/Montreal Mafia, Hells Angels focus of new true crime podcast The Dark North

Montreal Mafia, Hells Angels focus of new true crime podcast The Dark North

By pure coincidence, the origins of contemporary organized crime in Montreal boil down to a period of less than seven weeks in late 1977 and early 1978.

That is when the Hells Angels and the Mafia — the two groups that rule Montreal’s underworld — established themselves in the city. They are the focus of a new Montreal Gazette podcast called The Dark North: Gangs of Montreal, which launches Nov. 4.

On Dec. 5, 1977, the American biker gang the Hells Angels created their first Canadian chapter in Montreal. Why Montreal? A rival American gang called the Outlaws had already set up shop here. So the Hells took over a violent Quebec-based gang called the Popeyes.

Then, on Jan. 22, 1978, Paolo Violi, the man hand-picked to lead the Cotroni crime family into the future, was gunned down in a bar on Jean-Talon St. The hit was orchestrated by Nicolo Rizzuto, a man of Sicilian origin who had chafed for years at taking orders from the Calabrian Cotronis. The Rizzuto family would lead the Mafia for the next several decades in the city.

Initially the Hells Angels attracted little notice from the police and media. Now the organization is a well-oiled machine so large it can easily replace its leaders when they are placed behind bars. As for the Rizzutos, Nicolo and his son Vito turned the Montreal Mafia into a group that thought internationally instead of seeing itself as branch office of a New York crime family. By the late 1990s, Vito Rizzuto was sometimes referred to by mobsters back in Italy as the boss of the Mafia in Canada.

Our new podcast series traces the development of the Hells Angels and the Mafia over the last 40 years in Montreal. It also touches on the West End Gang and other city street gangs. Episodes will be released on Mondays through January.

Gangs of Montreal is the first in a national Postmedia podcast series called The Dark North, which focuses on crime in different cities across Canada.

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