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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

“Hampstead still hates the environment”

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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.



  1. My mother used to use one such clothesline in Outremont so she was very disappointed when this law passed. I wonder if it still applicable since the city of Outremont doesn’t exist anymore as it is fused with the city of Montréal.

  2. Funny how looking at laundry is still problematic for the “upper” classes.

    It’s interesting how the history of laundry is either ignored or forgotten. Of course, wealthy people never did their own laundry – they sent it off to someone in the slums who did it for them; when cities were a lot smaller, there were usually “bleaching fields” near the washing areas, where linens would be laid out to bleach on the grass in the sun.

    In my grandmother’s day, the big stuff was sent off in a truck to come back with little numbers printed on an edge, bright and crisp and clean, and a cleaning lady did the rest – or it was sent out to a different professional.

    For a very very long time, before dry cleaners and immigrant laundry shops, it was the next-to-poorest of women who were washerwomen, often (but not always) because they were too old to be prostitutes or other kinds of “public” women. The very poorest collected dog turds – apparently a very important ingredient – to sell to the tanneries.

  3. This is absurd. There is nothing wrong with clotheslines and I certainly don’t associate them with slums. People who don’t maintain their homes and the lawns/gardens around them are more guilty of slumming up the neighborhood. Fresh laundry from the clothesline beats a dryer any day. I grew up in the fairly well-to-do section of Ville St Laurent with large homes… everyone uses a clothesline.

  4. I have just moved to North America and this probably one of the MOST insane things I have heard of yet! The “sight of clotheslines in the BACKyard?” Why on Earth are people looking in each other’s backyards anyway?

  5. Berlusconi from sunny Italy shared the aversion to clotheslines and washing.

    No matter how anal travellers from more clothesline-averse countries are at home, they find the washing hanging from clotheslines and more simply from washing frames in front of windowsills most charming when in Italy. They are NOT only working-class – professional people with large flats and even houses hang the washing out on the terrace on clotheslines or drying devices. The truly wealthy have the immigrant COLF – collaboratrice familiale – the Filipina or other third-world nanny – do it.

    But Berlusconi, who aslo set off a phony volcano to impress guests, thought the Italian tradition was “backward” or didn’t want foreign dignitaries seeing ladies’ knickers and bras, so he attempted to ban clotheslines in Genoa during the G7 summit there. Nothing compared to the Mussolini-style repression against even the most peaceful counter-summit types (I know middle-aged people in a Belgium drop-the-debt committee who were beaten up there) but indicative of something.

    No, don’t hang the dirty washing out in public, but the clean laundry, yes!

  6. This absolutely ridiculous. I am so not proud of having lived in Cote-Saint-Luc.

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