15 Montrealers Who Are Changing the World
Montréal has a history of exporting world-changing ideas. From the world’s first search engine to the uplifting nature of the WonderBra, we’ve been exporting good stuff for decades. Currently, the city’s innovative reputation is being led by a selection of confluences, such as a bustling startup scene, a thriving video game sector and the magnetism of four internationally-recognized universities. But behind the businesses and organizations leading Montréal’s current prosperity is something much more modest: people.
A set of creative individuals is keeping the “big picture” in mind. Whether their endeavours have social or environmental impact, or whether they’re just downright cool, here are a few of our global-minded citizens.
THE URBAN FARMERS
Mohamed Hage & Lauren Rathmell
When Mohamed Hage was growing up in Lebanon the concept of “eating local” wasn’t a ground-breaking idea — it was something that happened naturally. With a similar type of practicality, Hage and his partner (in business and life) Lauren Rathmell created the world’s first commercial greenhouse on the roof of a building. Their company, Lufa Farms, grows food in a sustainable manner with zero demand for new land and with much less energy requirements than standard farming. Currently, Lufa ships approximately 6,000 baskets a week and feeds over 15,000 residents of Montréal. The farming model is set to expand outside the city — so, from the rooftops, shout it out.
See more on The New York Times: “Cash Crops Under Glass and Up on the Roof”
THE JUSTICE SPEAKER
A former Justice Reporter for the Montreal Gazette, Sue Montgomery now describes herself as a “recovering journalist.” During her illustrious 30-year career, the reporter covered social justice issues from homelessness to poverty, seeing first hand what works (and oftentimes what doesn’t). Her work has earned her a selection of awards, including an Amnesty International Media Award for a story examining the plight of an Algerian refugee family facing deportation. More recently, Montgomery was the co-creator of a viral Twitter hashtag, which sparked a global discussion about sexual violence. A gifted public speaker, Montgomery is perhaps the perfect local connection for your international conference.
See more on National Post: “Why 90% of sex assault victims stay silent rather than face trial by ordeal”
THE ALTRUISTIC ATHLETE
Earlier this year a hockey player secured himself into the national narrative with what was described as “the biggest philanthropic commitment by a sports figure in Canadian history.” His name is P.K. Subban and his charitable cause of choice was the local children’s hospital. Influenced by a trip to post-earthquake Haiti, the adopted Montrealer decided to think outside the rink and donated a breezy $10 million. Subsequently, Subban solidified his place not only in the history books, but also in the hearts of Montrealers.
Read more on CBC News: “P.K. Subban donates $10M to Montreal Children’s Hospital”
THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING HERO
Internationally-renowned architect and McGill professor Avi Friedman was named by Wallpaper magazine as one of the “Top 10 style setters who will most influence the way we live in the next quarter century.” Based out of Montréal’s NDG neighbourhood, Friedman travels frequently to consult governments on policy about housing — specifically how to creative dignified affordable spaces that build community. How has Montréal contributed to his success? Firstly, the housing prototype he most admires most is the “plex,” which is an emblematic housing style in the city. Secondly, Montréal population density is 25 – 40 units per acre, a sort of urban density “Goldilocks zone” where people are most likely to build community. Friedman is also a prolific writer, with no less than 16 titles to his name.
See more on CBC’s Tapestry: “Home should not be a show piece”
THE INTERNATIONAL ALLIES
Eric Pineault & Jean-Sébastien Boudreault
When Eric Pineault heard news that Montréal’s long-standing pride celebrations (the now defunct Divers/Cité) had decided to eliminate the parade and community day from their festival, the community-minded citizen stepped in and did what he does best: organizing. Less than a decade later, along with his charismatic sidekick Jean-Sébastian Boudreault, the dynamic duo has not only built a mainstay Montréal festival (Fierté Montréal), but they are also using their clout for allied work with burgeoning LGBT movements in less-inclusive locations, such as Latvia and the Ukraine. “If you’re confused as to why we’re still doing Pride festivities,” Boudreault emphasizes, “go experience a Pride march in of these places.”
