Montreal

  • Montreal is an island. It is the 37th most populous island in the world
  • Montreal is the 2nd largest city in Canada
  • Montreal Island also has the largest population of any island in the world on fresh water
  • Population of approx. 1,7 millions
  • French is the city’s official language and is also the language spoken at home by 56.9% of the population in the city of Montreal proper, followed by English at 18.6% and 19.8% other languages. It is also the 2nd primarily French-speaking city in the world after Paris
  • Today it remains an important centre of commerce, aerospace, finance, pharmaceuticals, technology, design, culture, tourism, film and world affairs

I went to the History of Montreal Museum and I thought this was the perfect time to write about my city. When I left last year, we were in the midst of a student strike that rapidly became a social crisis. We were hundreds of thousands of people protesting against the corrupted government. I can see your puzzled face. Yes, corruption in CANADA. Corruption exists everywhere in the world including Canada. It was the biggest protest of our relatively new country. I was very proud to be part of the movement. We fought for what we believed; and more importantly, we never gave up and the government got defeated. However, for this blog, I’ve decided to talk to you about Montreal, the way I see my city. Appropriating my life as a second-generation immigrant. First born in the land of the Maple Leaf.

I grew up in Little Italy. It is home to many Italians shops, restaurants, coffee shop, and Jean-Talon’s farmer’s market. My oldest memories are from playing outside for endless hours on summer days. We had a park right in front of our house. We would hike the school roof (hope my mom is not reading this). Every year, there was a festival and the song Lasciatemi Cantare came on. It’s the only Italian song I can sing. Those days, our family lived a few blocks away. Living in the city was great for us; discovering new things, exploring the city, taking the bus to the local swimming pool, everything was nearby. Once, this pervert showed my cousin and I, his penis, we were 8 yrs old. We giggled and ran back home. It was nothing dramatic, just life in a city. In winter, we would throw snowballs at cars. My father managed to build us an ice rink so I could practice my figure skating moves while my brother played hockey. Practice I did, I sucked big time. I hated it, yet I did it for six years.

We then moved to Petite-Patrie, just few blocks east. My half-brother and my uncle moved in with us. They use to send me to the Dépanneur (corner shop) to buy chocolate bars. As far as I can remember, our house was always welcoming family member that had just recently immigrated to Canada. Perhaps, that’s why I got used to having a full house all the time. I even shared my bedroom with my godmother at one point.

This is where I live now. I came back as I had fond memories of this neighborhood. It has changed a lot since my childhood. It’s become a popular area. There are lots of families living here. Coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants, and parks surround the area. I love the fact, that there is a mainstream cinema located less than 10 minutes walk from my house. I don’t need a car as I use my BMW (bus, metro, walk) and my bike in the summer. The Bixi, a bicycle sharing system was developed here. Basically, you pay the yearly fee (80$) and they give you a key that you can use to unlock the bike. The stations are spread all over the city and the first 45 min are free, next hours at a minimal fee. Logic behind it is that you can normally go anywhere in the city within 45 min. You then drop it off at any stations. Some people think why pay 80$ when you can buy your own bike. True, but this prevents your bike being robbed. Which happens quite a lot here. Also, the weather changes often in Montreal so when I go to work in the morning (that’s when I have a job), who knows what the temperature will be like when I get out at 5pm. I can then take the metro instead of leaving my bike at work overnight. When I have friends visit me, I can grab my own bike and get them a Bixi. Works perfectly!

I am proud of our transportation system. It’s not perfect, but it’s very efficient. I know people like to complain, but after traveling the world. I can confirm that we should be proud. Our metro is small and old, but it runs quietly on rubber tires. It has 68 stations and hopefully, the city will get a move on and built some more stations. It’s well needed. For now, new wagons will appear next year. A contest was organized by la Societé de Transport de Montréal and over 30 000 people voted for their favorite one. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6Ldai0ejZ4

What else to say about my city? The St-Lawrence Boulevard divides Montreal. Every thing East is French speaking and the west is English speaking. We use to joke with my father about moving out of the Island as he kept going more East at every move. I lived in the suburbs during my teenage years. I hated it. We lived in the East-end of the island, a very French Canadian suburb. I remember my New Zealander friend once took the bus and ask something to the bus driver. She was amazed that he didn’t speak English at all. It would take us ages to go clubbing downtown and we always had to have a designated driver. Living in the suburbs had its advantages like having swimming pools in our backyard so we did have things to do still. But still, as soon as I was 21, I moved closer to the metro and then closer and closer to the center.

