Lurking behind stone walls on Sherbrooke Street stand two old towers that are reputed to be haunted. As some of the oldest intact structures in the City of Montreal, these fortifications have a deranged history. Designed as the first Residential School in what is now modern-day Canada, the towers actually feature gun-ports. This military architecture was designed to repel anyone – at gunpoint – who might dare to interfere with the “instruction” happening within the fortified “school”.
Welcome to the sixty-third installment of the Haunted Montreal Blog!
With over 400 documented ghost stories, Montreal is easily the most haunted city in Canada, if not all of North America. Haunted Montreal dedicates itself to researching these paranormal tales, and the Haunted Montreal Blog unveils a newly researched Montreal ghost story on the 13th of every month!
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This month we examine the Jacques Cartier Suicide Bridge. With a long-standing reputation as the second most popular “suicide bridge” in the world, after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Jacques Cartier Bridge is known to be both deadly and haunted. A steel truss cantilever bridge that crosses the Saint Lawrence River from the city to the south shore at Longueuil, it has a tragic history of both suicides and murders occurring on the span. Despite recent improvements, such as an anti-suicide barrier and expensive lighting scheme, there are still suicides every year and tormented spirits are known to haunt the massive structure that crosses the mighty river.
We also plan to create other new virtual experiences.
Not only is there a special Friday the 13th edition tonight, November 13th, but we will be resurrecting the tradition of Victorian Christmas Ghost Storytelling in a virtual format!
If Covid-19 is ruining your company’s Christmas Party or family plans, please consider joining Haunted Montreal for an entertaining and deranged online haunted experience!
TRIGGER WARNING: This blog article delves into the topics of suicide, sexual assault and murder. It contains disturbing details.
With a long-standing reputation as the second most popular “Suicide Bridge” in the world, after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Jacques Cartier Bridge is known to be both deadly and haunted.
A steel truss cantilever bridge that crosses the Saint Lawrence River from the city to the south shore at Longueuil, it has a tragic history of both suicides and murders occurring on the span. Despite recent improvements, such as an anti-suicide barrier and expensive lighting scheme, there are still suicides every year and tormented spirits are known to haunt the massive structure that crosses the mighty river.
The Jacques Cartier Bridge was built by the Dominion Bridge Company, starting in 1925. Constructed with steel at a cost of C$23 million, the work lasted two and a half years. The company used 33,267 tons of steel to build the span, without ever disrupting river traffic.
Originally called the “Harbour Bridge”, it opened to traffic on May 14, 1930. The bridge was re-named the “Jacques Cartier Bridge” in 1934, following a petition from citizens, who attempted to honor the explorer who supposedly “discovered” Canada in 1534, despite the land already being inhabited by Indigenous nations for thousands of years.
This colonizer, who attempted to claim Indigenous lands for the King of France by planting a cross into the ground, is now in disrepute.
Today, the bridge includes a five-lane highway. There are approximately 35.8 million vehicle crossings annually, making it the third busiest bridge in Canada.
Tragically, despite being an excellent piece of transportation infrastructure, the Jacques Cartier Bridge would also become known as a popular “Suicide Bridge.”
The first recorded suicide on the bridge occurred on August 4, 1934. Leopold Gingras, a farmer from a small village outside of Montreal, and his nephew Lucien were driving along the Harbour Bridge.
As they approached the centre span, they saw a man with grey hair who was wearing a dark suit, sitting westward on the outside railing of the bridge. They watched in terror as he slid off. Leopold put his pedal on the gas and drove straight to the police pavilion near the bridge’s southern entrance to report what the man who had slid off the bridge.
Meanwhile, at the same time a pedestrian named Hertel Bachard and a friend were walking north along the footbridge, towards Montreal. They witnessed the man slip from the railing and ran over to see what had happened. Instead of falling into the swirling river below, they saw that the man had somehow managed to grab the outer edge of the bridge with both hands. His legs were dangling as he held onto the steel beam for dear life.
Bachard, who had bolted toward the man to try and save him, recalled: “He looked at me with a blank stare.” As Bachard approached, the man let go and fell almost 50 meters into the churning river. The jumper left behind three newspapers, a straw hat and a note.
The note, crammed into the brim of the hat, read: “Mon nom est Pierre Mitchell”, which means “My name is Pierre Mitchell” in English.
The tragic event received only a few lines in the La Presse newspaper, with the headline “Dramatic Suicide of an Unknown” on the sordid Page 3. This was the place where murders, violent crimes, suicides and other assorted horrors were reported in the newspaper during the era.
The article stated: “Police think he’s a foreigner, or a homeless person.” The article also noted that the body had yet to be recovered, so identity could not be positively established.
A police spokesperson was quoted as saying: “The mystery will probably be solved when they fish out the unhappy man’s cadaver.”
