Frances Bula header image 2

More ideas from Montreal

March 22nd, 2009 · 15 Comments

Being a hopelessly obsessed city lover, of course I can’t go anywhere without looking at what’s the same, what’s different, what’s better and what’s not in different cities.

Things I saw in Montreal and thought, hmm, maybe Vancouver should think about this.

1. So many restaurants with signs in the window saying “Apportez votre vin” — Bring your wine. It seemed to be in every second restaurant in the area of the Plateau where I was staying, a neighbourhood that’s very residential but also has restaurants lining streets like Duluth and Mont Royal and some of the side streets. Why don’t we have more of that here? Actually, do we have any? I remember it used to be that at the On On in Chinatown, when it was still attracting people on the strength of the story that Trudeau used to eat there (um, 20 years ago?), would let you bring your own wine. But I can’t think of any other eatery here in town that does that. Is it because our restaurants operate on such tight margins that they have to have that liquor licence and marked-up liquor to survive? My Montreal friends speculated that it’s more likely in the restaurants in the middle of residential areas, where they can’t get liquor licences because of concerns about rowdies carousing through the streets.

2. Bike paths. I think that I can objectively say that Montreal is not as conducive to cycling, weather-wise, as Vancouver, though I’m always willing to be educated by some irate snow-tired cyclist who says Montreal’s weather is NO hindrance to cycling whatsoever. But in spite of the weather drawbacks, Montreal has some amazing bike infrastructure. While we were there De Maisonneuve was being dug up around Concordia University to improve the very hefty, two-lane bike path that runs all the way across the city on this major east-west artery. To get a sense of something similar in Vancouver, imagine a lane of the road being taken over and given to bikes on 12th, all the way across town from UBC to Boundary Road, or along West Pender from Georgia to wherever. It was still a bit nippy while we were there and it snowed last night, but there were still plenty of cyclists out and around.

3. Riot responses. Montreal’s version of the Anti-Poverty Committee staged an anti-police brutality last weekend that turned into a mini-riot, provoking disapproving editorials all over the city. Something the police there are contemplating for future demos, according to the papers: making it illegal for people to come to demonstrations with their faces covered by scarves, balaclavas and the like. An idea for Olympics protests here?

4. Alcohol in every little corner store. Okay, I know that some people will be distraught that I appear to be encouraging alcoholism, between #1 and #4, but boy did it feel civilized and convenient to be able to buy a bottle of wine at the depanneur at the end of the street to take to the restaurant or a friend’s house.

5. Taxis!! Everywhere. And they came instantly, wherever and whenever you called them. A friend from Vancouver, also in town, ended up having to commute between the apartment where she was staying and the hospital because her daughter got seriously ill. She called taxis at midnight and at 4 a.m. and they came within minutes. When we walked out the door and needed to get somewhere in a hurry, we could flag one instantly and no dirty looks if you were only going a few blocks.

But less you think I’m dumping on Vancouver — it’s not so. Yes, I like all those things about Montreal and more, especially the sense of a big city where the sidewalks are packed in a dozen neighbourhood with people just out revelling in urban life. But then you land in Vancouver. As always when I return from a bigger city, it seems small and almost rural. But it’s as green and lush as a park, sparklingly clean and dominated by those blue-white mountains on the skyline.

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  • Darcy McGee

    > But in spite of the weather drawbacks, Montreal has some amazing bike
    > infrastructure

    I’ve cycled in snow in Toronto, and it’s doable..I mean I used to go out for FUN. I’m feeling much better now though, thanks.

    Reality is that Vancouver’s percentage of trips by bicycle is roughly the same as every other major Canadian city. A few years ago a statistic was published that said that a higher proportion of people commuted to work by bike in Ottawa than in Vancouver.

    Given that our weather is substantially better, this is sad. On the one hand for most people rain is as much of a problem as snow, and our rather hilly geography can _seem_ like an impediment at first (though it rapidly becomes a fitness advantage.)

    The reality is we have miserable infrastructure in many ways. One of _the_ key things that can be done is separated bike routes (either grade separated or curb separated.) In Vancouver this is almost impossible: there’s far too much on street parking in every neighbourhood. As long as those cars are sitting there, cycling safety suffers.

