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The time a stretch of Quebec highway was turned into a pigpen

Put a bunch of pigs on the highway? Yeah, that will draw in the media.

Pork producers used hogs to block road as they sought to draw attention to their plight in 1998

In 1998, Quebec pig farmers staged a demonstration to get the government's attention on the price of pork. 1:51

Put a bunch of pigs on the highway? Yeah, that will draw in the media.

That was clearly the thinking when Quebec pork producers had their animals roaming the road near Drummondville, Que., tying up traffic on the province's main highway between its two biggest cities.

"These Quebec pig farmers brought new meaning to the word road hog," reporter Ron Charles said, when explaining the situation on The National on Sept. 18, 1998.

"They herded their pigs onto Quebec's busiest highway in a bid, they say, to save their bacon."

The Globe and Mail reported that some 250 pig farmers were taking part in the protest on that first day, along with 150 of their animals.

The lowest prices in decades

The protest in September 1998 saw a group of Quebec pig farmers let their pigs roam the road on a stretch of highway near Drummond, Que. (The National/CBC Archives)

Pork producers were then dealing with prices for their product that had hit a 30-year low. And they were seeking help from the provincial government.

From what they told the media about the math they were facing, it was not hard to see why they were upset.

"This week, we got 47 cents a pound for the meat we sold and it cost about 90 cents a pound to make," said Madeline Hayeur of the Quebec Federation of Pork Producers.

The situation was so dire that some farmers feared going bankrupt.

A problem outside Quebec, too

The protest caused traffic tie-ups along the highway that connected the big cities of Montreal and Quebec City. (The National/CBC Archives)

But the problem with the low pork prices wasn't restricted to the province of Quebec, which also made it harder for those farmers to profit from their product.

"Quebec's pig farmers aren't alone in feeling penned in by falling prices for their animals," Charles told viewers, again serving up a pig pun. "There's a glut of pork hurting farmers around the world."

The Quebec government was paying attention to the situation, but Guy Julien, the provincial agriculture minister, said he wouldn't talk to the protesting farmers until they cleared the highway.

It was tough luck for the minister and for drivers, though, as the farmers had plans to truck in feed for their pigs over the coming days.

They would stay there until the police were brought in to help end the protest a few days later.

Police versus pigs

Four days after it started, the pig farmers' protest came to an end. 2:06

"It was a surreal scene on what is normally Quebec's busiest highway — over 100 cops in a showdown with over 100 sows," said Christina Lawand, reporting on the fifth day of the protest on CBC Montreal's Newswatch.

Newswatch viewers saw images of police officers trying to get pigs and the protesters to move on.

While the farmers backed off, Lawand said "it was up to the riot squad to take down the living, squealing blockade, one sow at a time."

The farmers continued to press their point about the fall in prices and what they thought the provincial government should do about it.

"Quebec pig farmers want the government to help them ride out the market swing and prop up their depleted insurance fund," Lawand told viewers.

The two sides would end up talking and by October, the provincial government had made an offer to the farmers.

The Montreal Gazette reported the Quebec government agreed to provide up to $30 million to help farmers hurt by the fall in pork prices.