Canada Travel: First Impressions of Montreal

On the first day it rained.

Forming first impressions of a place being showered upon is challenging. All you can see, smell and feel is the rain. But through the rain and the swish-clunk of the window wipers that swayed in front of me I started to see and learn about Montreal. 

The lamp posts are important here. They define neighbourhoods. Literally. Each area has its own style of lamp post and more often than not they suit that district's purpose or label. Old Town's lamp posts remind me of those I've seen in London, the lamp posts in the Design Quarter are futuristic and striking, those which line the streets of the eclectic suburb of Mile End are visibly different from those found in the younger, busier area of Plateau du Mont Royal. Over the last few days I have sought out and studied lamp posts like never before.

As I look up at the lamp posts I also see strange signs in French that I don't see in France, a country I have visited and explored more than perhaps any other except my own. " Arr ê t " and " Stationnement " are words I understand but aren't used. Instead the French have adopted "Stop" and "Le Parking"... so this is why they say Quebecois is actually more French than French?

And while we're on the subject of language, it baffles me how easily and efficiently Montrealers switch between English and French. I have heard conversations started in English and completed in French, I have heard two Montrealers with heavy French accents speak in English to each other and vice versa. I have heard sentences composed of both languages. This flexibility and integration of two languages that I perceive to be distinctly and sometimes aggressively separate, well, I struggled at first to comprehend it. But now I see it as one of Montreal's defining qualities.

On the second day it was windy.  Again we took a tour in a car and by doing so I began to observe the Montrealers that passed us by. They don't rush, but they aren't idle. They conversate and are lively and animated when doing so. They dress like Europeans - tailored, colourful, different.

I have noticed a lack of car horns and there are moments at traffic lights when green appears and nobody moves for a few seconds. There's not much hurry in this city.

What I've loved and envied is the biking lifestyle that exists here. Thanks to my time in Amsterdam, it's all I want to do to jump on two wheels and join them. It's would have been very possible to do that too thanks to Montreal being the home and pioneer of the Bixi public bicycle systems that now exist across the world. But time and busy schedules has prevented me from peddling with the locals unfortunately. On the third day there was delicious sunshine.

And I began to relax into the city. Shoulders back, camera around my neck and a festival was just beginning. Montreal is the home of festivals or " Spectacles " the more impressive French term for the events that aim to integrate and interact with the public from tango dancing in neighbourhood parks to large scale music festivals like Pop Montreal, which I was attending.

As live music played I formed first impressions of the young, festival-attending Montrealers. They are cool. They have lots of facial hair. They appear unassuming. They laugh together. They wear backpacks. They compliment their city of spectacles well and unlike many of their equivalents in other cities and countries, I found them welcoming.

By the third day I'd eaten many of Montreal's finest and strangest foods. Some I liked, some I didn't, but all were worth trying... On the fourth day I had to leave, so now it's time to explore Quebec City...

And if you'd like some ideas for what to do in this rich and varied city, here's a great itinerary for four days in Montreal, and here are some of the great things to do in Montreal.

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
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