Montreal, Canada – December 1999

December is the last month of the year, and this December in particular is the last of many things. No, this is not a Millennium blurb! To the contrary, I’d like to mention a few of the lesser-talked about conclusions we are about to reach.

1999 is not only the end of this arbitrarily-numbered Millennium, but it is also the end of the decade, as well as the end of the century. It’s a shame that these milestones have been largely forgotten in the damned Millennium frenzy that by now we are all sick of hearing about.

When you get right down to it, this is only the second end-of-Millennium we’ve seen, according to the Gregorian calendar. The arbitrariness of the whole thing is clear when you think about why we even use this measure, considering the basis behind our base-10 numbering system is the fact that we have ten fingers and ten toes. If we were quadra-digit creatures, using base-8, the current year would be something like 3752. Also consider that the year 0 is just a guess at the birth date of Christ, and we use BC/AD as a basis for timekeeping because of a few lucky breaks during all those religious wars that have taken place over the past 2000 years.

Another thing to consider is that the span of 1,000 years is a bit too much to be able to define in cultural terms. How can you define a Millennium? A decade, on the other hand, can be defined quite clearly. Look at the war and post-war years of the 1940′s. Think of the polyester of the 1970′s, or the business greed of the 1980′s. And even though there are few survivors, we all know about the roaring 20′s.

So what were the 1990′s all about? Let’s take some time to think about that!

On a larger scale, one can even define a century, even if the events that shaped the century did not span the full 100 years. Think of the enlightenment, the Renaissance, the industrial revolution. Think of this ending century as that of technological revolution, which despite what you might think, started long before Microsoft.

In this century humans took to the air in flight. We brought warfare off of the fields and into the trenches, then back out again. We harnessed the power of the atom and have been regretting it ever since. We’ve launched a million radio frequencies, and now spend most of our time tapping into them. And finally, we went digital. The result of this, among other things, is the largest middle class the world has ever seen, and stinking piles of pollution to prove it.

What has this to do with Montreal? Well, for one thing, my January 2000 dispatch will be a virtual tour of Montreal software upstarts that have changed the way we go to the movies and are about to change the way we use the internet. Think of this as a primer. Another thing is that I am on a personal mission to promote F2K (“Fuck 2000″) in which we celebrate the end of the century, not the Millennium. Come to Montreal and perhaps you’ll see some evidence of this campaign.

And finally, if you do come to Montreal for the holidays, you’ll be happy to know that bar hours for December 31 have been extended to 8am (next morning) for this day only. Also, public transportation is free on New Year’s Eve.

December Cultural Events!

  • The Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir performs a Millennium Gospel Celebration (OK, they’re allowed to do “Millennium” because it’s gospel) at the beautiful old St.James United Church. Tix are $30 CDN, and can be picked up at Sam the Record Man, next to the church.

    December 9-12 (8pm) St.James United Church on rue Ste-Catherine (between St-Laurent and St-Denis).

  • Millennium My Eye! Check out Head over Heels, a Work of Impertinence at the Musee d’art Contemporaine, at 185 rue Ste-Catherine. A thoughtful yet playful tackling of some Millennium-inspired themes.

    Until April 2000.

  • Check out Love for Love, a production of the graduating students of the National Theatre School, at the Monument-National (Ludger-Duvernay theatre), 1182 Boul. St-Laurent. December 7 to 11, at 8pm. Tix $5 (514-871-2224).

  • For that über Christmas experience, don’t miss the Montreal Symphony Orchestra’s annual performances of Handel’s Messiah, at the Notre Dame Basilica in Old Montreal. This is a stunningly gorgeous venue for such a performance. The tix are a bit steep, but if you’re into this kind of thing it shouldn’t be missed.

    December 14 and 15 at 7:30pm. Tix $10/$21/$38 (514-842-9951).

    ed’s Cheap Eats Pick o’ The Month

    If you’re in the mood for good old fashioned burgers and fries, there’s no need to waste your palate on a burger chain. Montreal has a number of really good hip local joints serving up a traditional grease bath that will make you wonder why you ever went to the golden arches.

    My favorite on the Plateau (and if you visit Montreal and don’t go to the Plateau, you haven’t visited Montreal) is Patati Patata, on the corner of Boulevard St. Laurent and Rue Rachel. This hole-in-the wall snack bar was an old-fashioned and somewhat scary diner until a few years ago, and then Patati Patata moved in and threw some funk at the place. The menu is pretty simple, and does deviate from burgers and fries, but the specialty is their delicious fresh-cut fries, which accompany most everything on the menu.

    When you order a burger you are given a slip of paper on which you tick off the condiments and toppings you want with your burger. The meat itself is unremarkable, but it comes served on a fresh-baked roll with the toppings of your choice, at an insanely low price. Get some fries on the side and a glass of microbrew (on tap) and you’re there!

    The clientele is mainly hip Plateau folks who know a good cheap eat when they find one. The people behind the counter look just like those couple of guys you met in Nepal last year. A very boots-friendly place, for sure.

    Be warned – the place is tiny, with about six seats at the counter and about three window bar seats, along with two or three tables for two. Don’t come with a crew. Also, they don’t stay open particularly late. I think they generally close at about 10 or 11 at night. Mmmmmmmm!

    Location: South-east corner of Boulevard St. Laurent and rue Rachel.

    (No advertising fee was paid for this Cheap Eats blurb.)

    Questions?

    If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.

    General Info On Montreal

    I could write a book just to fill this section, but here are the basics. Check this section every month for new info.

