Montreal, Je T'Adore
10 years ago, I went to Montreal for the first time on a whim. I was 20 years old, living in Ottawa and working for the Canadian government when I had just found out that my mother had breast cancer. Right after I received this upsetting news, a French Canadian guy - who I'd only met a few weeks earlier - invited me to hang out with him in Montreal. I was in such an emotional state that I decided to risk it and go spend time with someone I barely knew and have him show me his city.
From that day forward, I fell madly in love with Montreal (not the boy, though - we remained friends and thankfully my mom recovered from cancer shortly after). I have gone back every few years since then, including spending three weeks in a French immersion program, just a few years after my first visit.
When I returned to the city last week with my husband and son, I was reminded why I love Montreal. Here are my ten favourite things - in no particular order - about North America's coolest city.
- Bikes - Montreal was one of the first cities in North America to establish a public bike sharing system with its Bixi bikes. The system was launched on May 12, 2009, and currently has 450 stations around Montreal's central core. The city has embraced bike lanes and bike infrastructure ever since. It's King/de la Commune station, with 110 docking points, is the biggest bike sharing station in North America. You will find people of all ages and backgrounds on bikes…like this guy:
- Street art - Montreal is home to many talented street artists - and it shows, especially around the Plateau/Mont Royal area, which is bursting with colourful, impressive street murals. The city supports these artists through the recently launched MURAL festival. It is a free art festival that aims to celebrate urban art and graffiti painting, sculpture and installations, dance, music, film, and performance. The second edition took place in June on the famous Boulevard Saint-Laurent. Each festival brings new street murals to the neighbourhood. I could write a whole post on Montreal street art (and I probably will).
- Advanced walk signals - In some Montreal intersections, pedestrians actually get to proceed on a green light BEFORE cars! A brilliant show of respect for people and a great way to promote safe walkable cities.
- Babies - I noticed everyone loves babies in Montreal. In Vancouver, people without children tend to avoid eye contact with me/pretend I don't exist. In Montreal, everyone smiles and wants to help you when you have a child- from grandmas to young male hipsters. In all of the restaurants we went to, people never seemed to mind if my son was fussy or needed tending to. One male server even offered to watch him while my husband and I shopped on St.Denis Street. I'm pretty sure he was joking, but he mentioned that he also has children (and he was under 30). Maybe it is because Quebec's fertility rate is higher than the Canadian average, but there appeared to be a lot of young families there.
- Public spaces - Montreal has many fun, creative public spaces - parklets, green laneways, urban forests, public swings, and as I mentioned before, spectacular street art. Here is a shipping container converted into a pleasant seating area:
- Festivals and Culture - I remember when I was staying in Montreal for a French immersion program, it was July and the streets were constantly being closed off for some big party, complete with concerts, fireworks, outdoor movies, fashion shows, drum circles and more - Tam Tam at Mont Royal, The Indy, The Festival du Mode et Design, The Comedy Festival, The Festival du Jazz. Of course at the time I found this amazing, because festivals of this scale were so rare in my hometown of Vancouver. We may finally be catching up, but nobody throws a party like Montreal.
- Whimsy - When I walk around Montreal, I don't see a city of monotonous glass towers. There are little bits of whimsy all around, like purple accents on heritage buildings, a bold red staircase on a rowhome, street trees made of ribbon, amusing murals, and even garbage cans made to look like maple syrup containers. Montrealers definitely have a sense of fun.
- Mid rise buildings/row homes - You can walk down some streets in Montreal and forget you are in a city. I loved getting off the main roads and finding myself on a quiet street surrounded by lush trees and row homes, very much like New York. The city also seems to prefer mid-rise buildings to high-rise towers.
- Bilingualism and Multiculturalism: Montreal is one of the rare cities where people speak two languages - French and English - and that is a beautiful thing. To be able to walk into a store or restaurant and have the option of being served in French, English, or a bit of both, is a treat for me as I continue to work on improving my French skills. The city is also home to many different ethnicities - from Portuguese to Chinese to Italian and Haitian. On my last visit, I loved spending time in Little Portugal on upper St Laurent St, where I bought a lucky Portuguese rooster and ate an enormous roast chicken sandwich and egg tart.
- Style: Many Canadian clothing brands got their start in Montreal, such as Jacob and Le Chateau, and the city is home to several clothing designers and manufacturers. Montrealers have a sense of style that is bold and eclectic. This makes for great shopping (especially around the Mont Royal area) and people watching. As one Montrealer states:
In Montreal, dressing in what makes you feel awesome and sexy, no matter how outlandish, is just a normal part of life. Thinking of cutting off the arms of an old fur coat and wearing them as legwarmers? Great idea! Want to max out the use of your Dracula Halloween costume by rocking a floor-length cape year-round? By all means, please do! You can understand why Cirque du Soleil had to come from Quebec and nowhere else.
Walkable. Bikeable. Hip. Fun. Stylish. Edgy. If I haven't already convinced you of Montreal's effortless cool and fun-loving ways, you should go and see for yourself why it's one of the best cities in the world.