    We need a dedicated foot and pedestrian bridge over False Creek, ideally near the Burrard Bridge end. Cambie is pleasant to cycle over, though it’s almost as fast to just scoot around the seawall…the other end is a different story, and this lane experiment on burrard is just stupid. Build the damn bridge already. Call it the damn Gregor Roberston Memorial Bikeway if it helps…or the Happy Planet Arch. I don’t care what it takes…just build the thing.

    Safety is /the/ major impediment to getting people on bikes–in survey after survey it’s the first reason people cite as why they don’t cycle.

    Use this is you want to find a route:
    it’s a very very slick tool that disappeared for a while.

  • Len B

    1. Love it, but think it’s not allowed by the provincial liquor gods as to why we don’t see it here.

    Not sure they would change the laws here for many reasons, although I do know that whatever $$ a bottle of wine sells to you at the winery (I’m talking BC ones), is exactly what the restaurant pays. The difference of what they charge on the menu is the only profit they make.

    The wineries love selling to restaurants because they don’t have to take the hit on their profit margin as they do when they sell it to private or gov liquor stores. Not so good for the consumer though. I think the restaurant association would hit the roof on that proposal.

    2. According to the spouse, Montreal’s bike paths go back decades. She also raves about the convenience of the transit system in Montreal compared to Vancouver. They took the hit in the 70’s to tunnel and bore a system for the future. It seems as though they thought about this long before the rest of us and it’s served them well. Last point, the Tour de L’ile is a 60km bike race/event throughout the streets of Montreal that is the equivalent of our Sun Run. Thousands upon thousands of people take part and it’s helped the cycling movement.

    3. No face covering during demonstrations….I LOVE THAT! How do we get that started here.

    4. Although I’d love it being sold in every cornerstore (depanneur), I’d settle for being able to buy wine in supermarkets as they do in the states. Less driving, friendlier on the environment to get the errands done.

    5. I think someone had a great suggestion on your site earlier about translink getting involved with taxis to make them more efficient throughout the city. That would be a great start.

  • Len B


    Can’t agree with you more on the Burrard trials being stupid and the need for a dedicated foot/bike bridge.

    In a pdf I read at city hall, other false creek crossings were suggested and partly refuted due to a standing council policy on no further crossings over false creek.

    Although I believe that was directed towards car crossings over false creek, it was noted as one reason not to pursue this direction.

    Frankly if VV and our mayor had any common sense, they would quickly change this policy and look at funding several crossings over false creek to get more people walking/biking on convenient routes as opposed to creating infrastructure that isn’t being used because it isn’t convenient.

    Thinking for the future is the way to go here and for a party with the word VISION in their name, you’d think they’d have one.

  • kblz

    #3: are you serious? the montreal police are no role model; they are the antithesis of a role model. for what reason, do you think, have hundreds gathered annually for 13 years now to denounce police brutality in montreal, if not because their brutal tactics pose a threat to some fundamental freedoms …like life itself..?

    first, forbidding protesters from wearing masks or balaclavas clearly violates free expression and rights to assembly. the city has canned the idea for now, and if vancouver were to toy around with it they’d be violating these rights as well, not to mention encouraging more demonstrations and greater animosity. a mask is a mask. if the police are gonna wear them (and they do), regular people ought to be able to, too.

    what’s unfortunate about the major media coverage re: the demo is that so much of it neglected to note that the march began peacefully and theatrically and only grew violent when the police – decked out in riot gear and military fatigues, on horses and with their choppers in the air – provoked the demonstrators. police released tear gas and pushed the crowd into smaller groups, divide-and-conquer-style, and proceeded to chase them around the city. yes, protesters aggressed. there were some very stupid kids who kicked in car windows, bank glass, and wrecked ben’s, a now-abandoned smoked-meat restaurant. but 220 frigging people were arrested or detained, including journalists. nasty stuff all around, but it’s not due to any good behaviour on anybody’s part, and certainly, certainly, not the police’s.

    people have reason to protest brutality in montreal. last summer saw the killing of 18-year old freddy villenueva in the racialized community of montreal-north; villenueva had been unarmed. his death is the 43rd police killing in 22 years — a number that i admit comes from the committee opposed to police brutality, but which i’ve seen in other places too.

    after the dziekanski ordeal it wont surprise me when the taser-outfitted vancouver police probably start slugging it out like this come olympics-time, too. but don’t stand for it, and for crissakes, don’t encourage it.

