UCL Institute of the Americas


'The Pollution Bandwagon': The Fight Against Car Pollution in Montreal in the 1960s-1970s

09 April 2018, 6:00 pm

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UCL Institute of the Americas

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Dr Valérie Poirier (University of Guelph) - Various historians have drawn our attention to North America's love affair with the automobile during the mid-to late twentieth century. By the mid-1950s-the 'golden era' of automobility-automobile sales were skyrocketing across the continent and the car was deeply entrenched in popular culture as a strong symbol of freedom, prosperity and progress. While this dominant vision of the car has never entirely disappeared, it was seriously challenged during the 1960s and the 1970s, two decades historian Brian Ladd has labelled the 'golden era of car bashing'. This presentation explores why and how the automobile came to be perceived as a risk for the health of the urban population and for the environment during these decades in Montreal. It also explains why, despite the best efforts of experts and environmental groups to identify and reduce the car's environmental risks, the fight against car pollution met with only very little success during the 1960s and the 1970s.

Valérie Poirier is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Guelph and a member of the Montreal History Group. She specialises in the social, environmental and urban history of twentieth century Quebec. She recently completed a PhD in history at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), in which she examined how the car came to be perceived as an environmental risk in Montreal during the long sixties. With Stéphane Savard (UQAM), she co-edited a special issue of the Bulletin d'histoire politique on environmental activism in Quebec, in which she also published an article focusing on the citizen-led opposition to the construction of the Ville-Marie expressway in Montreal in the early 1970s. Her current research explores the new ways of conceptualising noise in the after-war period, from 1945 to 1980. It seeks to understand why the meanings associated with noise shifted and how noise was gradually conceptualised as the fourth type of pollution, following water, air and soil pollution.