Montreal might have Canada's most beautiful manhole covers
There are two versions of this story.
The straightforward one is that Montreal recently unveiled a new design for the city’s manhole covers, transforming that most utilitarian and (literally) overlooked element of the urban landscape into something that resembles a heraldic shield that might have adorned the vaults of a medieval cathedral.
The old cover “was really boring,” says Sylvain Ouellet, a city councillor and vice-chair of the city’s executive committee. “It was mainly made for a utilitarian perspective, so there was absolutely no design. The beauty was not there.”
The new one features stylized, intertwined botanical elements that nod to the city’s history and flag: a fleur-de-lys representing the French, a rose for the English, a Scottish thistle, an Irish shamrock and a white pine for the local Indigenous communities, all designed by artist Luc Melanson. It is genuinely beautiful—imbued with meaning, at once spare and intricate.
The idea originated in the lead-up to the city’s 375th anniversary celebration in 2017, Ouellet says, sparked in part by the example of other cities such as Cologne, Germany, and Boston that have paid attention to the aesthetics of their utility covers. The idea was to mark Montreal’s anniversary by designing something that would become a visible legacy in the city, but nothing was ready in time for that milestone.
Rather, the new covers began to pop up across Montreal last year, but the city didn’t officially introduce the new one until early June 2021. It cost $25,000 to develop the design and $12,000 to create the foundry mould, though after those start-up costs, the new covers will cost the same as the old ones: $300 each. The plan is to gradually install them across Montreal when it’s time for replacement or new roads are built.
“Manhole covers, their life expectancy is so long, we want to have a more classic design that is timeless,” Ouellet says.