Why People in Montreal Hitch Mattresses to the Backs of Their Bicycles on July 1
Happy Canada Day. Or, as those in Montreal call it: the most hectic day of the year.
While the rest of Canada is enjoying a public holiday, those who live in the province of Quebec are likely to be using their day to fight over moving companies, load up trucks, swear at traffic, unpack boxes, and argue with landlords. It’s Moving Day.
Last year, more than 250,000 people in Quebec moved house around July 1, according to CityLab. In Montreal alone, an estimated 70,000 households (not people) pack up their stuff and move on this day every year.
The tradition dates back to 1750, when a French settler named Francois Bigot declared May 1 “Moving Day” in Quebec province. (The tradition of a specific moving day was already established in French law at the time as a sort of humanitarian protection. Landlords couldn’t evict their tenant farmers before the snow melted for the season.) Under Bigot, May 1 became the start date for any new legal agreement, including leases. In 1866, Quebec made it law for all urban leases to begin on this day.
It stayed that way until 1974 when Quebec realized what a logistical nightmare it was to have the entire province move house on the same day. Quebec passed a new law that allowed landlords and tenants to agree on any start and end dates for their leases. It didn’t even need to be an annual lease, per se. The government allowed a two-month extension of current leases to ease in the transition. The end date moved from April 30 to June 30.
Although the change had good intentions, many people interpreted this as the new status quo. Even though leases could start and end whenever anybody pleased, most people signed their new leases on July 1. And so it has remained.
The tradition has many logistical consequences for the province, but it’s particularly felt in the city of Montreal where 63 percent of the population rents. Truck rental and moving companies double or triple their price around this time of year. About 55,000 tons of trash gets sent to the curb in the weeks leading up to Moving Day. The streets are packed with people and trucks trying to move furniture. People hitch wagons full of mattresses to their bicycles, trying to bring their belongings across town by themselves to avoid paying movers.
If you’re in Quebec today, be nice to everyone you see. Who knows what they’ve had to lug up and down a spiral staircase.