    Quirky Facts

    Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city on Earth (after Paris). People from Montreal are called “Montrealais”.

    Geography

    Montreal is actually an island. The main water frontage is the St. Lawrence River, which wraps around the west/south/east sides of the island, with a smaller river along the north shore. Montreal is about 65 km (40 miles) from the U.S. border, where the northern-most part of New York state and Vermont meet. Here’s a MapBlast! map of Montreal.

    Note that when Montrealais indicate “north” they are really pointing north-west.

    Accommodation

    Montreal has a wide variety of hotels, from the boxy downtown “business” hotels to smaller European-style hotels. There is also a nice selection of B&B’s all over the city, most of which are charming and cozy. B&B’s tend to be in the $40-$80 price range.

    Montreal also has a few interesting youth hostels, including:

    The Montreal Youth Hostel (Downtown) and the really cool and eco-friendly

    Alternative Backpacker’s Hostel of Montreal (Old Montreal)

    Transport

    You can get in from the airport using the local transit system (STCUM), but there are just enough quirks that I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, grab an airport/downtown shuttle bus for about $10 (one way) or take a taxi, which will cost about $25.

    Most international and domestic flights land at Dorval airport. Some charters land at Mirabel airport, which is a really bad idea. Avoid Mirabel, as it is more than twice as far as Dorval.

    Montreal has a pretty good subway (Metro) and bus system. A single ride is $1.85 (bus drivers carry no change), but you can save a bit by buying a pack of six tickets for $8.25 (at Metro stations and some stores). You can also buy 1 and 3 day passes, or a weekly pass (around $12).

    Note that daily and weekly passes can only be bought at the Berri/UQAM or McGill Metro stations, or at the downtown Info Tourism office.

    Transfers on tickets are good for 90 minutes. Get your transfer as you get on the bus (or at the automatic dispenser at Metro stations). Check the STCUM website for details.

    Alternatively, rent a bicycle at JR’s on the Plateau (151 Rachel, corner du Bullion). (514)843-6989. Full-day rental is about $18 (second day for $12).

    Money

    Canadian money comes in basically the same format as American money (dollars, divided into cents), but the Canadian dollar is worth less – roughly two-thirds of an American dollar.

    Canadian money is colourful, which makes it easy to spot what a bill is worth from far away, or when it’s dark (unlike American bills, which are strangely all the same colour).

    We also have $1 and $2 coins, instead of bills. The $1 coin is unofficially (but ubiquitously) called a “loonie” because of the picture of a loon on it. The $2 coin is called a “two-nie”.

    All dollar values mentioned in this Montreal guide are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise indicated.

    If you stay in a hostel, and eat over-the-counter food and self-cater, you can scrape by on about $25/day. Montreal, is, however, a joyous and happy place to be (particularly in summer), with loads of great pubs and bars and inexpensive restaurants, so a more realistic budget would be about $40-$50.

    That assumes a dorm bed in a hostel, a couple of transit rides, a cheap slice-of-pizza type lunch, a modest dinner ($20) in a restaurant, and two pints of local microbrew in a pub. “Civilized” travellers should budget at least $100/day (B&B, moderate restaurants, etc).

    Watch out for the nasty taxes we have here. Most items do not have taxes included on the sticker price, so be prepared to pay an additional 15% at the cash register. That applies to hotels, restaurant meals, and any goods you buy in a store. It does not apply to most grocery items. Beer and wine you buy in a corner or grocery store is taxable. Oddly, beer and wine you buy in the government-run “SAQ” liquor stores does include the taxes in the sticker price.

    Automatic tellers (cash machines) are everywhere and are very well networked (Canada was miles ahead of the rest of the world in automatic teller banking). Most “Bureau du change” places are downtown, on rue Ste. Catherine.

    Night Life

    Can be cheap or expensive, depending on where you go. Imported draught beer runs in the $6/pint range. Local microbrews go for about $4.75/pint but are hard to find downtown.

    On the Plateau and Quartier Latin, go for microbrew by the (60oz) pitcher if you’re with a group. Chic places will charge you about $14 a pitcher, but the truly hip places have non-stop specials in the $8-$10 range.

    The markup on wine in restaurants is high, so keep an eye out for bring your own wine restaurants, particularly on the Plateau. Note that such places do not carry their own wine, so if you show up empty-handed you’re out of luck (although you can usually dash across the street for a bottle of not-bad Chilean wine from a corner store for about $10).

    Tipping in Montreal is basically as follows: 15-20% on restaurant tabs. 50 cents to $1 on drinks in bars. About $1 on short taxi rides ($5 range) and about $2 on longer ones ($10 range).

    Note that the legal drinking age in Quebec is 18.

    Internet Cafes

    Galerie Fokus, 68 Duluth east, has a small internet service.

    Cyberground, 3672 St. Laurent Blvd. is an internet cafe on “the Main”, right in the middle of the action.

    Centre d’affaires Montréal is farther up the Main at 4117A St. Laurent Blvd. It’s basically a business centre that has web access.

    A few words about ed

    Originally from the east coast of Canada, I’ve been living in Montreal for 12 years, and frankly, I think it’s the best place in Canada to live.

    Despite the fact that I lose almost half of my income to taxes, the low rents and the lifestyle keep me here. Montreal is culturally diverse, hip, easy-going, affordable, politically frustrating, informed, and very much alive.

    It’s the kind of place that allows me the annoying affectation of dropping the initial cap on my name (“That’s ed, not Ed”) without too many people rolling their eyes. I’m still shopping for the perfect boot.

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