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Montreal, Quebec

By Cherilynn Lucas

Toronto: impersonalized by the CN Tower and fueled by corporate America. Vancouver: assimilated into the Pacific Coast, its atmosphere resembling that of San Francisco or Seattle. Mais Montreal? The small Quebecois city on the St. Lawrence River? Quite simply, Montreal exudes culture.
Genuine diversity manifests itself in this island city, which is a cheap Greyhound ride from New York or Boston. Stroll down the streets of Old Montreal in the morning and dodge stocky, mustached pastry owners hosing down the cobblestone sidewalk.      

Watch street life come alive among pierced punks and prostitutes at the lively corner of Rue St. Catherine and Boulevard St. Laurent. Order a shish taouk sandwich at one of Montreal’s delicious eateries, your mouth watering for extra garlic sauce on the side. An attempt at “Je voudrais” may transform into an awkward delay, but the Lebanese chef, smiling widely, speaks to you in English…with a French accent, of course.

Heading toward the Musee des Beaux-Arts and grandiosity of Golden Square Mile on Rue Sherbrooke, you pass the lush green campus of prestigious English-speaking McGill University, where the students—who are African, Asian, French, American, Indian, and Middle Eastern—hurry past you, descending into the “souterrain” to catch the Metro.

Walking onto Boulevard St. Laurent—“The Main”—you become part of the pulse of the city. Shop owners and locals are nice. Very nice. Most are natives, born and raised in the Plateau or Mont-Royal, the two neighborhoods rivaling New York’s East Village or San Francisco’s Haight for the award for perpetual funkiness.

tep into the Fidel boutique and purchase something purely Montrealais. Buy one-of-a-kind Triple Five Soul dresses or the sleekly styled designs of Kitchen Orange at Aritmetik. Or wait in line to buy the ultimate Montreal meal: a smoked meat sandwich, fries and a pickle at family-owned Schwartz Deli.

As the sun sets, get ready: You are about the witness the most vibrant and attractive after-hours crowd in North America. Check out Laika, Tokyo, or Jingxi, with futuristically decorated venues mimicking Stanley Kubrick’s Korova Milk Bar or his “2001” space station. Mingle with Anglo-French students in the multi-storied Bar St. Sulpice on trendy Boulevard St. Denis. And when the mob spills onto the streets at 3 a.m., head to Sona or Stereo and groove to local DJs Maus and Lafleche or international guests blasting tech-house, jungle, electro, or hip-hop.

And that’s just on a weeknight. If it’s the weekend, join the massive drum circle of “Tam Tams” at Parc Jeanne-Mance. If it’s July, hit the free outdoor stages of the International Jazz Festival or Just for Laughs comedy shows.

The choices are endless…and all appealing. The culture of Montreal is beyond rich and diverse. Almost tangible, its authenticity and uniqueness stick to you, always reminding you of the things you’re missing long after you’ve departed.

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