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Hipster Duck

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Apr 25, 2007
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I was in Montreal over the civic weekend. I haven't been in over five years so the city does actually have a somewhat exotic feel to it. Paradoxically, the city felt smaller to me this time around even though individual buildings and the urban vernacular stood out more. For example, I had forgotten how solid some of the rowhouse architecture was but I remember the streets being a little more bustling than what I encountered this time around. Maybe it was the weekend, and maybe it was the weather.


Where are we gonna start? The Main is probably as good as any. If the street would have more buildings like these, it would be a knockout, but there is quite a bit of deadspace on St. Laurent, even in the Plateau. As the somewhat funky scenester shopping arterial, comparisons between St. Laurent and Queen are kind of apt, but my nod would almost certainly go to Queen.


These two-way bike highways are all over the city. As I didn't have the chance to ride a bike in MTL, I can't really comment on their effectiveness but they sure look more prominent than our handful of bike lanes.


On the other hand, I can immediately see how the Montreal parking system is more practical than ours. They don't require a paper record, for one, so you don't have to run back to your car to throw the slip on your dash.


Went up to Mile End, which is probably my favourite slice of Canada. Love that mingling of scenesters, Greek bar owners in tracksuits and Hasidim. Also, where else would you find an old Irish catholic church with a Byzantine dome + minaret?







Park Ave is probably my favourite of the North-South MTL arterials


St. Denis above Sherbrooke used to be one of my faves but there is a certain je ne sais quois about the strip that I don't really like anymore. It's quite magnetic at night, though.


Of course, just off St. Denis are delightful side streets in the Plateau, and who can't love Sq. St. Louis?






Up to Jean Talon market we go. It was pouring we were on St. Hubert, but luckily this glass awning from, like, 1988 kept us dry. This strip is another one of my faves. It reminds me a bit of Jackson Heights Queens, if you've ever been, because it's a somewhat incongruous mix of Indian jewelry shops with bling bling Rocawear and shops that sell household appliances like sewing machines that have a thin layer of dust on them.


And, of course, there's the market.


Did somebody say 'Aubergine'?



The AMT was busy rolling out its new Opus smart card system, and Metro stations were a mix of old turnstiles and shiny new ones.


Westmount square:


Stray shopping carts in the lobby. Mies would have a field day.


You want that quintessential Montreal 'European' experience? Well, the Place Alexis Nihon mall in Westmount was probably the most European-feeling place I've been to in Canada. The combination of mid-market shopping in a vertically-oriented complex that hasn't been updated since 1979 feels distinctly French. Plus they have a McCafe.


Les Ailes is the best adaptive reuse of an old Eaton's. Paging College park.


It's a fake, but it's a good fake:



This unusual art nouveau building has been lovingly restored and it has a swanky modern addition, too:


All right, that was Montreal. Parting shot: the lineup at Schwartz's

Thanks for these great shots of our sister city, which as always looks quite appealing in the warm weather.

I definitely agree with you about St Laurent, although I would argue that due to its status as Montreal's No 2 main street and ethnic identity it is sort of Queen crossed with Bloor. That said, I have always found it underwhelming in comparison to either in terms of the amount of stuff on it, even in the Plateau as you say.

Every time I see photos of or visit Montreal, I thank our lucky stars that Canada has been blessed with such interesting cities as it and out own fair burg. Toronto and Montreal are so similar in many ways, but also have distinct and complementary strengths and feels.

We really do have a great Sydney/Melbourne or Madrid/Barcelona-esque urban tag team going, and I think we are finally starting to recognize that instead of just sniping at each other.
Nice shots. I think "exotic" is a good descriptor for Montreal. People here get upset when Montreal is called "European". Whether it's European or not is one issue, but certainly it's the least North American feeling big city I've been to on this continent. It's got a kind of 3rd world, exotic, Latin feeling. It can be a frustrating place, but thoroughly fascinating at the same time. And, damn, the food is good.
Thanks for posting these. It's always interesting to see our city through an outsider's eyes.

I've been following the discussions around here for a while although I just registered now. I mostly wanted to reply to allabootmatt -- I completely agree with your sentiment, and can only wish more of my fellow Montrealers would let go of their decades old cliches and recognize contemporary Toronto for the diverse and exciting city it is.
I especially agree that we have been blessed in the urban department; you could even throw Vancouver into the mix and say our 3 largest cities all have something unique, yet distinctively Canadian to offer.

As for Montreal feeling European, I'm somewhat tired of this sort of cliche myself. The thing is, it's a very complex thing to judge -- in people's attitude you may very well be right that we're probably the least North American of the big NA cities, but in its urban form I find it's much more nuanced than that; Montreal sprawls in a distinctively NA fashion, whereas Toronto pushes TOD farther than most US metros. Same goes for our mostly lowrise condo and apartment buildings, whereas Toronto mostly seems to me like a giant condo tower vs. detached housing dichotomy uncharacteristic of this continent. But then if you look at the individual buildings and infrastructures, Montreal does seem a fair bit more European (the metro, our ugly and haphazard suburbs, etc.)
It almost feels like Montreal takes European design elements and applies these onto a typical NA development canvas, while Toronto is the exact opposite. The fact that neither city feels like "Boston, CA" but rather a mix of influences is what I referred to as "distinctively Canadian".
Hope that wasn't all rambling...
brad-514, welcome and thanks.