Growing up in Montreal, it was normal for us to switch from one language to another. Most of us are bilingual sometimes 3 or 4 languages are spoken. It was and still is part of our reality. I use to love listening to conversations in the metro. I lived in the first stop of the green line where you could hear mostly French, and then slowly as people are getting off and new people getting in, you could then listen English conversations. It always amazes me how if you are with a group of people and only one person speaks English, everyone will switch to English. I remember working in an English environment. It was a first for me, as except a 2 months stint in the English side, I’ve always preferred to live in the French part. This is where my friends are and where i know my way around.

I read an article recently that made me realized that the beauty of living in Montreal was not the fact that it was multicultural, many cities are, but that it was a city where two major languages were spoken: French and English. That’s what made Montreal special.

I once had a conversation with a work colleague who grew up in the English part and it was like we had lived in totally different cities. How could that be possible? She had never watch a Québécois movie nor knew of any French songs. Quebecois movies often represent Canada at the Oscar. These last three years: Monsieur Lazhar, Incendie and Rebelle, not to mention 24 years old Xavier Dolan’s movies: j’ai tué ma mère, les Amours imaginaires, Laurence Anyways. How about Arcade Fire, Moist, Sam Roberts, Bran Van 3000, Plants and Animals among others.

Since I came back, I was trying to figure out what was different from Sofia. The obvious is the diversity. When I take the bus or metro here, everyone seems to be coming from different parts of the world. I was in the bus going towards the Olympic Stadium. In front of me were an Asian guy, a Hispanic girl, an African guy and a lady from Eastern Europe. Both ladies were talking on the phone. The Latina girl was switching from Spanish to French and the other one, I couldn’t figure out what language she was speaking, but it wasn’t Bulgarian, Russian or Romanian.

Then I realized it was that each neighborhood has a story to tell. Little Italy, Little Maghreb, Petite-Patrie, Le Plateau Mont-Royal (French artists), Portuguese quarters, Outremont (rich French), NDG (Eastern Europeans), Miles-End (English artists), Montréal-Nord (Haitians and Hispanics), St-Leonard (Italians), Gay Village, Chinese town, Old Montreal, Westmount (rich English) and yet despite all these different quarters, people mixed quite well here. The other day, I was going to the cinema with my mom as I was driving there, we saw many Hassidic Jews who predominately live in Mile-End. You then drive to Park-Extension and feel like you’re in India, Sri Lanka or Pakistan and so on.

I also like the fact that Quebec has 4 different seasons. Winter, winter, winter and almost winter. Just kidding. We do have a lot of beautiful blue skies although in winter, it’s always a sign of freezing weather, well above the minus 20. I like change. Perhaps, my environment has something to do with this fact. I could never live in a country where there was only two seasons. I like winter as much as summer. Montreal is known for its summer festivals.

So feel free to come visit me in Montreal, I will gladly give you a city tour. I often take my couchsurfers around making sure they’ve eating: poutine, bagels, crêpes, baguette, Schwartz’s smoked meat. Interesting fact, all the street signs are in French, which includes the stop sign known as «arrêt» here. Also Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is called Poulet frit Kentucky (PFK). Staples is Bureau en gros. Mc Donalds is Mc Donalds, same as Walmart.

According to Lonely Planet, Montreal figured in 2nd place as the happiest place to live in the World. Not bad at all. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vanuatu/travel-tips-and-articles/54565

I have travelled the world, been too many places and Montreal will always be my home. Even when I live abroad temporarily, I know that I will always come back. So what are you waiting for? Hop on the plane, bus, train and come visit.

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