These are my observations as an outsider in Montreal.

The French style…

Quebec is engaged in a struggle for its French identity. Nowhere is that more clear than in Montreal.  The street scape is multicultural, with a multitude of humans in all sizes, colours, and shapes crowding the streets on their way to work, or shopping on a Saturday afternoon. 

On Mount Royal

Yes, the signage on stores everywhere is in French. Even the Hudson’s  Bay company’s old store, and I mean old–antique old–probably the oldest in the country, is not called that, but its top floor letters state:  Compagnie de la Baie Hudson. A mouth full, indeed.However, the population is changing and the city is losing its character as a city of European descendants, a Caucasian city. 

Chez Schwarz’s: Montreal Smoked Meat restaurant and take out shop side by side.

The economy in Quebec seems to be on the decline, as evident in this city: it has obviously difficulty keeping up.Everywhere in the largest city of La Belle Province signs of poor maintenance of the pavement and the streets can be seen, with holes in the neighbourhoods of torn down blocks, with deep pits where no construction is going on. I walked through quite a few deteriorating streets where shops have closed and people hurry past to get to where they want to be. 

Old Chinatown

Taking a break over lunch in Chinatown

The downtown area is still busy. The interesting stores that exude Montreal culture such at the oldest, original Birks jewelry store, sit side by side with the same chain stores that you can find in any large city with their global merchandise, made who knows where at the lowest cost, selling for the highest possible retail price. 

Lots of murals and graffiti everywhere

Back alley artist

I am surprised to see a store with the most insensitive cultural reference I saw in recent times, advertising its wares on its store front as Indien et Eskimaux referring to our Canadian aboriginal groups. Maybe there are no modern words in French to respectfully name our First Nations with another name than Indian (they are not from India) and name our northern indigenous peoples with their tribal name of Yupik or Inuit, instead of the derogatory name of raw-meat-eaters.

Old Town downtown Montreal off the harbour front

Promenade du vieux port, although there is no old harbour left

High end down town

The beggars on the sidewalk seem out of place and must have come from another neighbourhood to the busiest shoppers boulevard downtown, rue Sainte-Catherine. They sit there without apparent success (from what I could see) on the zero-degree sidewalk, passers-by ignoring them completely. They make everyone feel guilty for window shopping in this designer store district, so best is to pretend they are not there. In that case, one doesn’t need to feel guilty for not being generous enough to throw a toonie in the hat.

French s’il vous plait…then the greatest Montreal bagels with lox…mmmmm

When I place my order in French it is obvious from my accent that I’m not Francophone, so every store clerk and barista immediately switches to English. The mandatory uni-lingual  identity of Quebec seems to have vanished in Montreal in the practical application of everyday life; the ‘bilingual’ or ‘multi-language’ adjectives seems to better fit the reality. 

Typical Montreal stair cases

Back of the house, ideal for secret night visits through the back window….

The real thing….

Currently, the largest influx of newbies are not necessarily from traditionally French speaking nations anymore, which puts pressure on the requirement for immigrants to speak one of Canada’s two official languages–a traditional requirement for immigrants.
A common strategy to enter Canada (and Quebec) is through becoming a student, generally paying double the regular amount for course registration fees. Once a student has become successful and might get hired, they can stay with a work permit, if an employer can show an inability to filling the position with local talent.

After 3 years of residency any immigrant can become a Canadian citizen. Once a citizen, former students can then also sponsor parents or children to come to Canada under the immigration category of ‘family reunion’. In Quebec that would mean people will enter into the province possibly without speaking French.

Allowing more immigrants under this category might directly threaten the French language, as these family members would not be asked to learn French before they join their relative, although once arrived, they may learn French. Not that this is a barrier to economic functioning in this city with its multicultural neighbourhoods and many languages spoken everywhere.

The onslaught of English everywhere in the province pushes the French language to the sidelines, as more and more people in the province do not speak French. Even the French that the Francophones speak has deteriorated through the Canadian and American culture that we are all exposed to and permeates also French language (movies, music, TV, Internet in English).

