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Why look at pigeon tracks on the sidewalk?

22 November 2009

City pigeons are the product of domestication – but exist somewhere between tame and wild. Their traces in wet cement remind us that human and non-human animals share the city together. The sidewalk was once a meeting place – not just a passageway.  Pigeons still use it that way.


Map of pigeon walk

22 November 2009


Pigeons at the Movies

4 October 2010

Ste Catherine near St Marc

25 November 2009

“Landscape of sufficient variety promises surprises at every turn; it furnishes relief from the monotony and non-surprise of strictly sited space … What protrudes in a landscape offers us something to grasp at the most basic level of sensory awareness … [it] arrests the body momentarily in its onward motion, gives it pause, that is, gives it something to fasten onto.”– Edward Casey, Remembering: A Phenomenological Study

This corner was the most regulated and possibly the most contested of all the pigeon track sites. Signage is tightly controlled, probably with reason.

It is also the site where I managed to get one good plaster cast of a footprint – thanks to my nephew Albert’s nimble fingers. We did this at 5PM on a Thursday and hardly anybody noticed.

Close view of tracks at Ste Caterine an St Marc

Mackay between Sherbrooke and de Maisonneuve

25 November 2009

“Just before 1800, between the rowhouses and the street channel an intermediary space was created in the form of the sidewalk. These sidewalks defined a pedestrian island separate from the increasingly crowded traffic of the street. [They] intensified the public aspect of the street – its use as a stage of activity and chance encounters .”

– Spiro Kostof, America by Design

long view at McKay - tracks in front of the Department of Philosophy

dance around the survey markers

We can see the process Kostof desribes still taking place in Montreal in the late nineteenth century. Here is a downtown street in 1895 with rowhouses right up against an unpaved street with wooden walkways along each side.

de Maisonneuve west of Guy

25 November 2009

“I stood frozen on the sidewalk…The way he walked was  unmistakable … Bruno, I said … He touched his hand to my cheek. We were in the middle of the sidewalk, people were hurrying past, it was a warm day in June. His hair was thin and white. He dropped his fruit. Bruno.”

– Nicole Krauss, A History of Love

shopper hurrying past tracks on de Maisonneuve west of Guy

pedestrian walking across tracks on de Maisonneuve

view of tracks on de Maisonneuve west of Guy

long view of tracks on de Maisonneuve west of Guy

coffee shop terrace overlooking tracks

Guy north of de Maisonneuve

25 November 2009

Look at these heavy tulip bulbs, the torsos
we lift into the air. Can you? We guard
your immobilized heroes
bring them and your concrete piazzas
to life, are smartly unromantic
about the outmoded countryside,
have no need for medals,
our collars, iridescent violet-green
bind us to no master.

– from the poem “A Word from the Feral Pigeon” by Andy Quan

See for the complete poem.

tracks under jewellery store roost at Guy above de Maisonneuve

Roosting Pigeons

These tracks, which are near the lamppost on the left, are just around the corner from the statue of Norman Bethune. When they recently redid the good doctor's square they used stone instead of concrete but our feral friends continue to stand guard nonetheless.

St Marc below Ste Catherine

22 November 2009

“Animals in art do not provide a window to the world but a selection from the world … that tells us as much about human societies and human concerns as about the animals themselves.”

Howard Morphy, ed., Animals into Art

These pigeon tracks are somewhat indistinct especially overshadowed by the very bold dog (and human) tracks just beside them.
There are two sets moving in opposite directions. One pigeon or two?

long view at St Marc below Ste Catherine

The dog tracks dominate, but if you look closely, there are human tracks (smooth soles, male), and two main sets of pigeon tracks.

St Mathieu south of de Maisonneuve

22 November 2009

“Familiar things seen in an unfamiliar context become perceptually new as well as old.”

– Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture

long view of tracks on St Mathieu south of de Maisonneuve

These tracks are left by a pigeon who landed right into the wet cement and then flew right out again without taking a step. Pigeons don’t hop. There are many other fainter tracks of walking pigeons nearby, but these deeper tracks show the weight of the pigeon as it lands and takes off.

Note the large planter full of parsley in the background. It is one of two in front of the Pizzeria Anatolia whose slices are available until the wee hours of the morning. Thanks to the pizza-meister for filling my purple bucket twice with hot water. Tasty pizza too.

Close view of landing tracks

another landing track - not just a walk from the tree oasis