Montreal – the croissants are coming!

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Montreal from Mount Royal

During my recent trip to Canada to the superb Shaw Theatre festival at Niagara, we spent a few days before and after, in the French Canadian province of Quebec and the city of Montreal.
Situated on an Island in the St Lawrence River, Montreal has certainly got an island mentality and is very proud of its unique culture which is predominantly French, even though, as you may know, Canada is an English speaking country. French is the city’s official language and the majority of the Montreal population speak it as their first language. It is, in fact, the largest primarily French speaking city in the world after Paris.

The real deal

However, Montreal officials are known to be a little extreme in their promotion of all things French above, well, anything English really. They don’t like the word ‘school’ (English) and have scrubbed it out even from a stone engraving on a city building. They fined an Italian restaurant for advertising pasta (Italian) on their menu, and not the French equivalent (whatever that is.) They even recently deported a transgressing parrot from the Montreal Biodome for speaking only English to government inspectors despite being immersed in French audio books by her owner to try and persuade her otherwise. All a bit 1984 if you ask me.

No ordinary hot dogs here

French language fanatics aside, Montreal is a charming city. Safe, with fewer social problems than many metropoli, it is a thriving cultural centre and home town of the Cirque du Soleil. It has a cool retro Metro, lots of funky shops cafes and bars downtown and road junctions where cars give way to passengers in a polite and deferential manner. This is a bit difficult to get used to when you come from a country where every junction is a bit like deathrace 2000. There is no road rage here either. Imagine that! When I was there it was the official annual moving day for people coming to the end of their rental contracts. Everyone has to move on the same day (I’m sure there’s a very good reason for this) and if there’s anything you don’t want you just put it out on the street and anyone who takes a fancy to it can have it. We saw a little white dog called Cashew waiting patiently in his master’s car for his moving destination. ‘That is a great dog.’ his owner said ‘He does everything you want a dog to do.’

Where is Cashew moving to?

You can furnish a whole flat this way by up-cycling other people’s unwanted possessions without the bother of going to a car boot sale at the crack of dawn as we do here in England. Bagels are big in Montreal and I had the most amazing blueberry pancakes bacon and maple syrup breakfast there too, delicious!

Breakfast magnifique

We were there on July 1st which is Canada Day when the three provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick became one country. I also got a bit excited by being on the street – St Girouard – where William Shatner (aka Captain Kirk) grew up. As one of Canada’s most famous sons I was surprised that there was no Star Trek tour to celebrate his origins. Maybe that’s not cool in Canada.

Shatner’s Street

Mooching around the eclectic shops of the upscale Notre Dame De Grace neighbourhood, a Montreal resident declared her love of our English accents. ‘It makes me happy to listen to you guys,’ she said. It’s so easy to make someone’s day here.

English accents appreciated here