The 200,000 sq ft, 65 -tonne Kevlar roof at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal was expected to last 25 years. Photograph: Shaun Best/ Reuters
The stadium aside, Montreal did get some bang for its Olympic buck. The excellent Claude Robillard Sports Centre in the citys north objective is still used by thousands of athletes, and the one-time Velodrome has been converted to the Biodome, an enormously popular indoor nature museum. The assert has furthermore been built that the Montreal Olympics proper turned a profit, which is true only if you chalk up the various purpose-built venues, the stadium in particular, to infrastructure. In any case, it would take 30 years for the city of Montreal to retire the Olympic debt.
A commission headed by superior court judge Albert Malouf to probe Olympic corruption spent three years, and the other$ 3m, before releasing a 908 -page report in 1980 that lay blamed squarely at the feet of the mayor. Taillibert, Phaneuf and others shared some of the responsibility, in Maloufs view, but Drapeau was the principal culprit, with his hands-on style and his habit of turning a blind eye to the shenanigans around him. Top officials and contractors were convicted of fraud and corruption. They included Niding, Drapeaus right-hand man, who was convicted of breach of trust and sentenced to the working day in jail and a $75,000 fine, and contractor Regis Trudeau, who also received a one-day jail sentence and a $100,000 penalty. Even Claude Rouleau, head of the OIB installed to stop the bleeding, was found guilty of breach of trust for accepting gifts in connection with the Olympic construction and was ordered to pay $31,000.
Fining the miscreants, regrettably, didnt help pay off much of the debt. In order to rid itself of the Olympic burden city hall had to skimp on urban essentials for years. Even now, with a belated rushed to repair its crumbling infrastructure, Montreal is still paying the cost for decades of neglect.
Forty years on, however, Montreal has endured. The sour gags about the stadium, the corruption and the Olympic debt are now part of the culture. The separatist movement that convulsed the city in the immediate aftermath of the debacle also brought some much-needed social change.
Montreal survived by reinventing itself on a smaller, more viable scale. If Toronto seized the mantle of Canadas financial capital, Montreal is the unquestioned capital of culture, a vibrant city of street art, sculpture and world-class jazz, fireworks, comedy and fringe festivals, the city no longer only of Leonard Cohen but of Arcade Fire and Cirque du Soleil.
Le Bistro is long gone, but Montreal is still hip, the bars and restaurants and clubs the liveliest in the country, a walk-to city where the coffeehouse are full the working day long and joie de vivre trumps quotidian worries over such inconvenient details as bounced rent cheques and unpaid parking tickets. Montreal remains the polar opposite of fund and real-estate preoccupied Toronto though where it was once a smaller, colder Paris, Montreal is now more North American, less European, less blithely certain of its position in the universe.
Nevertheless, the Olympic debt is paid, separatism is a diminished force-out and there is even a tentative scheme afoot to bring back the Expos. When springtime finally comes after the long winters, there is a buoyant sense of rebirth and confidence in the future. If you can ignore the potholes and the still-simmering disputes over municipal corruption, Montreal is once again a great place to live. But you cant escape the sense that the city might have had it all. In truth, before the Olympics, it did.
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