The honeymoon phase of living in a new city is over when I find myself avoiding the downtown area.
Things get messy in an exciting way downtown, especially if the city has an NHL team that makes the Stanley Cup finals. If there are no sporting events or festivals, there will still be buskers to provide entertainment. Public transportation modes overlap downtown: you can drop off onto a ferry from the communal zip line.
It’s easy to see why tourists congregate downtown. There’s always that one street with all the indie stores and that other one with all the seedy sex shops. Commissioned public art sculptures are found plopped on random corners. Sticking out somewhere in the middle of the skyline is a revolving restaurant with terrible food. If the city isn’t landlocked, there will be several waterside restaurants, and they’ll have names like Beaches or The Fish Exchange. The food will probably also be terrible here. Every city has at least one unusual-looking building.
Montréal has the Olympic stadium which looks like it was initially supposed to be a bridge, but then the engineers abandoned the idea halfway through construction and decided to turn it into a stadium to save face. You can see this building from nearly anywhere in the city.
But the thing that stood out the most about Montréal compared to all other places I’ve lived is how old it is. (In colonialism years.) Victoria, BC is 156 years old. Vancouver is 132. Calgary, 134. Halfmoon Bay is probably younger than my dad.
Montréal is 376!
I know 376 seems absurdly young to the world outside of North America. In these 376 years, Montréal got a few things right:
1. The mastery of the bagel! Before I had my first Montréal bagel from St. Viateur, I wondered how it could be possible for a bread product from a specific city to be so good that it becomes one of the city’s icons. The superiority of Montréal bagels still mystifies me because they truly are sublime. The ones from Fairmount are just as good! I have no allegiance to either bagelry.
2. Old edifices have been altered with modern art. Every year the city hosts a public art festival where new murals pop up, or older ones get swapped. My favourites are Mono Sourcil’s posh cats and dogs in front of a Plateau café, Waxhead’s Van Gogh acid trip landscape around Omnivore restaurant, Benny Wilding’s mishmash of fictional characters, and Seth Malland’s colliding kids on Papineau. There are so many around the city, outside of the main streets, that I have never seen.
3. The bike share program: Bixi. Bixi happens to be North America’s first large-scale bike sharing system and is still among the best. I’ve never needed Bixi, but congestion in Montréal would be worse without it. Bixi has always been a source of mystery for Yann, “I have never seen anybody lift up a Bixi bicycle.” (Yann will pay you to bench press a Bixi bike.)
4. The Jacques Cartier bridge. I realize I once made a post bitching about cycling over this bridge, but it’s admittedly comely from a distance. The lights that were installed in 2017 changes its colour every night. Apparently, the lights can be controlled via Twitter; the Jacques Cartier bridge may be eighty-eight years old, but it’s hip with the times.
5. Free public pools can be found in every borough. You can bathe in other people’s mouth sludge and feel a rogue bandaid shimmy through your toes at no extra cost: it is, like the Twitter-manned bridge lights, paid for by our tax dollars.
6. Montréal is possibly the last cool Canadian city where one can easily rent an apartment for less than $1000.
7. When it comes to climbing, the crags of Val-David aren’t that far away from the city, but to appease Montréal’s climbing community, there are eight climbing/bouldering gyms. I haven’t been to many climbing gyms, but I follow many IFSC athletes on Instagram, and none of their home bouldering gyms seem to be as special as Bloc Shop. Allez Up would have won my vote for Montréal’s best climbing gym if it wasn’t for it being across the Lachine Canal, thus forcing a trip through downtown. For this reason, Zero Gravité is my #1.
8. The cats of Chabot. Chabot is a street that intersects the one on where I live and it’s teeming with felines. I often take this street on my chocolatine runs, and I always count the number of cats I spot on my route and sometimes stop to pet them too.
Last summer Enfoiré and Bubble got to see what they’d look like in an alternate universe where Enfoiré is the thin one and Bubble’s the chonkster.
9. Egg puns in the names of the city’s many breakfast restaurants. I feel like people in Montréal find cooking eggs to be such a challenge that they’d sooner get someone at Eggspectation or Eggcetera or L’Egg-Centrique to take care of their bennies. This cracks me up, and I just can’t get un oeuf! Hohohoho! I am also impressed by how these restaurants have managed to find a loophole in Bill 101 which dictates that French must be the primary language displayed anywhere in Québec.
10. The delight that is the Orange Julep orb. Yes, it is supposed to be a giant orange, but I like to pretend it doubles as a tiny sun.
11. René Lévesque Park is a graveyard for all the rejected public sculptures located on a jetty. My favourite sculpture is Le Dejeuner sur L’herbe because of the paradoxical dog as real dogs aren’t even allowed in the park!
12. The most surprising thing about Montréal is the absence of raccoons. Yes, I have made it through four years in Montréal without seeing a single raccoon. On garbage day, people place their trash bags on the curb. Blocks after blocks lined with endless bags of steaming garbage, and still no raccoons? Yann insists there are raccoons, but I think he thinks marmots–which I’ve seen–are raccoons. I am reminded of the time I got into an argument with Mélissa about how yams and sweet potatoes were not the same things.
Because I couldn’t list 13 things I loved, I asked Yann what his favourite thing about Montréal was. His answer surprised me: “The first week of spring.”
Here, spring doesn’t start on March 21st. Even if it doesn’t snow on the 21st, there will still be snow on the ground. Springtime in Montréal truly begins when the temperature is in non-negative double digits for a full week, AND there’s no snow in sight.
“The first week of spring is when 5 months worth of garbage is revealed after having gotten caught in-between layers of snow.” I challenged Yann’s answer.
But people in Montréal get so happy about it, and their good attitudes are infectious! The people of this city are at their very best during the first week of spring. There may be garbage everywhere, but at least the people aren’t the garbage.
We are leaving all that behind on the 20th, but these 13 reasons are enough for us to return for a visit.
Smell you next year, Montréal.