I do feel that to some extent the rivalry between Montreal and Toronto has worn down and that Montrealers have become more open to Toronto's own charms. Certainly, I have had a number of experiences in the last year of Montrealers being very positive about Toronto.

In my mind, Montreal is Montreal and has a uniqueness that is very much all its own, arising from being a largely Francophone metropolis in a largely anglophone continent. When I consider how "European" Montreal feels when I am in Berlin or London, well, it just doesn't. (I've actually had this thought while standing in the middle of a party in Berlin!) I don't mean that as a put-down, I think Montreal is quite its own creature and fabulous at that.
I'd almost say that Montreal is the most American (in a good way) of the Canadian cities. It has the most impressive stock of pre-war commercial architecture and long, interminable rows of triplex housing that remind me most of Philadelphia. It's one of the great Northeast Seaboard cities, albeit with a Francophone twist.
Philadephia is the last of the big Northeast cities I have to visit, but yes, that sounds about right.

With density, but few tall towers outside the financial distruct, public squares and a shift in the focus of the downtown and separated educational, shopping, colonial-era districts defined by a harbour, and an underground downtown freeway that's part of a massive freeway network, it could be describing Boston.

The housing vernacular in Montreal seems to fit closer with Brownstones and the New England and Baltimore variations of rowhouses than Queen Anne houses here. One could go to some Eastern Seaboard cities and see bits of Europe.

Toronto seems to be a hybrid of Eastern Seaboard and Midwest, with a generous helping of Moscow.
Montreal: Perhaps the most European of North American cities!

HD: Good pics of Montreal-always good to see. Even though I have not been there in more than 20 years some things do not change.
That last pic of Schwartz's Deli brings back memories of those Montreal-style smoked beef sandwiches-and the thought itself is making me hungry!
^those are some very good points. I've actually made both those points before while discussing this with friends and acquaintances -- that Montreal feels more American than either TO or Vancouver, and that it's sort of a mix of Boston and Philly. Every time I got looked at like I'd just said the Pope was a woman, so it's good to know people who actually know a thing or two about cities think the same!

The differences between Montreal's and Toronto's housing stock are actually what drew me to this board about a year ago. The girl and I were planning a move to TO and I was trying to get a sense of what areas might be worth checking out to find the kind of experience we like and are looking for (Snowdon, NDG, CdN in Montreal terms). A 3-day visit quickly revealed just what you guys pointed out -- Toronto is not as big on rowhouses and 3-5 storeys apartment blocks, so we'll have to shift our expectations a bit. Which is ok, it's part of the fun of moving -- we ended up delaying things, but recently revived our project.
I'd almost say that Montreal is the most American (in a good way) of the Canadian cities.

Yeah, I was strolling through downtown and old Montreal and there are definitely shades of Soho and other parts of Manhattan abound. But the attitude of the people, the terraces, the narrow streets lined with lowrise apartments, and certainly parts of old Montreal are very European... like a second tier European city, not London or Paris. The Arab presence in a French environment makes me think of Marseille or Brussels. So I do think the "combination or New York and Europe" description is a good one. Others will disagree.

As an aside, I found my favourite intersection in the city last night... Ste Helene and des Recollets. Wow, beautiful old Loft buildings, densely packed, oozing with character. Stunning. My camera phone doesn't do it justice, but you get the idea.


Some other pics of the area:


Well with all respect to brad (welcome!), I have thought of Montreal as at least somewhat "European" every time I have gone there. A major reason, I think, is the architecture. Ganjavih's pictures above could almost be in Paris, or a number of other European cities. These scenes definitely don't feel like anywhere in Toronto, no not even Front Street East. Montreal is 200 years older than Toronto, and it continues to show.

I agree that the rivalry between Montreal and Toronto which was so evident 15 or 20 years ago seems to have pretty much died down, at least in Toronto. I don't really know enough people in Mtl. to comment from their point of view, but I suspect it's true there also. Some of that rivalry was actually more like nervousness and resentment tracing back to the political situation in Quebec, which obviously has stabilized in recent years.

And I think perhaps some of it had to do with the fact that Toronto was doing so much better economically than Montreal, for several years. I remember how shockingly shabby Ste. Catherine, almost right downtown, looked in the mid 90s. The recession of the early to mid 90s hit Toronto as well, of course, but not to that extent. Now that Montreal is again doing reasonably well economically, would it be fair to say that maybe resentments in Montreal of big bad well-to-do Toronto may have cooled off? In return maybe some in Toronto are more willing to look favourably on Motreal as a great city, as opposed to that uneasiness that I mentioned before. There is perhaps more of a recognition that the cities are "peers" instead of "rivals".

As I write this I wonder if any of it makes much sense, but they are feelings I have had, in visiting Montreal and in talking to some people there and comparing attitudes to those in Toronto.

Thank you for the good photographs!
Love the photos, Montreal is a classic.
I find Montreal actually feels like Toronto in some areas, but I can see where people get the "European feel" idea from. It's hard not to think along those lines when standing in Old Montreal.

I think Toronto would feel a lot more "European" if had some relatively untouched areas with historic buildings, like Old Montreal. When looking at pictures from Toronto earlier in the century, places like Toronto street, Yonge & Front, King, etc. all have a certain European feel to them (or at least could today). Right now Toronto is almost entirely a mix of the old and new, which is interesting in its own way. It definitely doesn't have an "Old World" feel though.