Darcy Ingram, “‘We Are No Longer Freaks’: The Cyclists’ Rights Movement in Montreal,” Sport History Review 43 (2012): 18-42.
NOTE: This article was republished in a 2015 special issue of Sport History Review: Darcy Ingram, “‘We Are No Longer Freaks’: The Cyclists’ Rights Movement in Montreal,” Sport History Review: Special Issue of Sport History Review – A Ten-Year Retrospective on “the Best” of SHR 46 1 (2015): 126-50. See also the introduction to that article: Darcy Ingram, “Reflections on the Historian’s Craft: Chance, Coincidence, and Other ‘Freaks’ of Research,” Special Issue of Sport History Review: A Ten-Year Retrospective on “the Best” of SHR 46 1 (2015): 124-26.
From the first page:
On the evening of January 26, 1898, Montreal lawyer, businessman, and provincial legislator Albert William Atwater stepped onto the stage of the Monument Nationale and, following a standing ovation, proclaimed loudly to the enthusiastic audience of 300 in front of him: “Gentlemen . . . the day has now arrived when we are no longer freaks.” What drew this veteran middle-class Montrealer through darkened streets and snow banks to make this proclamation, and what led his audience to receive him so enthusiastically, was a technological revolution that began in the mid-1860s, that had recently gripped a segment of middle-class society in much of the western world, and that—unknown to Atwater or anyone in his audience—was about to disappear. I am referring here to the bicycle, and in particular to a movement that took shape around this machine in Montreal at the turn of the nineteenth century, just as the bicycle reached its peak of popularity, and just before that popularity fell so dramatically throughout North America. Part of what supporters and the media referred to as the cyclists’ rights movement, this meeting addressed the concerns of a large and relatively diverse segment of middle-class Montreal—young and old; men and women; francophones and anglophones; amateurs and world-class athletes; Catholics, Protestants, and Jews—who had taken to the bicycle in growing numbers, and who were demanding infrastructure and institutional support for their new pursuit.
The cyclists’ rights movement was an effort by Montreal cyclists to harness the recent wave of popular support for the bicycle and turn it into something tangible, namely, into a reworking of the legal and environmental contexts of cycling in and around their city. What follows is an exploration of this briefly lived movement in the context of the bicycle’s evolving place in the city, from its first appearance in the mid-1860s to its sudden crash into obscurity three decades later. In broad terms, Montreal’s experience is not much different from many other North American cities. Given that Montreal has recently emerged to become one of the most bicycle-friendly cities on the continent, however, it is a location worth drawing attention to. As this article shows, Montrealers first began grappling with these issues not in the 1970s through the work of groups like the imaginative, tenacious, and highly successful Le Monde à Bicyclette but fully one hundred years earlier.