What do you get when you combine the romance-inspired energy of Paris and the easy-going nature of Canada? You get a city where fun, food, generosity and affection make you inclined to ask, “Where can I sign up to become a local?”
From the moment you set foot in Montreal, you realise that the people are happy to help with anything you need. The open and friendly nature of the city’s locals is so infectious you begin to wonder whether there’s a rush amongst neighbouring provinces to outdo each other in being courteous.
Montreal is situated on a 50km long and 16km wide island; French explorer Jacques Cartier gave the city its name after climbing the 230m-high mountain in the middle of the island and deciding to call it Mont Royal (Royal Mountain in English).
Cartier claimed the city in the name of God and France as he perched a huge cross on top of the mountain. The original name of the city was Ville Marie, meaning City of Mary, but the name was eventually replaced with Montreal. Mont Royal is still the name of the mountain and is also the name of the most socially popular street towards the east on the plateau beneath it.
Most of the city’s dwellers are bilingual but this predominantly French-speaking area is aptly named the Plateau. With all the trendy cafes and cool bars on hand, one doesn’t need to go far to find entertaining diversions in Montreal. Many French expats live in Le Plateau so there is no shortage of quality boulangeries (bakeries) where you can buy a quality baguette or croissant.
The west side of the island is predominantly English speaking with a mixture of Irish, Scottish and English ancestry and intermarriages with the French are commonplace. When the British occupied Montreal in 1759, they didn’t expel the French and allowed them to live there as subjects of the British Empire. Many in the English-speaking community changed their surnames and it was not uncommon for someone with a last name like O’Brian to change it to Brien instead.
The city comes alive downtown during the summer months. The Jazz Music Festival and the Montreal Grand Prix draw huge crowds, both locals and out of town visitors. The main streets of the city and its many bars come alive with noise and colour. Montreal also has a vibrant arts culture where many of the local designers and artists showcase their talents around town. Just below the city centre is Old Montreal where the cobbled stone streets and old sandstone buildings boast some very attractive cafes and restaurants as a dining option.
Canada is famous for a dish called poutine, which first came about in the late 1950s with varying accounts of its Quebecois (Quebecan) origins. It is comprised of well cooked French fries that have been generously sprinkled with cheese curds, unpasteurized of course. It is then covered with a gravy-like sauce that melts the cheese, warms the fries and creates a heavenly comfort food without rival.
One of the best ways to help you digest your poutine is by going for a walk or riding a bike through the tree-lined streets of Montreal. The locals are very active; when they’re not alone at these most picturesque of social hubs, they’re usually being sociable with family and friends, doing recreational activities, going for bike rides or just going for a run on the many tracks that are available in many of the parks around the city.
And public displays of affection are everywhere; the local parks seem to be a great place to stretch those moments of spontaneous kisses and cuddles into dates, picnics or just quality time spent together.
Montreal is a city that offers the best of all worlds; a city that is definitely worth spending quality time in.