MONTREAL, Quebec — The first day of July is a federal holiday in Canada that celebrates the anniversary of the country’s creation in 1867. But in Quebec, the date is important in a more personal way.
Most residential leases here begin at the start of July, and because renting is more popular than owning, July 1 has become Moving Day for much of the population. By the city’s estimate, about 115,000 of Montreal’s 1.6 million residents relocate every July.
On Monday, an armada of rented moving vans jockeyed for position with overloaded pickup trucks and trailers reminiscent of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Electronic message boards above the expressways warned movers to ensure that their loads were secure. Merchants advertised promotions for essentials like cardboard boxes and packing tape.
“It’s really crazy, really crazy,” said Linda St. Laurent, who was helping her son move into an apartment on Rue Bordeaux, a process that involved five family cars, each stuffed with belongings; a pickup truck; and a small trailer.
A few blocks away, as Philippe Lefevre prepared to set off in his pickup truck, he unleashed an expletive or two and wondered aloud: “One day a year, everybody moves. Why can’t you move when you want?”
The inefficiencies and frustrations that come from concentrating moves into a single day are obvious. Even movers and truck rental companies, which at least double their normal rates near July 1, would prefer that their business be spread out more evenly throughout the year.
It is far from clear why most leases still start on July 1, some 40 years after the law requiring the practice was changed.
“I think it’s because we’re conservative and don’t want to change,” said Rudel Caron, the Quebec regional vice president of sales and operations for the office supply chain Bureau en Gros, which runs bubble wrap and packing supply promotions around Moving Day. “Moving is not lot of fun, but it becomes fun at the end of the day when everyone has a good beer and pizza.”
Jean-Philippe Warren, a sociologist at Concordia University here, said the factors behind Moving Day are more complex than sheer stubbornness.
Fixed lease dates are a legacy of 18th-century Quebec, when it was a French colony. Mr. Warren said that Quebec simply followed French laws of the time, which set May 1 as the beginning date for all legal agreements, including leases.
Forgotten in France, the May 1 lease law persisted in Quebec until the 1970s. It was unpopular in its own way. Carole Rondeau, who was helping her two nieces move about half a mile on Monday, recalled that her classmates would suddenly disappear from school when she was growing up as their families moved out of her neighborhood.
In 1973, a new law ended any required lease date and extended all leases until July 1, 1974, in a bid to end the disruption to the school year.
But Mr. Warren said July 1, against all obvious logic, has persisted as Moving Day. French-speaking Quebecers, he said, move far more frequently than most Canadians, but they generally do not stray beyond their neighborhood. Some move from one side of the street to the other, and it is just more convenient to make such apartment swaps all on the same day.
“They are constantly on the move, but they don’t go anywhere,” he said.
The inconveniences are many. Montreal, where 62.1 percent of the population rents, has unique disadvantages for movers aside from the many narrow streets. In a bid to increase apartments’ floor space, there are few staircases inside buildings, and the steps are cramped and winding and open to the elements. And unlike apartments in the rest of Canada, the ones here rarely come with kitchen appliances, adding to the movers’ burdens.
Moving companies and truck rental firms cannot meet all the demands of Moving Day. Robert Lalonde, the vice president for Quebec of Discount, a rental firm, said his company doubled its rates on Monday and was expected to rent out each of its 1,000 trucks at least three times. Tom Filgiano, the president of Meldrum the Mover, said potential customers will start calling his office later this week about Moving Day 2014, although he will not accept bookings until next spring. “We would love to be like the rest of North America,” he said somewhat wistfully.
The moving-related trash, which sometimes gets in the way of other movers, costs the city about $10 million in cleanup costs.
Aside from people simply carrying their worldly goods by hand down streets, some novel solutions to the congestion and cost have emerged. Claire Poirier said she was skeptical after learning that her two daughters had hired bicycle-powered movers to supplement two family cars for their move. But as family members looked on, the movers, Yohann Mouchboeuf and David Pelletier, piled and strapped two couches, a box spring, a bed frame, two mattresses, a large bookcase, a stove and full-sized refrigerator on two bicycle trailers before pedaling off.
Perhaps it is the widespread availability of relatively affordable apartments in Montreal, but many residents appear willing to overlook all the bother of Moving Day for the promise of a better apartment. Hugo McMahon said he believed, or perhaps hoped, that by moving a few blocks away from the St. Lawrence River his new apartment would be “cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.”
This story, "When a City Is on the Move, With Mattresses and Dishwashers in Tow," oriiginally appeared in The New York Times.
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