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12 things about Montreal that will never change

No matter what happens, these are the 12 things about Montreal we know will never change.

By Dave Jux
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One of the enduring qualities of Montreal is, well, how it endures. It is an eternal kind of place, old and stubborn and set in its ways, like that older relative of yours who insists on two spaces after a period (or that other older relative who insists that lizard people control the world’s economy). While it’s true that COVID-19 has changed the way we live our day-to-day lives, at least for now, one can’t help but think it’ll take more than a pandemic to change Montreal and the things about this fine place that will invariably outlast anything short of the literal apocalypse.

  1. Construction

Montreal Construction

Photograph: William Topa

If there’s one thing that (unfortunately) defines Montreal to people who live here, it’s the neverending construction around the city. Buckminster Fuller, in describing the pointlessness of most jobs, decried “inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors.” If he were alive today, one suspects Bucky would be decrying construction crews constructing constructions to be inspected by construction inspectors who themselves construct inspections necessitating further constructions to inspect.

No matter what the season, it’s construction season here. Entire arteries and thoroughfares will get blocked off for days, weeks and months on end with little notice, and driving from Place A to Place B is never smooth — literally or figuratively. At this point, the ubiquitous orange traffic barrel should be the city’s official mascot, and the city’s flag should be six guys in reflective vests smoking cigarettes and looking into a hole.

This city’s going to look great once they’re done building it, but it’s also creeping up on 400 years. You’ve got to figure if they haven’t finished it yet, it ain’t ever getting done.

  1. Bike Theft 

Bikes

Photograph: Markus Spiske

There are two kinds of Montreal cyclists: those who have had a bike stolen and those who haven’t had a bike stolen yet. It’s that “yet” that worries a lot of people, and for good reason: no one likes an eventuality. But here we are.

Bike theft is as much a part of Montreal culture as smoked meat and polyamory. Anyone with a nice ride knows not to lock it up outside overnight, and anyone riding anything remotely nice-looking knows (or should know) to not lock it in the same place over and over so as to indicate a routine. “Approximately 2,000 bicycles are reported stolen every year, but most thefts are not reported,” according to the SVPM, whose Projet Numéro initiative recommends getting your bike engraved and outfitted with an ID document.

  1. That Warm Day

Square Dorchester – Place du Canada et Le 1000 De La Gauchetière

Photograph: © Tourisme Montréal - Marie Deschene

Every year there is a day, usually in March, where the clouds part and the sun gets right up in our collective grill. It’s so unseasonably warm on this day that you have to remove layers so you don’t cook in your clothes. It’s glorious! Everyone is outside, everyone is smiling at each other, everyone is feeling sexy, and silently (or otherwise) everyone is celebrating that spring has finally sprung.

Do not be fooled by this day, it is a trap. Within 48 hours, the temperature will drop and there will be a massive dump of snow and probably some freezing rain, and you will feel dumb and Old Man Winter will point at you and cackle.

  1. That Gross Day

Montreal by Car

Photograph: Geoffrey Chevtchenko / Unsplash

There’s another day, a day when the warm(er) weather has finally set in and everything does finally thaw. That day is also terrible because all of the garbage, cigarette butts, and dog shit that has been hiding in snowbanks is finally free from its deep freeze to make every street in the city look and smell gross. People generally take care of these messes pretty quickly, but for that first day or two? It’s agony.

  1. That Incredible Few Days

Terrasse Place d'Armes

Photograph: Terrasse Place d'Armes

The actual first few spring days are the best days of the year. It is warm, but so warm that you’re sweating; the air is fresh and smells like possibility; and perhaps most importantly everyone wants to have sex with everyone else. This isn’t meant to be funny—the horniness is an observable, tangible thing. Terrasses overflow with both people and pheromones, parks become meet markets (or, rather, more meet market-y than they already generally are), and everyone who spent the winter in the gym basically walks around naked. At this time of year, it’s very obvious that we’re all just wild animals with jobs and credit card debt. 

  1. Tam Tams

Mount Royal Tam-Tams

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Satyanas X.

Whatever your opinion of the Tam-Tams is, the every-Sunday-during-nice-weather drum circle gathering at the base of the George-Étienne Cartier Monument in Parc du Mont-Royal, one thing is for damn sure: it will never go away. Never ever ever. As such, our advice to the haters is to buy some weed and a frisbee and lean into it.

  1. Cyclists Will Always Complain About Drivers

Biking Montreal

Photograph: Roxanne Desgagnés

Cyclists will always complain about drivers here, and with good reason. They’re insane. They don’t share the road, they pass too close, and they almost always forget to do the Dutch Reach when exiting their cars after parking on the street. They have this big metal machine surrounding them and act like they’re the ones who will get hurt if there’s an accident.

  1. Drivers Will Always Complain About Cyclists

Cars

Photograph: Lucas Païta

Drivers will always complain about cyclists, here, and with good reason. They’re insane. They blow through stop signs and red lights and, in so doing, cause accidents with cars and, at times, pedestrians. Not enough of them wear helmets, not enough of them use lights, most of them don’t use turn signals, and a lot of them ride the wrong way down one-way streets. They have very little in the way of protection but still operate as if they won’t get hurt if there’s an accident.

  1. Bagel Loyalty

St-Viateur Bagel

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Michelin F.

A Montrealer who eats bagels—and any self-respecting Montrealer should always be eating bagels, even in their sleep—is expected to declare an allegiance to St-Viateur or Fairmount. A Montrealer who eats bagels is also expected to cast aspersions on what New York City thinks a bagel is.

  1. Smoked Meat Loyalty

Schwartz's

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Randy F.

A Montrealer who eats smoked meat is a Montrealer who is expected to declare an allegiance to a specific sandwich from a specific deli, and defend that choice (and cast aspersions on other choices) at any given moment.

  1. Toronto Tourists Will Always Wonder “Should I Live Here?”

L'International des Feux Loto-Québec
L'International des Feux Loto-Québec
Photograph: Canadian Tourism Commission

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Torontonian visiting Montreal will always have at least one “I want to move here” thought or conversation. Back when the rents here were way cheaper instead of relatively cheap, it was probably closer to two or three — and with good reason. Buying and renting in Toronto is out of step with reality.

  1. Tourists Will Always Say That Dumb “European” Thing

Vieux-Montréal / Old Montreal
Vieux-Montréal / Old Montreal
Photograph: Tourisme Montréal / Madore, Daphné Caron

Tourists will always say that thing about how visiting Montreal is like going to Europe without going to Europe. “There’s just such a European vibe. You know? It’s not as fast-paced and hustle bustle as (enter place I come from here), it’s kind of like a big small town! People are laid back! People just really enjoy life here!” This is fed by the magazines and websites they read, and, of course, the blogs and social media posts they consume (or write) and, to be fair, there’s an iota of truth to this perspective. However, we humbly suggest that to appreciate Montreal in terms of its vague Europeanness, which only exists when contrasted to Toronto, New York, and, like, Tuscaloosa (or wherever) is to miss the point. Montreal is its own thing.

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