On Saturdays, Prince, King and Jessie are out and about. They trot over to the fence bordering the bike path near Place des Bassins where they greet passersby, stealing pats and occasionally posing for photos.
Former coachman Dan Leclair watches over them, distributing their favourite treats – carrots. Prince, King and Jessie are the last draft horses of metropolitan Montreal, and the remnants of a century-old industry in the city.
Two years ago, they would have probably gone to work, pulling carriages on the cobblestone streets of Montreal’s Old Port. Now they are left to roam for a few hours a day on the small urban stable’s property.
For most of their lives, the stable in Griffin Town has been their home, and until not so long ago, it would have been a buzzing workplace, that might have appeared almost frozen in time.
For Dan, it’s this historical weight, paired with the appeal of working closely with horses, that attracted him to the profession. His work was a livelihood, but also a way to reconnect with an enthralling and bygone part of history – to live out and re-enact the age-old gestures.
The first time he parked his carriage in front of Notre Dame Basilica, Dan had no clue how to attract clients. He tried to mimic other drivers and casually called out to a family of tourists from across the street: his voice cracked, they kept walking.
Very quickly, he got increasingly confident and went on to be what stable owner Luc Desparois called one of the best “cowboys” he ever had. When he would head downtown, Dan always made sure he and his mount looked the part: mane was clean, hooves were oiled, and his Victorian hat was spotless.
Nearly two years after Montreal banned horse-drawn carriages, Dan still cares for the remaining horses at Lucky Luc stables where he resides along with a handful of former drivers, his Great Dane Rolf, and a dozen cats. He lets the horses out on their daily time outside and brings them back in the stable to be groomed and fed. In exchange, he gets a shelter and a place where he can continue to live in proximity to his favourite animals.
He mostly watches over them, ensuring they are safe and sound, but sometimes, he grabs a makeshift bridle and hops on. As a hobby, Dan occasionally practices archery with equipment he handcrafted.
On one snowy Saturday afternoon, he jumps up swiftly on Prince’s back, aims at a target he painted on a wooden wall, and shoots. Visibly accustomed to this, Prince is hardly startled by the sound of the arrow whistling through the air above him. A fleeting and out-of-place sight for the urbanites walking by.