The author next to one of the ‘unholy’ benches in Paxton Park, Montreal, on September 11, 2011.

Published in the Montreal Gazette on September 14, 2011.

Virtually everyday my morning routine causes me to pass through a nearby neighbourhood green space. Once there, I inevitably come face to face with an enduring local enigma.

You see, a few years ago a city authority visited the modest corner in question – Guy/Paxton Park – and a team of several seemingly sincere, well-intentioned labourers proceeded to paint the backs of three long-neglected community benches. The seats themselves that were, it must be said, in an equal state of disregard were left totally untouched and remain so to this day. Thus, every morning at a very early and disarming hour, I am regularly reminded of this bureaucratic absurdity.

One time, with little else to do, I decided I would try to break through the municipal menagerie of decision-making and get to the bottom of the mystery. On that occasion, I put aside the better part of a weekday morning to try various department telephone numbers, most of which led me to the habitual promptings of diverse options, culminating in the now very familiar voice mail.

However, an hour or so later and much to my surprise, I did finally penetrate the administrative juggernaut and actually reached an official to whom I explained the conundrum of the three half-painted benches. The spokesperson promised to pass my message along to the responsible foreman who, she insisted, would call me at later juncture. And although the assistant did wish me the now requisite “Have a nice day”, the supervisor in question never telephoned back about the irksome matter. As such, the beguiling riddle remains still unresolved to this day.

On the other hand, the City of Montreal, always doing what it does best, did recently provide me with some additional food for thought when, about a year ago, blue collar workers once again moved into my neighbourhood to repair the broken asphalt surrounding the street’s storm sewers. Numbering about forty in all, their covers had over time become increasingly loose as the bituminous pitch encircling them slowly deteriorated.

While I easily understood that the task of restoring them would obviously be done in several stages, nothing – not even those infamous adjacent   park benches – prepared me for the agonizingly slow and ridiculous   manner in which these road repairs were carried out.

In short, rather than dealing with all of the sewers at the same time through the various phases of the job, someone decided to start certain gutters one week and then some others the following week, and so on. In doing so, the very first phase of the chore was dragged on over the course of a full month causing the whole, relatively simple project to extend right through the entire construction season.

All of which leads to the tempting question: “Is anything done rationally and quickly by the City of Montreal and its employees?”

That interrogative was answered for me – at least the ‘quickly’ part – not that long ago when every single resident of my street received a notice from, of all agencies, the Office de La Langue Française. The unilingual notification informed us that, in fact, the original 1986 toponymic designation for our circle as ‘Place Victor Hugo’ was grammatically incorrect and that it would, henceforth, some twenty – five years later, be known as ‘rue Victor Hugo’.

It may seem difficult to imagine but within only a few days of getting the O.L.F. avis, those same municipal blue collar workers, who had prolonged a simple street repair task over an entire season, were busily, and efficiently, replacing all road signs making any reference whatsoever to ‘Place Victor Hugo’ with the proper ones as promulgated by the Language Board itself.

While I used to think that only God worked in mysterious ways, I have subsequently come to believe that the City of Montreal does so as well –   along with its park benches.


Robert N. Wilkins is local historian and freelance writer.