today, people had these things in their homes. Now it’s so useless even people walking the streets want nothing to do with them,” he writes rather disdainfully.

Although the accumulation of trash is certainly a big problem, I tend to see Moving Day in a more positive light, if only because it transforms the entire city into a vast used furniture free-for-all. A lot of the stuff thrown into the street is junk, sure, but a lot of it is in perfectly good condition, and people place it on sidewalks are in laneways with the knowledge that, within a few hours, somebody will find a use for it. I think all but the pickiest Montrealers have at least a few objects or piece of furniture they have found on the street. My TV stand, a great solid wooden thing with a nice vintage flair, was found one evening on St. Christophe Street near the Latin Quarter; same with my dresser and a nice metal chair that my girlfriend craftily cleaned and repainted to look like new. A few years ago, one of my friends furnished her entire apartment with stuff she found on the street.

I didn’t move house on Moving Day, but a friend who had been living in my basement moved out, and as we cleared out his belonging we discarded some of them in the alley. Over the course of an hour, no fewer than three people stopped to examine it; by the end of the day most of it had been taken away. Many of them aren’t just collecting things for themselves; a number of people scour the streets looking for discarded items to sell, a trend that was covered in yesterday’s edition of the Journal de Montréal.

Here in Mile End, there are several people who hold weekly garage sales that consist entirely of stuff they have recovered from the street; sometimes they invest a lot of time and energy in restoring what they’ve found. Western excess, perhaps, but also Montreal thriftiness.

Photos by Steve Faguy



  1. I can attest to Montreal thriftiness. I was moving a couch from one place to another last June, so I brought it outside while I was waiting for my friend to arrive with a minivan. (Of course, I sat on the couch while waiting. What else does one do with a couch outside?) Some guy walks up and asks if the couch is comfortable. “Well, yes, but it’s my couch. I’m just moving it.” (No couch for you!)

  2. I know I’m absolutely insane to even suggest something like this – but what about instead of folks leaving their crap in the alley or on the street… they arrange to donate it somewhere. Before they move. Plan ahead? I know, I know, I’m crrrrrrazy.

    Of course, then there wouldn’t be busted open garbage bags with clothes and shoes and textbooks leaking out of them…and all over the alley. For days. And other people’s crap all over the place is just so darn charming. I’d miss it so….

  3. Good post, and great pictures. I agree that moving day has its upsides- I was helping two friends move near St Denis and Cherrier, and three complete strangers each grabbed a box off the sidewalk and lugged them up to the apartment, then went on their way. Next time I see someone struggling up the stairs like we were, I’ll happily do the same.

  4. Maybe this is my Ontario blood talking, but did the government of Québec put moving day on Canada Day on purpose to distract people from federalism? It just seems all to convenient. . .

  5. God I miss Montreal (Ontario McGill alumnis). There is a certain casualness about street life that’s never going to happen in Toronto. What we need is three-storey walk-ups, and to lose the anglo-presbyterian crap… never mind.

  6. Just allow people to start their lease on any 1st of the month like the rest of us. Moving only once a year is extremely, extremely disruptive.

  7. Denis, no, the politician who spearheaded the change in dates was Jérôme Choquette, a staunch federalist.

  8. ut what about instead of folks leaving their crap in the alley or on the street… they arrange to donate it somewhere. Before they move.

    There is nowhere to donate it to.

    That is, there is nowhere you can call who will pick up all your stuff from the alley or from the street, and use it as a donation for something.

    You can try and make a million calls to a million organizations in the hope that one or two might be interested in picking something up, if they are sure they can use it, and if you schedule a specific date and time with them, etc. But it’s way more hassle.

    That said, if you have a better solution, you should certainly tell people about. They would be seriously interested. And it would save them quite a few phone calls, before giving up and putting things out on the street.

  9. I’m moving soon and I will be selling all of my furniture. I’m going to be posting ads on Craigslist and other classifieds and I will be having a big moving sale* in a couple of weeks. Any stuff I can’t sell I will try hard to give away to friends, but if I can’t sell my bed, for instance, I’ll have no choice but to dispose of it in the street. There aren’t any charitable organizations that will come pick it up and I don’t have a car, so moving heavy items is impossible.

    If you’re disposing of lots of big things in the street, the best thing you can do is to call your local Écoquartier to ask how to arrange for the city to pick it up. They do come around and take away large pieces of trash, but not regularly.

    * SHAMELESS PLUG: Anyone interested in buying some furniture, clothes, electronics and a whole bunch of other interesting stuff should swing by 5902 avenue du Parc (corner Bernard) between 11am and 6pm on Saturday July 19th and Sunday July 20th. Rain or shine, things will be for sale. In fact, there’s even a Facebook event:

  10. I’m a student in Montreal and I am happy to say that my roommates and I have paid for almost nothing in our apartment. Bookshelves, chairs, lamps, side tables, art have all been collected from the streets or from the apartments of friends we have helped move (there to collect their left-overs!). With some bold paint and good scavenger choices (we don’t take just anything off the street – in fact we spent July 1st, 2nd and 3rd scouring the streets of Mile End for a good find) our house has earned a reputation as homey and eclectic among our friends.

    One thing I find is that the annual giant rummage means that people don’t feel like they are “above” looking through other peoples junk for salvageable items. It is pretty common to see respectable-looking people surveying a heap of alleyway cast-off – which I think is fantastic!

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