When his body was eventually fished out of the river, the attending coroner, Jean Roussel, learned that Pierre Mitchell was seventy-one years old and had a son named Hugh living on St. Catherine Street.
In an interview, Hugh Mitchell told the coroner: “He wasn’t working, and he was very discouraged and distraught. I have every reason to think that my father must have lost his mental faculties.”
Sadly, the death by suicide of Pierre Mitchell would not be the last. Indeed, when he fell from the bridge in 1934 it signified the beginning of a terrible history that continues to haunt the structure to this very day.
With Mitchell’s terrible fall, and those few inches of type in La Presse, the bridge was forever transformed into something far more sinister. From that point on, the Jacques Cartier Bridge had garnered a dual reputation as both as a gateway to the city – and as a terrifying place to commit suicide.
Since Pierre Mitchell dropped from the span in 1934, over 700 Montrealers have followed suit, earning the Jacques Cartier Bridge the sad reputation of being the second-most popular “Suicide Bridge” in the world.
Downstream from the bridge, bodies found floating in the river or washed ashore are often discovered by boaters, picnickers, police or others wandering the shoreline.
With witnesses rarely present, there is usually no way of knowing exactly how those people met their tragic and watery end.
Making the situation even more dangerous and deranged, the Jacques Cartier Bridge has become a symbol for jumpers in the minds of many Montrealers. Unlike San Francisco’s Golden Gate, which tends to attract all sorts of jumpers from around the world, those choosing the Jacques Cartier to commit suicide have mostly been local Montrealers.
Indeed, the cursed bridge has even spawned an expression used often in the everyday slang of French Montreal. Those having a bad day might say, “Je vais me pitcher du Pont Jacques Cartier” – or “I’m going to throw myself off the Jacques Cartier Bridge” in English.
Research into the topic reveals so many tragic and horrifying stories. So many stories of tragedy can easily be found in newspaper archives or by simple internet searches. Most of the jumpers are linked to cases of Depression and other treatable mental illnesses.
The most infamous jumper was a renowned film-maker named Claude Jutra. He was a central figure in the development of cinema in Quebec and directed two films of tremendous significance for the Quiet Revolution. The first was the autobiographical À tout prendre (1963) and the second was Mon oncle Antoine (1970), which was widely regarded as a masterpiece of Canadian cinema when first released.
A mystery struck the city when Jutra disappeared from his Plateau home just off Saint Louis Square on November 5, 1986. Rumour had it that the filmmaker had been suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and Depression.
On April 19, 1987, the body of the celebrated Quebec filmmaker washed up on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, with a note in his pocket reading “Je m’appelle Claude Jutra” or “My name is Claude Jutra” in English.
An autopsy later confirmed drowning as his cause of death.
Released in 2016, a new biography about Claude Jutra alleged that he had had sexual relations with boys. Yves Lever, a retired cinema professor and movie critic who wrote the biography, told Radio-Canada in an interview that Jutra “liked boys who were 14 or 15 years old and even younger.”
Quebec society was shocked by these allegations that Jutra was a pedophile. It was the explosive first-hand account of a man who said he was sexually abused by Mr. Jutra over 10 years, starting at the age of 6, that triggered a major reaction.
In May 2018, Mr. Jutra’s name was removed from a park, along with a sculpture of a stylized movie camera. Jutra’s name was also scrubbed from the awards gala the Quebec film industry hands out for its own version of the Oscars.
In addition to the hundreds of suicides, there were also terrible murders on the bridge.
On July 3, 1979, teenagers Maurice Marcil (14) and Chantal Dupont (15) were walking home over the Jacques Cartier Bridge after attending a Gérard Lenorman concert at Place des Nations on St. Helen’s Island.
On the bridge, they were confronted by two creepy men named Gilles Pimpare and Normand Guerin. Armed with a knife and a starters’ pistol, the men forced the teens to descend onto a gangway below the bridge. After robbing the boy of the $2 he had in his pocket and sexually assaulting the girl, the thugs strangled them with a rope and then tossed their bodies into the river below.
The teenage victims were initially listed as missing persons, but around a week later their bodies were found washed up on the downstream shore.
The criminals returned to the bridge to commit other disgusting crimes on a later date, but the police were on to them. Investigators had discovered the rope that was used to strangle Dupont and Marcil, which would eventually be used evidence against them in a court of law. The police also pieced together other crimes on the bridge, such as assault and robbery, which they linked to the deranged men.
Following their arrest, they were tried and found guilty after three days of jury deliberations. On October 17, 1984, they both received life sentences for the heinous crimes they had committed on the Jacques Cartier Bridge.
With such a horrible history, how could the Jacques Cartier Bridge not be haunted by some of the unfortunate people who met their fate on the span?
The most common ghost-sightings occur at night and involve cyclists and pedestrians spotting ghostly figures either walking the path or staring into the churning abyss, sometimes even jumping.