See more on Daily Xtra: “Montréal Pride organizers witness attack on Kiev Pride”
THE SPACE PROVIDER
When travelling for business, Montrealer Julien Smith found himself constantly looking for quiet spaces to focus on his work. Tired of being stranded in corporate coffee shops, the New York Times best-selling author had an idea: what if there were beautiful, private spaces that could be reserved for as short as 30 minutes? Voila, Breather was born. As the “Uber of office space,” the network offers regenerative home-like locations for professionals to work like a dog (or to simply work on their downward-facing dog) in the cities of Montréal, New York City, Boston and San Francisco. So, the next time you need to catch your breath, just take a Breather.
See more on The New Yorker: “Make Room”
THE BOUNDARY-BREAKING ASTRONAUT
In June of 1992, Julie Payette’s life changed forever. The Montréal native was chosen by the Canadian Space Agency — out of a field of 5,330 applicants — for an advanced robotics mission to the International Space Station. This selection rocketed her not only into outer space but also into the female astronauts club (currently 59 women in history), and subsequently made her an idol of every space-gazing girl across the world. These days Payette is the director of the Montréal Science Centre, where she advocates for scientific research and lifelong learning. Oh yeah, in total she holds 26 honorary degrees — but who’s counting?
See more on Maclean’s: “Julie Payette on being a female astronaut and a space construction worker”
THE HOLISTIC CHILDREN’S DOCTOR
Doctor Gilles Julien
Dr. Julien is known as the father of social pediatrics, an approach with the underlying belief that it takes more than vaccines and antibiotics to create healthy children — it entails the family and the community. In other words, it’s a holistic approach to raising awesome kids. Dr. Julien runs clinics in Montréal’s working class Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and immigrant heavy Côte-des-Neiges. Additionally, the big-hearted doctor created the Fondation du Dr Julien to further promote social pediatrics and ensure the continuity of this wholistic methodology.
See more on The Globe and Mail: “Why pediatrics pioneer fundraises for kids”
THE VIRTUAL REALITY RENAGADES
Félix Lajeunesse & Paul Raphaël
Through artistic and technological innovation, a Montréal twosome is at the forefront of cinematic virtual reality. Their studio — aptly named Felix & Paul — is reinventing storytelling through the creation of visceral and intimate experiences, ones that provide an unprecedented sense of presence, awareness, and emotional engagement. Sure the guys do industry-leading commercial gigs with clients such as Cirque du Soleil and Universal Studios, but it’s their partnerships with such world-changing organizations as the Clinton Global Initiative that go beyond “virtual” to concretely real social impact.
See more on Fast Company: “Bill Clinton Is the First U.S. President In Oculus”
THE GOOD CAPITALISTS
Anik Decoste & Nathaniel Schachter
In the early phase of their careers, Anik Decoste and Nathaniel Schachter rubbed shoulders with both the shiniest and grimiest of the advertising biz. Sure they built massively successful marketing campaigns, but at the end of the day they wondered: What does it all add up to? So, with a bit of gumption, the forward-thinking duo politely excused themselves from the traditional advertising model to start a new agency (N/A Marketing), one that connects people and brands in ways that affect positive social change. Within a year of launching, the Montréal-based agency landed one client eager to do not just well, but also good: a little restaurant called McDonald’s.
See more on The Globe and Mail: “McDonald’s Canada aims to humanize image with new ad campaign”
THE LEADER OF TOMORROW’S LEADERS
Gabriel Bran Lopez
Leaving civil war-torn Guatemala with his family, one might assume that Gabriel Bran Lopez would have been quite content to settle into an inconspicuous Canadian life. But that wasn’t in the cards. Instead he graduated with distinction from Concordia University, volunteered in Uganda and sat on the board of directors of Oxfam-Quebec. All of these experiences earned Lopez the right chops to create his own organization: Youth Fusion Jeunesse. The charity aims to reduce school dropout rates by creating links between the school system and the community. But why settle for just one community-minded initiative? Lopez is also the co-founder of FIRST Robotics Québec, an organization that encourages students through hands-on science and technology projects. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough space to list the accolades he’s received. Chances are that he’ll be the Prime Minister some day. You read it here first.
See more on The Star: “Montrealers make big pitches that don’t require big government”