Last summer for
Montreal calèches

Despite the impending calèche ban the horses still need us

By Mirella Colalillo

Montrealers are counting the days. In six months on December 31, 2019, the long-awaited calèche ban will take effect.

This result was reached after 30 years of activism starting in the 90s with the activists of the group Anti-calèche Action who scored many wins despite the fact that the exploitation of horses was not considered an issue back then. Yet, they managed to obtain a reduction of the working temperature limit for calèche horses from 34°C to 30°C.

In 2010 they passed the torch to the Anti-calèche Defense Coalition who have created an engaged community that has tirelessly documented and exposed the conditions of the calèche horses.

Montreal calèche horse -

Calèche horse showing sign of illness

Authorities have been kept on their toes as photos and videos of daily infractions and horse abuse have gone viral on social media, while email campaigns and complaints to the City and to MAPAQ have been relentless.

As a result, the calèche by-laws underwent an overhaul in 2017 during the Coderre administration to improve the working conditions of the horses, but in reality, they weren’t enforced. This was confirmed in November 2018 when the horse Zeus died an agonizing death on the streets of Old Montreal.

Exposing the reality of the calèche horses has sensitized many residents and city administrators who have concluded that nowadays with all the means we have available for transportation it’s no longer acceptable to exploit horses to pull carriages.

This has been a fight against a vicious cycle of neglect. Since 2011 in Montreal over 15 horses have died of abuse, improper handling, absence of proper veterinary care, and lack of enforcement of the by-laws. The last remaining stable is sub-standard and to this day fails to comply with each point of the by-law listed in Section I, 60-70.

Since 2011 in Montreal over 15 horses have died of abuse, improper handling, absence of proper veterinary care, and lack of enforcement of the by-laws.

The Montreal calèche ban could have come sooner, sparing dozens of horses from a horrible fate. In 2007 the number of permits was reduced to 24 and it eas expected that there would probably soon be no permits left, considering that after three infractions the permits are permanently revoked. However many infractions have been documented, but no fines emitted.

Fast-forward to 2019 and the calèches are seen as out-dated relics of a time where animals were once commodities. The current city administration lead by Mayor Plante voted unanimously for a calèche ban in August 2018 and has offered to buy back the horses at $1000 each. The city will work with local sanctuaries and organizations to place the horses into safe and permanent homes. This plan would save them from slaughter should the owners decide to dispose of them.

Calèche horse waiting in the sun

Calèche horse waiting under a blazing sun while the driver takes advantage of the shade.

The City has also offered to help the carriage drivers transition to new careers. While some claim they’ll take their horses to work elsewhere, others may get on with the times.

However, many are concerned the horses will be overworked this last summer due to the upcoming ban. But together we can ensure that the bylaws are being enforced:

  • Horses are not allowed to work when the temperature is over 28°C or after 6 pm
  • Horses must not show signs of illness, injury or distress, nor be whipped
  • Ten minutes of rest between rides is mandatory
  • Only one person is allowed per seat
  • No passengers are allowed on the driver’s seat
  • No calèche driver may leave the calèche unattended
  • License plate at the back of the calèche must be legible and visible

‘… many are concerned the horses will be overworked this last summer due to the upcoming ban. But together we can ensure that the bylaws are being enforced.’

Montreal calèche horse -

Leg injury on calèche horse

If an individual observes that any of these points are not being respected, they are encouraged to document the infraction with a time-stamped photo or video, take note of the calèche plate number and immediately call 311. If a horse needs veterinary care, you can contact the SPCA and file a complaint with MAPAQ who will send an inspector to evaluate the horse and take the necessary measures.

As the curtains fall on the last calèches in Montréal, in my heart lives the memory of the many gentle giants I’ve come to know throughout the years and whose eyes begged for love and compassion. May we continue to evolve as a society where we extend our hands and hearts to all sentient beings, creating a more enlightened planet.

Images: courtesy of the Anti-calèche Defense CoalitionBouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre –

Read also: other articles on animal welfare

Mirella Colalillo -

Mirella Colalillo is an advocate for the rights of human and non-human animals. She’s lead the Anti-calèche Defense Coalition grassroots community for eight years and she promotes ethical and sustainable travelling in her homeland Italy via her Italian culture blog Parlatè.

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  1. Georges R. Dupras

    The sad reality of carriage horses in Montreal has been documented over the years. Countless incidents have been reported to authorities, complaints that have, until the Valérie Plante administration, fallen on deaf ears. I am grateful for those women, including Mirella Colalillo, Anne Streeter (who was physically assaulted) and Jean Lemarquand among others, who have given their time to record, photograph and follow-up on these sad events. What is more disturbing is that MAPAQ, set-up by the Provincial Government to oversee the wellbeing of animals (not all), invests more energy harassing registered SPCA’s than closing down un-registered puppy mills, or charging carriage horse operations that so obviously put money before their horses.

    • Mirella Colalillo

      Georges, thanks for your endless activism as well. The 1st photo of the underweight horse is Maximus. Reports were filed many times and nothing was done.
      During the summer horses stand for hours in the sun like Sissy…nobody intervenes.
      The mouth ulcers are common like the ones Princesse has that makes her drool. And Lily’s leg injuries are common to all caleche horses and were reported. The abuse reigns undisturbed.

  2. Anne Streeter

    Thanks to the undying efforts of the Anti Caleche Defence Coalition and the forward thinking Plante administration we shall finally see the end of this tragic story! So much hidden cruelty, so little bylaw enforcement and so many ignored concerns over the years. Now one will be able to visit Old Montreal without suffering at the sight of these beautiful stoic neglected creatures. Thank you, thank you, thank you Mirella, the Plante administration and all those who rallied for years to finally win this wonderful victory.

    • Mirella Colalillo

      Anne, thanks to you and Jean for paving the way for us and for your tireless activism till this day. Forever grateful for everything you’ve done to advance animal rights.

  3. Patricia Dumais

    Finally, Montreal joins the ranks of the many cities that have banned horse carriages thanks to the courage and perseverance of dedicated activists. Hats off to all of you!

  4. Vicki Van Linden

    Montrealers should be proud that they are finally bringing an end to the shameless caleche trade.
    Let’s hope that other cities like Victoria, Quebec City, Niagara on the Lake, and others will be inspired to do the same. Thanks to every activist who worked so hard to achieve the coming ban. We all can do our part by never taking a ride on a horse drawn carriage or trolley. When we travel, please, never support animal-using tourist attractions. Our brief pleasure cannot come at the cost of the exploitation and suffering of animals. And, let’s urge our friends and family to do the same. There are so many other ways to earn a living that does not involve the exploitation and suffering of animals.

  5. Jean Le Marquand

    I was so touched by the last words of Mirella in this article. While recently in Old Montreal with
    Anne Streeter, we saw many interesting alternative modes of sight-seeing. University students are more than willing to point out the numerous historical sites in Old Mtl. via “pedicabs”. Students earn money, get exercise and if necessary, can switch to electric for the hills. No smell, no pollution, and best of all, no need for caring visitors to have to watch over-worked, sad looking horses. My hat is off to Mirella and her group of dedicated volunteers.

  6. Doris Potter

    Bravo to Mirella and to the Anti-calèche Defense Coalition who have worked so hard over the years for these horses! Kudos as well to Mayor Plante who listened to the voices who spoke for these animals. We must always raise our voices for those who cannot (both human and animal) to help raise awareness and end injustice.

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