Quebec has its own immigration laws while the other Canadian provinces do not have that privilege. This was an allowance made by the federal government for protection of the French language and culture in Quebec. I wonder what new laws the Quebec government will instate to protect the French language, and how successful any measure can be to stop the Anglicization of the language. Frenglish is spoken by all.     

The biggest groups of immigrants currently entering Quebec are Chinese and Iranians. They arrive under the immigration category of desirable immigrant-investors, who come with money to invest locally and start businesses. These are not traditionally French-speaking immigrants. Still, the province desperately needs immigrants and their new money. Quebec has no production or resource industry of any significance (other than Bombardier), like the resource industry of Alberta, or potash, no forestry, or any fishery of significance, and has always relied on equalization payments from Ottawa as a have-not province. 

The new political developments are interesting as well, with the three winning parties in the provincial elections all separatist-based and conservative in some form, while in the last federal elections most of the Quebec MPs elected were from the NDP which has no provincial presence (yet).

It will be interesting to see whether Quebec will become the most multicultural and bi- or even trilingual province of Canada, instead of French-speaking when they attract more immigrants from other countries. It is to be expected that the French language requirements will become weaker, or not enforced in the future. That is just obvious to me. The times they are a-changing….

The province would gain the economic  benefits of being ‘open for business’ and attract those non-French speaking wealthy business people who desire to leave their less democratic countries or regimes that are stuck in religious fervour, and finally find a new home in Canada.

The rents are low and many young people are looking for a decent job. That seems to me a good indication that it this city is waiting for development.
With Harper travelling through the developing world in search of new business partners–justifiably so in my view–it might just create the opportunity to open Canada’s doors to higher immigration quota as well.

We need more immigrants to develop our nation: people who want to stay and emotionally invest into Canada and make this their new homeland. This would eliminate the need for the current practice of hiring of low paid temporary workers and the discriminatory policies attached  to that strategy putting these workers at risk for abuse and, as well, drives down the payment and contract conditions for local labour. 

I am writing late into the night, as the floor above us is hosting a local band playing life, and no way could I sleep if I tried. A lively music scene exist in Montreal, it seems, especially among young Anglophones, or maybe it just seems that way, because that’s where my daughter landed in the middle of. 

I am reliving my twenties for a few days.  Thank god I don’t really have to redo all of that: recreating a cosy living environment out of nothing, working long days at low wages, not having any money ever, making do with furniture that you find in the street or get from people who are moving on. The good parts I see that are precious and that we often lose as we age: living in the moment, not having a life all planned out, accepting everybody as they are, enjoying the company of friends and all those adventures that still will come next.What a great reminder.

Mother and daughter on Mount Royal

About BABYBOOMER johanna van zanten

My name is Johanna van Zanten. I am a baby boomer, interested in writing and connecting with other writers and readers to engage in discussions and information sharing, to share a point of view about current global issues, writing, and publishing, diversity, immigration, travel, music, life, specific baby boomer issues, and dating/relationship issues. I have written a novella, ON THIN ICE about baby-boomer Adrienne and will link this blog with the information website for this novella. Right now, I am trying out the blog.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. I recently visited Montreal for the first time. Loved it! Found it to be a vibrant city, but then I hail from the rustbelt. I also am a baby boomer, who moved to The Mistake on the Lake (aka Cleveland, Ohio) and am chronically my experience there. Feel free to check out my blog: I wrote a a piece about my experience in Montreal.

    • Hi Joyce,
      Thanks so much for your comments. I read your post on Montreal on your blog. Nice buildings indeed and French culture and easy to walk (safe too). I tend to gravitate more to the quirky and typical neighbourhood street scenes and found enough of that. I will post some more photos some other time with the more conventional side of down town Montreal. The French habit of paying attention to food and socialize at leisure is the greatest. That is lost in the rest of North America where almost nobody cooks from scratch any more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s