December 4, 2023

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Opinion: I’m a newcomer to Montreal, and loving the city

All have been friendly, helpful and welcoming. Parks, large and small, make this an exceptionally open and green city. And the food is superb.

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Through the rose-tinted glasses of a newcomer, I have fallen in love with Montreal.

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My first inkling of the ease of living here was the friendly outreach from a métro official, who shyly asked me if I was over 65. When I laughingly admitted to being 75, she eagerly offered me an Opus card to set me up for easy, inexpensive transport, taking my picture several times to make sure it was flattering.

Since then, little more than two months ago, I have met scores of strangers while shopping, looking for an apartment, opening a bank account, attending services at the Anglican Cathedral. All have been friendly, helpful and welcoming. The joie de vivre of Le Plateau, where I now live, is contagious. The antagonism between French and English that I remember from the ’60s, while studying at McGill, seems to have evaporated.

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Montreal is way ahead in its approach to global warming — installing bikes for rent throughout the city and bicycle lanes along all major streets. Among 1.7 million residents, 600,000 say they use a bicycle for utility purposes at least occasionally; hybrid cars are readily available for rent; the métro and connecting hybrid buses are safe, clean and comfortable. Everyone seems to use public transit, not just the poor.

The aesthetically pleasing mix of architecture here adds enormously to the city’s livability. Relatively few high-rise buildings block out the sun. The handsome grey stone facings of many, adorned with turrets, porches, wrought-iron railings and curved metal staircases, give the city a historic, unique vibe. Best of all, I now have an elegant apartment with high ceilings, large windows and handsome wooden doors with etched glass inserts. It reminds me of a house I once owned in Park Slope, Brooklyn. While I understand that rents have been rising, apartments are still relatively affordable here compared to many other big cities.

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Everywhere, parks, large and small, make this an exceptionally open and green city, with wide, major roads lined with trees. The rouelles vertes are particularly successful when residents plant flowers and shrubs. As a gardener, I was delighted to receive a free plastic container delivered to my door for composting.

The food is superb. Apparently, Montreal has more restaurants per capita than anywhere in North America except New York. Canada’s welcome to immigrants translates into a wide array of cuisines in what is a truly successful cosmopolitan city, where all mingle peacefully and flourish.

This is a city where families with young children can live safely. I see them playing ping-pong in the parks, riding bicycles with their parents, toddlers tethered to a long cord going for walks, humanizing the lives of all. Add to that students from around the world attending Montreal’s universities and colleges, and this becomes one of the most attractive destinations in the world.

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Thanks to high-quality recycled furniture and clothing stores, I bought a winter coat, scarf and boots for a pittance on arrival. I also furnished my apartment for under $1,000. If we’re going to save the planet, repurposing clothing and furniture is not a bad place to start.

Perhaps most heartwarming is the sense that people are not too busy to pay attention to one another. They meet in parks to play chess, chat on the streets with friends and newcomers, taking the time to greet their neighbours, much like their ancestors once did on the village streets of Italy, France, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ireland and Ukraine.

La vie est belle ici. I haven’t yet lived through a full winter, but this is one love affair I am confident will never end.

Julie Dreyer Wang is a writer and landscape designer who has lived in England, Canada, France, Hong Kong, West Africa and five cities in the United States.

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