  • Wagamuffin

    Don’t know if any of you are familiar with this project (coming soon to a bicycle path near you ). I liken it to the Galloping Goose Trail in Victoria in terms of different type s of terrain, but it will link up with bike/bus/SkyTrain stations throughout Vancouver, Burnaby and New West.

    As for buying wine at the corner store, I think it is an idea that is workable, though I’m not sure I’m ready to buy it from the 7/11, next to the Slurpee machine. Something about cognitive dissonance there.

    Frances, did you note any difference in behaviour because of the locals having easier access to booze? Did people appear to be responsible drinkers? Any experiences like the kind of crazy drunkedness you see on a Friday or Saturday night on Granville Street versus a Friday or Saturday night on Crescent Street?

    I haven’t been to Montreal in over 20 years, but when I was there, loved the civility of the night-life, the live music. Like Europe, Montrealers just seem to know how to relax and linger over a meal.

    My first experience in Montreal came when I was in Katimavik: we went there on furlough between our Hearst, Ontario and Annapolis Royal Nova Scotia rotations. Basically, we were coming out of the bush to the bright lights of the big city. Talk about culture shock! I remember going with le groupe to the Odyssey nightclub, a French Canadian leather bar. I blended in really well in my prim pin-striped sundress with the spaghetti straps, but I danced up a sweaty storm. Great techno music, of course.

    I also took a self directed walking tour of Duddy Kravitz’s neighborhood during that lost weekend. When I found out there really was a St. Urbain Street, I was swooning (OK, a little squealing). Somehow, in tracing the landmarks, I ended up on elevated tracks and had to jump off (train was a’comin’). I broke my ankle…but that is another story…

  • Wagamuffin

    PS. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is THE Great Canadain Novel (with apologies to Carol Shields, Margaret Atwood and Robertson Davies).

  • david m.

    frances, nice thoughts. just thought i’d toss in a couple points where your friends seem to have misinformed you.

    – the big hole at concordia isn’t for the maisonneuve bike path (which is already complete), it’s for a tunnel linking those two concordia buildings to the metro station at guy.

    – the wine sold in the shops is of a lower quality that that sold in the saqs. the reason for this is that all of these shops have to order from the same distributor which isn’t allowed to compete with the saq monopoly. used to be that the wine was all “reconstituted” – essentially grape juice with alcohol added. blech. beer is the same everywhere obviously.

    – the city dropped the proposed bylaw banning head-covering for demonstrations.

    someone commented about the crazies and the trouble with alcohol and all that. and it’s definitely true that there’s no real equivalent in montreal to the friday night surrey crew on granville street (despite how many banlieuzards from laval show up on the main on weekends).

  • Darcy McGee

    Wagamuffin: if I’m going to read a sex-obssessed Montreal Jew I’ll go straight to Leonard Cohen, thanks. I’ve not been overly fond of much of the Richler I’ve read (Jacob Two Tow and the Hooded Fang being a notable exception.)

    Beautiful Losers is better.

    The Central Valley Greenway is a good project and it will address the commuter needs of many. We need more intra-city routes though that are safer.

    I find Vancouver’s obsession with on street parking strange. It makes cycling dangerous and during the recent snows it made it /impossible/ to plow side streets (even assuming that manpower & equipment existed to do so, which it didn’t.)

  • fbula

    Thanks for all the info from the Montreal people. I was not too serious about the head-covering suggestion, actually. But it was a debate that was going on while I was there and I thought it interesting to raise it here.

    David — Yes, you’re right, now that I remember, that construction is not to complete the bike path (though it’s still an amazing one — it has big concrete barriers, too, to separate the bikes from the people, I forgot to mention earlier). But we were told it’s also to make a kind of above-ground, friendlier seeming mall. There is a tunnel between the two buildings already. We walked through it.

    I did not know about the lower-quality wine at the depanneurs, but if I were there, I’d still go there after hours. (Though I did shop at the SAQ as well.)

