Even the best morning radio isn't meant to be the wakey-wakey equivalent of the evening CBC show Ideas, or similar thought-provoking programming.
So the crew at CBC Montreal's Daybreak deserve a break for missing a genuinely important discovery hidden in an otherwise banal report about a problem few knew existed and no one cares about anyway.
The segment in question was about—you'll think I'm making this up—the lack of air conditioning in the city's metro system. Honestly. I'm not kidding. Montrealers live in a city whose winter sidewalks are often so icy as to be impassable except by those able to skate like members of the 1970s Canadiens. We inhabit a metropolis where winds whipping off the St. Lawrence gang up with freezer burn billowing off Mount Royal to mug lungs and steal breath on every downtown corner. And the wonder of radio waves was being used by Mother Corp to worry us about the underground transit system being too warm?
Yet amid the, ummmm, utterly fascinating engineering details explaining precisely why the Metro is such a Hell pit, Daybreak's research turned up a clip from the early 1960s of then Mayor Jean Drapeau inaugurating the system.
The most interesting bit comes at the very end of his speech (skip to 9:40), when Drapeau calls on two priests to come forward and bless the newborn Metro.
We didn't actually get to hear the priests pronouncing the blessing but the very naturalness with which the mayor shifted proceedings from the civic to the religious gave the moment much more than mere nostalgic effect.
It could, for starters, awaken an entire generation to this city being, not long ago, so structurally Catholic that Mayor Drapeau could dismiss Toronto's pretensions to being Milan by insisting Montreal would always be Rome.
Such an awakening might actually lead some of that generation to question the how and why and wisdom of first weakening, then obliterating, that foundational Catholicism. More, it might push them to demand answers more substantive than the usual ice fog clichés about the grande noirceur and the mythically spotless sheen of the Quiet Revolution.
For what Drapeau's calling forward of the priests in the CBC clip demonstrates is a sliver of time when the balance between Church and State—or at least polis—was not only harmonious but good. There is no question that Drapeau went completely off the rails mid-way through his preternatural tenure as Montreal's mayor. His mania for modernity is much to blame for the infrastructure catastrophes that have recently plagued the city and made it feel like an extended exercise in urban collapse.
At the same time, the beginning of his era was a time of literally monumental glory in Montreal. It was a time when the Church herself remained a vibrant, vital, shining part of its life.
Several years ago, a noted local boulevardier told me wistfully how he used to sit, bleary-eyed over ham and eggs in one downtown greasy spoon or another, watching nuns walk past the plate glass window on their way to Mass at first light.
"You just don't see that anymore," he said. "I miss it."
What you cannot miss in Montreal today, of course, is that much of the urban core is situational squalor that leaks off the streets and pools underground at the Metro turnstiles.
It's not only the tragic one-armed schizophrenic who conducts daily interviews with invisible interlocutors at the foot of the Guy-Concordia escalator. It's not just the anguished, poverty-maddened soul who turned violent at the Bonaventure station and was shot dead by police. It's not even the generalized grubbiness of everything left to age and decay.
No, it is much more the sense of a State that was once fuelled by the lie of its own omnipotence, and is now crippled to the point of catatonia amid the ruin of the foundations on which it once stood. It is the curse that invariably follows the destruction of what once brought blessings.
Too much, to be true, for morning radio even on the CBC. But cause for awakening all the same.