Montreal’s Last Draft Horses

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.

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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.

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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.

Former coachman, Dan Leclair, poses for a portrait at Lucky Luc stables where he used to work in Montreal, Quebec November 28, 2021. In 2020, the city of Montreal banned horse-drawn carriages, putting a halt to the century-old industry in the city. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
Former coachman, Dan Leclair, prepares King for his grooming session at Lucky Luc stables in Montreal, Quebec November 28, 2021. Dan is one of the people residing on the farm responsible for looking after the three remaining horses. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
What remains of the carriage Dan Leclerc used on the job is pictured at Lucky Luc stables in Montreal, Quebec December 4, 2021. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
Dan Leclair is pictured with King, the Belgian draft horse, before his grooming session in Montreal, Quebec November 28, 2021. King occasionally continues to pull carriages during events – mostly weddings due to his coat. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
Dan Leclair prepares to groom King at Lucky Luc stables in Montreal, Quebec Sunday, November 28, 2021. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
Dan Leclair releases King during the horses’ weekend turnout in Montreal, Quebec December 4, 2021. The horses are free to roam on the fenced property for a few hours each day. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
King and Jessie are pictured walking outside at Lucky Luc stables in Montreal, Quebec December 4, 2021. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
Prince, King and Jessie are pictured on their weekend turnout at Lucky Luc stables in Montreal, Quebec 4, 2021. They are the last remnants of the horse-drawn carriage industry in Montreal. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
Prince and Jessie play outside as curious passersby gather to watch from behind their fenced enclosure at Lucky Luc in Montreal, Quebec December 4, 2021. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
A family stops by to watch the horses at Lucky Luc stables in Montreal, Quebec December 4, 2021. King, Jessie and Prince often get their picture taken by passersby during their turnouts. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
Dan Leclerc carries a bridle he made with old carriage harnesses in Montreal, Quebec December 4, 2021. Every once in a while, Dan likes to ride on the stable’s property. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
Former coachman Dan Leclair prepares for archery practice in Montreal, Quebec December 4, 2021. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
Dan Leclair takes a moment of respite while ridding Prince during his archery practice in Montreal, Quebec December 4, 2021. Leclair has a keen interest in the sport’s history. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
Dan Leclair demonstrates his practice of archery at Lucky Luc stables in Montreal, Quebec December 4, 2021. Leclair handcrafted his bow and arrow and regularly practices on horseback. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
Dan Leclair recuperates his arrow after shooting at a target he painted on a boarded-up window of an abandoned building at Lucky Luc stables in Montreal, Quebec December 4, 2021. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
Prince and Jessie watch former coachman Dan Leclair as he carries his bow and arrow in Montreal, Quebec December 4, 2021. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
King rests in his stall at Lucky Luc stables in Montreal, Quebec November 28, 2021. King is one of the last remaining draft horses used in the horse-drawn carriage industry in Montreal. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia
Dan Leclair is pictured wearing his coachman hat along with his Great Dane, Rolf, at his residence at Lucky Luc stables in Montreal, Quebec November 28, 2021. Leclair named his 14-year-old dog after a stallion he rode in his twenties. Lea Beaulieu-Kratchanov/Concordia