Scandal! Vice, Crime, and Morality in Montréal

Centre d’histoire de Montréal
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Based on extensive documentary research and a wide‐ranging collection of personal accounts from Montrealers from the era along with comments by contemporary specialists, Scandal! Vice, Crime, and Morality in Montréal, 1940-1960, delves into the reputation of Montreal as the infamous “Little Paris of America.” By discussing the city’s past as a hotbed of taboos, vice, and corruption, this exhibit brings to light the complexities and tensions that prevailed in a period that was foundational for the cultural metropolis that exists today.

Scandal! is specifically intended for a local adult audience, mainly for those who had known or heard about the era, but also for younger generations whose are not aware that their city has a such a long and lawless reputation. The expansive, bilingual exhibit takes visitors on an immersive tour of the city’s underworld, with stops including a nightclub, brothel, and police station. This illicit journey presents compelling stories through the words, voices, records, and objects of those who lived them, serving to humanize controversial topics that can easily become impersonal or abstract.

Scandal! presents a significant model for other museums seeking to address issues of contemporary history, and offers new ideas and techniques for using oral history in exhibits. By integrating technology and other interpretive devices, the museum brings personal stories to life in an accessible and meaningful way.

Scandal! received much acclaim in the city, increased museum visitation, and even spurred renewed interest in the city’s vintage nightspots and gathering places. Through first-hand testimonies, primary source documents, and captivating images, this exhibit illuminates the sources of Montreal’s current identity and the continuity of its moral debates. The exhibit’s subject matter is all the more pertinent through the parallels ones can draw to current headlines and issues, which connects residents to their city’s past in a tangible and thought-provoking way.