Many people find themselves in love-hate relationships with various things in their lives. I’m no exception – CNN, exercise, olives – some things I just can’t quit even if I don’t always enjoy them. I also find myself in this predicament when it comes to the city I am (un)lucky enough to call home. I’m not native to Montreal; I’m actually not even sure where I’m from these days. I was born in British Columbia, grew up in Ontario, spent a big part of my twenties in Newfoundland, lived briefly in South Korea and have been in Montreal for what seems like an eternity.
I didn’t expect to stay here, but after doing my Masters degree, the jobs in my field were plentiful, so it made sense to stick around for awhile. Now eight years later, I’m a home owner, paying exorbitant taxes and ridiculous gas prices and have been in the same job for five years, so perhaps I am staying.
So what’s it like here? Well, for the most part it’s fabulous, and I have nothing to complain about (but I will soon enough…). Montreal is chic and cosmopolitan. There are a plethora of museums, an endless supply of great restaurants, and enough festivals to keep you busy year round. It has some stunning architecture, the Old Port looks straight out of Europe, and the different boroughs look as distinct as they feel.
If its aesthetic beauty and array of activities don’t draw you here, the uniqueness of the culture should. The province of Quebec is French-speaking but move around Montreal and you’ll see that it’s more or less bilingual, with the East being more French and the West being more English. And while one’s French language ability generally doesn’t stop a unilingual Anglophone from going about daily life, the language drama is never far from the surface. The language watchdog group, the office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) tries its best to lay down the law and ensure that the evil, maniacal English language is spoken at a minimum, which can get rather annoying when trivial matters such as signage size and order of greetings are on the menu.
Don’t get me wrong – I get that English language and culture dominate in Canada and across the globe, for that matter, so I’m not against trying to preserve the French language and culture whatsoever. I love languages (I’m a frickin’ linguist!) and actually moved here in part because it was predominantly French. However, I think it’s the mindset some have that French will only flourish at the demise of English that frustrates me to my core.
In my opinion, language plurality should be celebrated from all sides, and what a perfect place where it can. Where else in Canada can you hear people mix English and French in one conversation without even realizing it or where the homeless people can beg you in both languages?
All the drama aside, Montreal IS clearly unique and I know for a fact that if I moved back to cookie-cutter Ontario or almost anywhere else in Canada, I’d be bored to death. Sure I wouldn’t miss the winter weather or traffic jams and most certainly not the Separatist hardliners who want to break from Canada and see me out on my arse, but I would miss a ton of things that only Montreal has. So, I stay. And I love what I love about this place and roll my eyes at the rest. And in a weird way, I think you’re missing out on something pretty incredible if you don’t come here to do the same.