According to cyclist Alain Bordeleau, who typically rides his bicycle from Longueuil to his job in Montreal over the Jacques Cartier Bridge, even in winter when it is illegal:
“One night in July, 2015, I had a strange encounter while returning to Longueuil on my bike over the Jacques Cartier Bridge. As I was cycling to the South Shore, I noticed something weird ahead, which had a greenish glow. I put on the brakes and stalled before the situation I saw unfolding. My biked stopped about 20 feet away from it.”
Bordeleau continued: “I could swear that what I saw was a ghost. He was translucent, glowing green, and put ghostly ladder up against the suicide barrier, where it seemed to be held in place, despite being part of the ghost’s accessories. As I sat on the saddle of my bike, I watched him quickly ascend the ladder and jump over the barrier into the St. Lawrence River. The ladder then dissolved into thin air, as if nothing had happened.”
Disturbed by what he had witnessed, Alain Bordeleau continued his bike ride home. So disturbed was he by what he had seen, he could not sleep that night.
Due to the high number of suicides, in 2004 the federal bridge corporation decided to construct a suicide prevention barrier after lobbying efforts by mental health advocates.
With a price tag of $1.3 million, the barrier was raised to 2 meters high, and was fitted with video cameras and emergency telephones.
This preventative strategy managed to reduce the number of jumpers from an annual average of 10 to a lower number of 3.
In an attempt to brighten up the deranged reputation of the Jacques Cartier Bridge, in 2017, then-Mayor Dennis Codere ordered that the structure be retrofitted with a new decorative lighting scheme.
The rationale was to mark both the 150th anniversary of Canada and the 375th anniversary of Montreal. Called “Living Connections”, the signature project was designed and installed over a period of several years by the Montreal-based Moment Factory. The lighting system, which includes varying colors and animations, is presently scheduled to remain active until 2027.
The bridge was first lit up on May 17, 2017. This colonial anniversary marked the same day the French colony of Ville-Marie was established in 1642. The ceremony officially kicked off the festivities for the 375th anniversary of this colonialist event.
Since the intense lighting was installed, ghost sightings have significantly decreased on the span.
The Jacques Cartier Bridge is, without a doubt, one of the most cursed and haunted bridges on the planet.
With over 700 suicides, not to mention the deranged murders and ghosts, the span has a terrible history and is a black stain on the city’s reputation.
Haunted Montreal recommends that you avoid the Jacques Cartier Bridge altogether – or cross it at your own risk!
Where to get help:
In French: Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre
Haunted Montreal is now past our Hallowe’en Season and is moving into winter mode.
Normally this would entail a switch to the warm hearths of our Haunted Pub Crawl. However, Covid-19 has shut down all of the pubs and drinking establishments in Montreal.
As such, we will be offering Virtual Ghost Tours all winter long!
We also plan to create other new virtual experiences. Not only is there a special Friday the 13th edition tonight, November 13th, but we will be resurrecting Montreal’s tradition of Victorian Christmas Ghost Storytelling in a virtual format!
Put on your slippers, grab a glass of mulled wine and join Haunted Montreal as we take you back in time to experience an old Christmas tradition that no longer exists.
If Covid-19 is ruining your company’s Christmas Party or family plans, please consider joining Haunted Montreal for an entertaining, traditional and deranged online haunted experience!
It is also an ideal supplement for any family Christmas gathering!
Tickets are now on sale, for the low price of $14.50 per computer screen!
Haunted Montreal would also like to thank all of our clients who attended a ghost walk, haunted pub crawl, paranormal investigation or virtual ghost tour during the 2019 – 2020 season!
If you enjoyed the experience, we encourage you to write a review on our Tripadvisor page, something that helps Haunted Montreal very much to market its tours – both live and online!
Lastly, if you would like to receive the Haunted Montreal Blog on the 13th of every month, please sign up to our mailing list.
Coming up on December 13: Montreal’s Haunted Sewers
Beneath the city lies a sewer system encompassing a combined distance of over 5,000 kilometers. With some sections dating back to 1832, this network has witnessed deadly accidents, including children falling through open manholes to their watery graves. The tragedies that have unfolded within this extensive sewer system have inspired many ghost stories. Today, this extensive, underground labyrinth of sewer pipes, both large and small, is said to be extremely haunted.
Donovan King is a postcolonial historian, teacher, tour guide and professional actor. As the founder of Haunted Montreal, he combines his skills to create the best possible Montreal ghost stories, in both writing and theatrical performance. King holds a DEC (Professional Theatre Acting, John Abbott College), BFA (Drama-in-Education, Concordia), B.Ed (History and English Teaching, McGill), MFA (Theatre Studies, University of Calgary) and ACS (Montreal Tourist Guide, Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec). He is also a certified Montreal Destination Specialist.