In the spring of 2014 I received an offer that would change my life forever. I got a phone call from my then manager (shout out Paul): I was to move to Montréal and take a more responsible position within "the firm".
I grew up a very sheltered small town boy from a real small town in a real small place. Accepting that position was the most significant decision I've ever made in my life and changed the trajectory in ways I could not comprehend at the time. But this isn't a post about that, it's a post about what I love about the city.
The restaurant food is incredible
Lots of places have good/fancy restaurants, but what's important to understand about restaurants in Montréal is that any random restaurant is about 30-40% better than something you'd think would be comparable in another city. Reputationless brunch places on a random neighbourhood street corner give a better brunch than I've had in years in Vancouver. The shawarma(shish taouk, IYKYK) is ubiquitous and incredible. Portgugese chicken is so plentiful in good I'd often dreamed about making a blog called the Montréal Port Authority I wouldn't be made if you stole that idea. All the different neighbourhood ice cream places are different and special in their own way.
Rather than hear it from just me, I'd point the curious to check out the Anthony Bourdain episode about Montréal and soak it in - and add all those restaurants to your list. It's a delight to dine out in Montréal.
A special thing about Montréal restaurants is how many of them are BYOB/BYOW. There's a very special place that my friends and I would frequent that would take about 1-2 hours to serve you after ordering, but it was BYOB with two very good beer stores next door. It was always a fantastic dining experience. A great tip is "little India" by metro Acadie; there are a tonne of BYOB/W Indian restaurants all clumped together and you can just wander between them, bottle wine in hand until you find a table at one.
The non-restaurant food culture
Most of Canada groceries are a nightmarish duopoly, which results in worse selection and even worse prices. Montréal has a tonne of fruitéries (small grocery stores) and medium sized independent grocery stores. This means there's lots of great places to get food, and lots of great food to be gotten. This means you're eating fantastic for cheaper at home. It may be a stereotype, but I'd specifically shout out how much awesome cheese is available at a lower cost. Nothing elsewhere I've seen in the Americas is comparable.
I think this is reflected the best in the city at the Jean-Talon market, conveniently accessible from the orange and blue line metros. There's a few big open markets in Montréal, but Jean-Talon is the largest in the city and one of the largest on the continent. There are so many different vendors which so many good products there, it's truly a dream.
This means the dine in/dinner party culture in Montréal is as amazing as its restaurant scene. Maybe there's a little bit of a pre-pandemic bias on the go but I can't ever recall going over to so many friends and colleagues places for so many good meals anywhere else.
The parc culture
There's a mixture of special things that align to make a Montréal park a special place to be on a nice day. Chiefly among them is the fact that you can buy good craft beer at almost any store, and you can drink that beer in a parc. Among other reasons, this means that parc's are vibrant, exciting places full of people playing games, making music, eating good food, and generally enjoying life. Parc's are a big draw in any major urban center, but I've never seen anything compare with the excitement and action in Montréal's. I'll never not look back fondly on days spent in parcs playing pétanque, mölkky, slack lining, bbqing, and singing songs. Laurier, Mont-Royal, Girouard, La Fontaine, Jarry, Beaubien, and Pere marquette all hold so many awesome stories, and would be ones I'd recommend checking out.
Aside from just lounging and picnic-ing, there's so many free and community events going on in these parks all the time in the summer, day and night! Many times we'd be biking by and be drawn in by something on the go. In the winter, lots of the parcs have skating, and hockey rinks setup!
It's awesome to get places
Whether it's good bus coverage, the awesome Metro, the bike infrastructure (and bike culture that surrounds it), it's usually low stress and awesome getting around. It's easy to get anywhere you'd want to go in the urban core. After moving there I became a near-year round bike commuter, with lots of supplementation by Metro and busses even though I owned a car. It was a routine topic of conversation when groups of imports would meet up. "Yeah I BMW, I [Bike|Bus], Metro, and Walk".
Biking is definitely the first class citizen mode of transport, even before all the advances Mayor Plante has made to the bike network. Aside from good bike lanes, the drivers are generally very bike aware compared to other cities in North America and I've never had a scary incident with a car there. It's also possible to get to neighbouring towns, like Terrebonne and Chambly in mostly bike lanes, and they make for very scenic days out. The rental 'bixi' system has so many stations it's mind boggling, London, Toronto, New York and Vancouver can't compare.
Taking the metro would be the second best way to get around, and folks I've had over from New York or Toronto often commented on how good the system ran. People from New York always commented on how clean it was, though I think that's a problem with their calibration.
Good nature isn't far
I spent countless weekends in the Laurentides and Eastern Townships during my time in Montréal, both regions are nearby Montréal and could each have their own series of blog posts. So many good times spent biking, swimming, hiking, camping, canoeing, and paddle boarding in really great nature is just at your finger tips. However doing so would probably make you encounter the worst part of Montréal - the traffic. Being an early bird to beat traffic is a huge advantage
The amount of city events and festivals are just staggering
It feels like there was always something fun and awesome to do in town all the time. There's a lot of free and paid things on the go that were great to go to. Lots of big cities have that, but I think the amount of quality free events that are well managed really set Montréal apart from other cities I've lived in. Going to Igloofest, tam tams, piknik eletronique, greek fest, tour de l'isle, porchfest, nuit blanche, Montréal en lumiere, the different cabane au sucres, Jazzfest, mutek, just for laughs, francos, fringe, and mural festival are all just a few of my favourites. If anyone of them aren't familiar to you, they're worth your time to google.
Outside of city events and festivals, there's a tonne going on inside Montréal venues. Compared to Halifax and Vancouver at least, the city is buzzing with activity. Catching some story telling at the mainline, a live show at la tulipe or metropolis, riding the mechanical bull at chez serge, seeing experimental stuff at cafe resonance or singing karaoke at trois minots are some of my special memories. I think it's also great that the exciting stuff isn't all centered around a single block or neighbourhood
(Special shoutout chez serge where I once saw the bartenders strip a guy, hand cuff him to a pole, and pour water/liquor all over him while spanking him)
The coffee, cafés, and bakeries are excellent
This matters a lot to me, Montréal seems to be a hotbed of third wave coffee roasters and cafés that serve them. I'm a big fan of complex fruity/winey/chocolatey and generally interesting coffee flavours and these are widely available in Montréal. Special shout out to Paquebot, Melk, Pista, Noble are some of my all time favourites.
I hate seeing a stereotype come alive before my eyes, but there are so many quality bakeries for both bread and pasties, it's hard to articulate. It feels like every neighbourhood has multiple great bakers, and a few exceptional ones. Going for a ham and cheese croissant at Automne is a pleasure I hope everyone who visits Montréal has.
Special shoutout for superior bagels as well.
Nowhere is perfect, but Montréal is pretty breathtaking.