So you're thinking of doing it – of packing up, moving hearth and home, and starting afresh in a new city. It’s just so hard to decide which one. I can help you with that. Here's why Montreal is a winner:
#1. The most European city in North America
Montreal is a little bubble, culturally distinct from the rest of Canada. Here, a more European joie de vivre attitude prevails. So if your only goal in life is to move up, up, up the corporate ladder, move to Toronto (or perhaps a desert island) and not Montreal. Here there is a sense that people work to live, and not the other way around. This allows residents to pursue other hobbies like eating good food, walking everywhere, making love, looking good and forming indie bands. Add the Paris-like backdrop of Old Montreal, the charming Victorian mansions of the East End and all the wise 'ol trees and you have something truly picturesque.
#2. Most affordable real estate, most affordable life
Real estate prices in Montreal are half those in Ottawa, Vancouver or Toronto, and a third of those in New York. For a price that in any other city would mean you'd be sleeping on a loft bed over your kitchen sink, you can live in some of the nicest apartments in Montreal. And we're not talking tacky high-rises flashing their shiny glass facades at us all day long like a toothpaste commercial. Instead, we favour loft or small-scale condo developments that integrate into the neighbourhood. And these prices aren't deceptively low: it’s the standard for things all over the city. That's why you can go out for a night on the town---note: Montreal weekend starts Thursday---and not break the bank.
Montrealers, in addition to being worldly and classy, have ADD and need constant perpetual nonstop diversions! This is why the city hosts 40+ annual festivals. Take the International Jazz Fest, for example: it's summer, the streets are cordoned off for pedestrians, you wander from stage to stage, nurse a beer and say oh-shit-look-it's-Stevie-Wonder. Francofolies, Just for Laughs and Gay Pride come next. There's also straight pride aka Formula 1 racing aka half naked women and shiny cars everywhere. Other notable events include the Fantasia Film Festival, African nights, Igloofest where we drink spiced wine and stomp the cold away to electro-pop, Beerfest, Bikefest, Osheaga, Comic-con, Nuit Blanche, Hangoverfest (brought on by all the others) and more, more more. You won’t have time to go to work because you’ll be so busy getting your culture.
#4. People will think you're risqué
Some people's preconceived notions about Montreal are hilarious. "Oh!" they will say, "the separatists!" or "the land of the evil anarchist hippie protestors!" or they'll lean in and solemnly nod: "the French place." Montreal intimidates some people, because they have the impression that it is a completely different world, where people speak a completely different language (duh), therefore rendering them mysterious and taboo and maybe a bit erratic and dangerous. The other half of people that hear you're living in Montreal will think you're totally rad. Just explain to the non-believers how many friends of yours have visited you in Montreal only to subsequently move there themselves (I’m up to at least 10). They'll shut up.
It's been mentioned, but deserves a category of its own. Come to Montreal and the world is your culinary oyster. Or pizza. Or tuna wrap or whatever. Here, you can eat well on any budget: should the vegetables at one grocer's be too pricey, you'll find cheaper just down the street. Many times they'll even be local or organic or both. Wander around Chinatown for a day, snacking on coconut buns and drinking bubble tea. A hearty (read: greasy) diner breakfast can be yours for under ten bucks, including free coffee refills. Little Italy will put you in a food coma, so don't overeat. Cafes, bakeries, and small eateries are all charming, affordably priced, and at every corner. Sampling culinary delights from the world around can be your new, convenient and affordable hobby!
Once upon a time, during the Stanley Cup Finals, I decided to go shopping. Montreal was playing Boston. By the time I showed up at my friend's place to catch the end, I already knew the score. This is because every time we scored, the whole downtown core shook as people erupted in applause. Every time Boston scored, the buildings downtown sank a little under the weight of collective sighs. It's called Habs fever, and every Montrealer gets it. Symptoms include wearing hockey jerseys, waving Habs flags, excessive screaming, and feeling weirdly bonded to everyone, everywhere. You think it doesn't affect you until you find yourself at a friend's house, clutching a beer and yelling profanities at the television. GO HABS GO!
#7. McGill University
(Hahahaha! Just kidding! You think we like that influx of fratty American students?)
Ahem. #7. There's a place for you
We're not saying you're not original. That anyone else embodies the same eclectic mix of tastes, passions, and pursuits as you do. But you'll definitely find more rapport in this city: whether you're straight, gay, punk, preppy, hipster, into indie music, into classical music, into anything, really, there are people here who share the same interests, have similar backgrounds, and who want to be friends with you. Yes, you! Some big cities can be intimidating, but the laid back our-national-sport-is-hanging-out Montreal attitude gives people time to meet each other. Around town you'll find Little Italy, Chinatown, Little Portugal, the Jewish community, and more. There's truly a place, and a crowd, for everyone. Okay, okay so I guess there's even a place for those McGill students…
#8. Local local local
Here in Montreal, we take the "buy local" movement to a whole new level. You can eat local food. You can support local businesses. You can listen to local bands. You can be so locally minded that you'll never feel the need to go anywhere ever again. Shop at the Atwater and Jean Talon farmers' markets. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is extremely popular, where people get bi-monthly deliveries of organic seasonal produce from small-scale Quebecois farmers. Montreal-based stores and designers are at your fingertips. You can support local bands at your local bar. Tired of hearing the word local? Write a zine about it to sell at Expozine, Montreal's small press and craft fair, the largest of its kind in North America, where you can support local authors and artists.
#9. Everyone who moves to Montreal gets a free BMW
Traffic blows. It's just one of those things. You inch along with the engine on, stinking up the atmosphere and generally sucking in every way (did you carpool? didn't think so). Montreal is an island, and islands have a finite amount of space. This is why, upon relocation to our grand metropolis, every new resident is given a complimentary BMW: Bus Metro Walk. Here your local grocer's, bar, diner, bank, etc. are within walking distance of your house. Take the bus or metro to work and spend the entire ride playing inane games on your phone to avoid eye contact. Too awkward? Hop on a bike. Cyclists are allowed to take up a full lane, whizzing by the cars. There are even bike stations every few blocks where you can rent what you need to get you where you’re going. It's eco-friendly, its hip, --and damn! those thighs!
#10. Green space
It might be hard to remember in February, when you're digging your car out of the snowbank and cursing the day somebody decided to build the best city in the world in the north, but Montreal boasts an impressive amount of green space. Too impatient for summer, Montrealers are notorious for stripping off the layers as soon as temperatures hit the double digits. Every Sunday, people swarm to Mont Royal Park for Tam Tams, a jam/hangout session organized by no one and everyone. Park Lafontaine on the Plateau has a pond, tennis courts, and rolling hills adorned in picnicking folk. Bike paths meander along the waterfront. Go to Parc Jean Drapeau, a tiny island off the island, for Piknik Electronik, a daytime electro dance party among the trees. Or just hang out on your front lawn, because, if you move to Montreal, there's a good chance you'll have one.
So remember, Montreal is an island. You can come to visit and just tell your friends that the bridges all fell into the river so you can’t leave. Bienvenue chez vous!