    As for people’s drunken behaviour — I didn’t notice any of it. And we were just one street off St. Denis and half a block down from Duluth, both streets that are heavy with bars and restaurants. None of that kind of wild shrieking and F yous that I hear even in my Broadway and Main neighbourhood occasionally. And that’s even though the drinking age is 18 there.

  • david m.

    re: the concordia tunnel. you’ve got it, there s a tunnel that connects the hall and the library buildings, and there’s a tunnel that connects the metro station to the engineering building (and a breakaway wall that will soon connect it to the new john molson school). the tunnel currently being excavated (is it done yet?) will connect the metro station to the hall and library buildings. as for the square, you’re right again, the second phase of the plaza (norman bethune square) will get underway once the tunnel is complete and the street recovered.

    a pair of links i happen to have handy:

    1. the norman bethune square plan
    4. the quartier concordia plan

    keep up the good work!

  • Bill Lee

    Ah, the destruction of Duluth.
    It used to be a nice quiet residential street with a couple
    of depanneurs.

    Restaurants started moving in, ripping up the housing and using
    the “apportez vos vins” idea to avoid a liquor licence accounting.

    Soon the local residents had nowhere to shop as the street was
    consumed by restaurants.

    It’s as though the 100 to 300 block of West 10th Avenue was turned
    into a strip of restaurants over the space of two years.

    This has happened to many of the small shops on Commercial Drive,
    and it’s becoming a visiting street such as the 1400 block, rather
    than a living shopping street. Too many restos
    I thought that there should be a limit on restos (which have
    the same name, but often different operators every few months) per
    block, but then that would increase the price of licences as
    does our odd taxi system.

  • Bill Lee

    A discussion at Radio-Canada on 24 mars, links online etc.
    from the noon radio show Maisonneuve en direct (Robson street Live?)

    Et pourtant. Comment expliquer que, malgri toutes ces qualitis, on parle toujours de ce qui ne va pas ` Montrial? La mitropole quibicoise a bien s{r son lot de problhmes, inhirents aux grandes villes. Pensons aux quartiers dilabris, aux terrains contaminis, au dilabrement du riseau daqueduc, aux rues congestionnies. Mais pourquoi ne parler que des problhmes?

    Comparons avec Quibec. Lan dernier, avec les fjtes du 400e de Quibec, tout le monde avait les yeux rivis sur la capitale. On dirait que cette ville a le vent dans les voiles. Tout lui riussit. Mais Montrial? La gestion de la mitropole est-elle si lourde quon ne peut plus avoir de projets inspirants?

    Quels sont vos rjves pour Montrial? Comment revitaliser la mitropole quibicoise?

    Dites-nous ce que vous en pensez!

  • Wagamuffin


    Well, I like my sex-obsessed Jews to come loaded with lashings of good humour (that, and a good working knowledge of single malt scotch.) as opposed to bearing a perpetual mournful mien.

    As new NDP candidate Mabel Elmore (Vancouver-Kensignton) might be inspired to put it,” Oy, S’iz shver tsu zayn a Goyim!”

    Though in writing this, I do appreciate Jennifer Warnes “Famous Blue Raincoat” CD, a wonderful tribute to “Le Cohen’s” work.

    Just see if you can hold it together when she sings “Song of Bernadette”. Which captures guilt and angst perfectly, in all it’s multi-cultural glory.

  • Len B


    Not sure what the intent of your last post was. Are you asking if Robson Street Live is comparable to Maissoneuve en direct? Or just suggesting that they have questions about their city as well?

    I also noticed you re-typed it, instead of cut and paste. You have much more dedication than I.

  • Bill Lee

    It was a comment about Montrealais commenting on their city
    and the view from the other metropolis, Quebec. If you listened
    you would find another view of what Fabula was saying, but more sewers and water.
    Oh and Pierre Maisonneuve’s Quebec city based provincial phone
    in show ” Maisonneuve en direct ” has been cut down to a single
    hour in the Radio-Canada cuts, but go national, rather than stay
    in La Belle Province. (S.R-C has Quebec, (maritimes-l’acadie) and
    the rest (usually Ontario and the West as the second region)