Memento Mori Montreal


It’s getting a little dark out, clouds are rolling in – we were supposed to get rain today; the only day of our trip to Montreal that called for bad weather.

The morning was SO hot for late May – we spent it wandering in the botanical gardens.  I get cranky when I’m dehydrated, but it was okay, I was with my dear old friend Colleen, who is used to me being cranky.

We had time to kill, as our Cirque du Soleil tickets were for the 8 p.m. show.  We had decided beforehand that the Amphibus would be fun.  I went on it years ago.  It’s corny, but only an hour.   They drive you around the old city and point out the sights, and then BAM – you’re suddenly in a boat, floating around down into the Old Port.

It’s an interesting way to see Montreal, for sure, from the water.    You get to see the cityscape proper, Habitat 67, the old biosphere dome and the ports where huge ships come in from the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The sky gets darker and more rumbly as we approach the land again.   I’m at the back of the bus, on the left side, in the window seat.  Most people are looking towards the land, at the city, but I see an interestingly shaped bumper studded with tires by the port wall that I want to photograph.

I look down, and not ten feet away, I see something floating in the water.  I’m not sure what I’m looking at, at first, I think it’s some debris, it’s weedy and sodden.   Suddenly, though, it came into focus.  It’s someone’s left shoulder, and their head.

“Excuse me,”  I yell, trying to get the guide’s attention.  “There’s a dead body in the water!!!”

Now, to be fair, our tour guide was a very young man.   I did think his response was a bit cold and odd in the circumstances, though.   “We are not equipped to deal with that.  That is for the Coast Guard.”

And that was it.  That was his whole response. Not “Oh my God!”   Not “We’ll radio the Coast Guard immediately.”   Nothing.   We’re past it before anyone can get another look, and pulling up the ramp onto land.

I realized at that point that they already knew about it.  There was a Coast Guard boat and other emergency vehicles parked beside the ramp, ready to enter the water as we emerged.   There is a waterfront spa right there as well, and I wonder if any of the genteel folk wrapped in their white robes lying on their deck chairs knew what they were looking at.

When we disembarked, I was a little surprised no one from the tour asked me if I was okay, but they didn’t.   UMM….   THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN TO ME EVERY DAY, FOLKS.

That was the evening I had a few patio beers.   We sat under an awning and let it rain, and enjoyed beer and Italian food, and decompressed.

I checked the news obsessively that night.   Apparently four bodies surfaced in the Montreal area in a 24 hour period.   The authorities don’t think any of them are related incidents, but rather a combination of a quick rise in temperature and the volatile currents of the cold St. Lawrence River.

I saw the body somewhere between 4:45 and 5 p.m.   The news report said they found it at 7 p.m.   That may be when they extracted him from the river, but they knew he was there long before that.

From what I gather from the news reports, judging from his clothing, and prior to autopsy, they believed him to be a homeless man who disappeared last October.

I’ve researched the topic of drowning victims a little, since.   It’s pretty gruesome stuff.   Men tend to float face down; women, face up.   It can take weeks or months for a body to surface, depending on the temperature, currents and other factors.  The lungs fill with water, and the body sinks, but when decomposition is advanced enough, gases build up and the body becomes buoyant again, and surfaces.

I really do want to know who he was.    I e-mailed the Montreal Police, but it sounds like this kind of information isn’t generally released, unless the family of the deceased approves a press release.  I’ve combed missing persons sites, and the Coast Guard site, but I can find nothing further.

I was staying with Colleen last night, as I wanted to attend my son’s graduation at Ryerson this morning, and she lives nearby.   We were talking about our experiences in Montreal.   I said to her that it was still bothering me that someone lived and died in obscurity, and no one knew him, and no one missed him.  She pointed out that if they knew so quickly who it might be, clearly someone DID know him, well enough to report him missing, anyway, so that is a comfort.

The only dead people I had seen up until that point had been cleaned up, prepared, and laid out for view, save and except my Mother when she died in hospital.  It’s completely different to come across someone who died unexpectedly, in a strange place.   It isn’t like in the movies at all.  It’s deeply, deeply disturbing.

I checked my camera afterwards, just to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently included him in any photos, and I hadn’t.   I feel like that would have been somehow grossly disrespectful; ghoulish and morbid.    I don’t need a photo, thanks.   It will be burned into my brain for life.

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