The bike messengers hauling cargo through four seasons of Montreal traffic

On messengers and couriers, niche punk cultures, and rider-run & bicycle-powered cooperatives bucking trends in late-stage capitalism.

Owen Fairbairn

Owen Fairbairn

December 4, 2023- Read time: 6 min
The bike messengers hauling cargo through four seasons of Montreal trafficPhotograph: Lynn Finch

You may have seen them around, the kit’ed out bike punks on cargo bikes with boxes piled above their heads, weaving through traffic and unfazed by jams through snow and ice. They don’t wait at red lights or follow the direction of one-way streets. They’re much more efficient than car delivery across long distances, and it’s the most environmentally friendly way to deliver anything.

Montreal’s home to every niche subculture you could think of—one of which is bike messengers, and it’s a major centre of the international scene.


It’s hotly contended, but lots of people will tell you messengers began in New York in the 1980’s. At this time, the New York messenger community was mostly POC, especially people of Caribbean descent who worked downtown and rode track bikes because of their simplicity, sleek aesthetic and lack of brakes.

This may or may not be the start of the messenger culture, but the 1980’s is when DIY bike enthusiasts started making a living off biking legal documents around downtown cores on commission. It was possible to make a pretty decent living if you were fast and gutsy. In time, messengers began holding big community events, mostly illegal races designed make use of the messenger’s professional skillset through open courses.

They use ‘manifests’ of locations across town, and it’s up to the rider to choose the most efficient route. Think of it like an urban treasure hunt, but with hundreds of cyclists taking over the streets.

These events are called alley cats, and people in the scene travel all over the world to compete and make new connections. The Cycle Messengers World Championships had its first event in Berlin in 1993, and every year since then it happens in a different city. This year, they were held in Yokohama, Japan. Montreal hosted them in 2017.

Photograph: Lynn Finch


Cities have their own messenger events, and Montreal hosts a gruelling alley cat called La Course des Morts that’s held annually the week of Halloween to commemorate messengers who have died. There’s also Beat the Main, held every summer and bringing messengers from all over to Montreal for a weekend relay race from the Old Port up Saint Laurent Boulevard through rush hour traffic to the far northern end of the street in the quickest time possible.

Here in Montreal, some messenger still bike legal documents between corporate law offices for a handful of downtown courier companies like QMS. More of them do gig work for food delivery platforms like Uber Eats, but a niche has been carved out by the locally grown bike courier cooperative Chasseurs Courier.

As their website states, they'll carry anything, whether it's "poutine, important documents, or last-minute flowers."


Around for over a decade, Chasseurs Courier has managed to remain completely independent. Started by bar tips and countless volunteer hours by a handful of messengers who grew tired of the poor working conditions and the exploitative pay from working downtown, they started with in-house deliveries for a couple restaurants and barely made a profit. Over time, they’ve grown to a 30-person business.

As an industry, courier services have long passed its glory days of the 80’s and 90’s. There’s not much money left in downtown paper routes, and tech-driven gig economies have made relying on food delivery too precarious for small cooperative businesses—that’s why there’s a mural in the basement of Chasseurs’ office with tombstones bearing names of all the now-defunct online platforms that have come through town.

Photograph: Lynn Finch
We’ll move anything legal up to the size of a large sofa.


The pandemic’s arrival brought big industry changes with it, but also opportunities: During that brief time, we lauded essential service workers as people became aware of how important they are to the basic functioning of society. Many local restaurants and artisans struggled for survival as we quarantined in our homes and spending habits changed.

Everything was delivered, and more people wanted to support local businesses to avoid losing them, so Chasseurs Courrier stopped relying on big tech platforms, moved away from mostly delivering food, and started delivering for all kinds of local businesses alongside other large cargo across town.

What used to be sling bags in the 80’s and 90’s and big bags filled with restaurant orders is now cargo bikes and whatever else can fit in your bag. The amount of stuff a skilled rider can fit on a cargo bike’s impressive, as is the efficiency they can move it across town in the worst weather and traffic conditions.

When asked about the limits a Chasseurs Courrier messenger can move?

“We’ll move anything legal up to the size of a large sofa,” they said.

Photograph: Lynn Finch


It may seem strange to hire a cyclist to move cargo in a city filled with cars until you’ve seen how messengers ride and move through traffic all year round, and they do sustainably.

Chasseurs Courrier refuses to switch to e-cargo bikes because of environmental concerns regarding their lithium batteries. Messenger culture also emphasizes DIY practices, and messengers are constantly repairing their own bikes, running them and their components into the ground, limiting waste in the process.

As there’s also so much lacking in big soulless companies like Uber, extracting value in our late-stage gig economy by treating employment as something faceless, transactional, and their contractors as entirely replaceable. On the flip side, there are worker-run cooperatives are communities of people who genuinely care about the project they are a part of.

All workers share stake in the business, they want it to succeed, have a say in how the co-op is run through regular meetings, and are encouraged to help with administrative tasks. Everyone is paid the same and no one has more authority than anyone else. The company wouldn’t be here today if not for countless volunteer hours and sacrifices made by workers throughout the years.

Photograph: Lynn Finch
In many ways, cooperative businesses with a strong community culture are the antithesis of the profoundly isolating, late-stage/pre-apocalyptic consumer culture we all live in.


Chasseurs Courrier is particularly community-oriented. They prioritize hiring people who are nice to have around, and have something special to offer the community they have built. At least a dozen bands in local punk and indie music scenes have been formed by members of the co-op. Many members organize together politically. They’re some of the main forces behind larger messenger community events like alley cats and fundraisers.

And Chasseurs Courrier has a reputation here in Montreal: While delivery people oftentimes are paid barely enough to survive, couriers at Chasseurs all belong to a vibrant subculture and are dedicated to the work they do.

In many ways, cooperative businesses with a strong community culture are the antithesis of the profoundly isolating, late-stage/pre-apocalyptic consumer culture we all live in.

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