The Tragically Hip’s “Montreal” Lyrics Meaning

Although its southern neighbor, the United States, may be more known for random, deadly violence, Canada has a notable contemporary history of mass killings also. One of the most infamous of such events to take place occurred in 1989 during what has become known as the École Polytechnique massacre. And it is this senseless massacre that The Tragically Hip are memorializing in the song “Montreal”. 

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for The Tragically Hip's Montreal at

And to note whereas this track was dropped some 30 years after the incident, it was actually written and recorded much closer to when said event took place.

The Tragically Hip, "Montreal" Lyrics

Female Subject of “Montreal”

Now it should be pointed out that the victims of the École Polytechnique massacre, as intended by the perpetrator, were all women. So the female subject throughout most of this song can be interpreted as a personification of all of those ladies combined. 

And the lyrics don’t go as far as to directly allude to the killing. Instead they go out of their way to present said figure as your prototypical young lady in a manner of speaking, one who is loved by her mom and is concerned with looks, romance and what have you but not excessively so. 

Or, it can be said that extra effort is made to depict the subject as someone who is not materialistic or akin to a wild girl. And theoretically, this would be The Hip’s way of illustrating that the victims were not feminists or women with inflated egos, as such individuals seemed to be the shooter’s primary target in his own mind.

The Blame!

The latter part of the song then takes the listener in a slightly different direction. Here, the vocalist seems tasked with relaying how even though the massacre was a tragic event in the history of Montreal, it’s like the world itself kept spinning, as it always does, as if nothing had happened. 

Gord Downie and co. also seem to mock, for lack of a better word, the role the victims’ families and especially their mothers played throughout it all. Or another way the outro can be interpreted, all lyrics considered, is as alluding to the associated parents’ aloofness in relation to what’s going on in the world around them, i.e. how they, in a manner of speaking, sent their own children (with most of the victims in the massacre being students) off to die.

Of course if that is in fact what Tragically Hip are alluding to, such a judgment would be an unfair one – blaming the victim, so to speak. Or let’s say that it would be an emotional reaction on the part of the vocalist more so than a logical one. More often than not when such tragedies occur, those of us who actually care always tend to look for someone to blame, if you will, outside of the perpetrator himself.

In Conclusion

So conclusively, this piece can be determined as being based on the thesis sentiment that the victims of the École Polytechnique massacre were exactly that – victims. In other words, they were individuals who were ultimately singled out due to their sex – which is something that naturally speaking none of us have control over – and nothing else. 

Moreover, they and their loved ones went into that faithful day obviously never expecting something so terrible to happen. And it can also be hypothesized that the moral of the story, as presented, is that in this day and age, even going as far back as 1989, none of us, especially those who live in localities like Montreal if you will, should be so naïve as to think that something like a random, mass shooting which directly affects us simply cannot occur.

The Tragically Hip and “Montreal”

The Tragically Hip was a band from Canada. The band has proven very successful in their homeland and moderately so south of the border. They actually have a discography dating back to 1987. Between 1989 and 2016, they dropped 13 studio albums. 

Meanwhile “Montreal” is from an EP the group came out with on 21 May 2021, via Universal Music Canada, entitled “Saskadelphia”.

The Tragically Hip disbanded with the death of the group’s frontman, Gord Downie, in 2017.

Through most of its existence The Hip, as this group is also called, consisted of Downie alongside the following musicians:

  • Rob Baker (guitarist)
  • Paul Langlois (guitarist)
  • Gord Sinclair (bassist)
  • Johnny Fay (drummer)

Those five individuals are credited as the writers of “Montreal”. And to note, this is a song that they composed back during the “Road Apples” era, i.e. Tragically Hip’s second studio album that came out in 1991. 

But the actual recording of the tune, as produced by Don Smith (who also held down that job on “Road Apples”), is actually from a live performance of the song The Hip rendered in late 2000.

There is a music video to this piece, with a political message, based on its subject matter. The clip was directed by multiple directors, including Mike Downie (who is the late Gord Downie’s brother). 

And some of the proceeds from the dropping of this singles were donated to the families of those killed in the École Polytechnique massacre.


The École Polytechnique Massacre

École Polytechnique is a tertiary educational institution located in Montreal. On 6 December 1989, it was the scene of one of the most tragic mass killings in Canada’s history.

The perpetrator was one Marc Lépine (1964-1989). He was a murderous individual who also apparently inherited a spirit of abusive misogyny from his dad. Lépine did have a mild history with École Polytechnique. He had actually attempted to be admitted on a couple of occasions to no avail because he lacked the prerequisite educational background. 

So being the sick person that he was, he decided to take his revenge. And he did so by murdering a bunch of students and particularly women who, as noted earlier, he held a special disdain for.

In all he ended up killing 14 individuals who were all females. Most of the deceased, like Lépine himself, were in their early-to-mid 20s. Almost all of the victims were also students. Actually only one of them was an employee of the institution. 

And as for Lépine, as further indicative of having been a true lowlife, he wasn’t even brave enough to face justice. He rather opted to take his own life promptly after committing the murders. 

This tragedy not only affected those directly involved but also, as indicated by Tragically Hip’s piece, sentimentally reverberated throughout the entire nation.

Below are the names of all 14 victims of this sad incident:

  • Anne-Marie Edward
  • Anne-Marie Lemay
  • Annie St-Arneault
  • Annie Turcotte
  • Barbara Daigneault
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz
  • Geneviève Bergeron
  • Hélène Colgan
  • Maryse Laganière
  • Maryse Leclair
  • Maud Haviernick
  • Michèle Richard
  • Nathalie Croteau
  • Sonia Pelletier

1 Response

  1. Hip says:

    Should call the song “MK Ultra”.

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