Montreal, Canada – November 1999
T.S. Eliot was wrong – April is not the cruelest month, at least not in Montréal, where that honor belongs to November.
November. That cruel angry month that comes after the colorful transition of October, but before the festive year-end of December. Those vicious thirty days when the last warmth of summer lies dead under damp, long-fallen leaves and the cold angry fingers of approaching winter creep from the ground and reach skyward like the skeletal trees laid bare by the vivid excesses of Autumn.
An evil two fortnights of dull mornings when cold wet needles of dampness pierce the woollens resurrected from summer’s hibernation. Dark afternoons, when the last of a remembered tan flees the body, chased away by bone-chilling shivers brought on by long silvery rains that slip mercilessly from the menacing grey skies and dampen against all resistance. The only respite from this horror is found late at night under a down-filled duvet, the cat curled tight at your feet providing a few welcome degrees of extra warmth.
Do not come to Montréal in November, dear readers. Although the winter months are, indeed, colder, their chills are offset by a collective resistance built on the foundation of a lively indoor bar and cafe culture, the sportive pleasures of snow, the body’s long-fought and hard-won acclimatization, and central heating. No, November is the cruelest month – a month of transition of the nastiest sort.
But if you do come, this is Montréal after all, so there is always plenty to do…
November Cultural Events!
Here are a few of the more interesting cultural events that are sure to help you shake off that bone-racking chill, if at least just for a few hours at a time…
Cord’en Fête (aka, String Festival)
October 27-November 5 Various locations.
A new festival for Montréal! The first annual festival dedicated to string instruments of all styles: Jazz, Blues, electric, Tsigane, Folk, Celtic, classical…
This is one of my favorite festivals. A festival of French films with English subtitles! All screenings at the Maxwell Cummings Auditorium, 1379 Sherbrooke Street West (under the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts).
November 18-23 Place Bonaventure.
A huge book fair, with expositions, readings, presentations, booths galore, and literary prizes! Focused primarily on French-language books.
Bobby McFerrin and the MSO!
November 9-10 Salle Wilfred Pelletier (Place des Arts).
Bobby McFerrin, unfortunately best known for that “Don’t worry, be happy” song, conducts the Montréal Symphony Orchestra, performing, Prokofiev, Gershwin, and Rimsky Korsakov, as well as his own music. Yes, he’s a real musician.
A Streetcar Named Desire
November 9-28 Saidye Bronfman Centre.
Fiona Reid leads the Toronto ensemble Soulpepper Theatre in this acclaimed classic.
Spotlight on Polish Film
November 2-14, 1999. Cinémathèque Québécoise.
The place for a serious cinematic experience. Small screening rooms, very comfortable seating, flawless projection, top-knotch sound…
ed’s Cheap Eats Pick o’ The Month
If you’re in the mood for grilled chicken, it’s hard to beat the Portuguese hole-in-the-wall on the corner of Rachel and Clarke in the Plateau Mont Royal district, just off the Main. I think it’s called Rotisserie Portugaise, but don’t quote me on that.
The setting, simply put, is “nothing fancy”. It’s a peeling-paint lunch counter with about eight bar stools, but if you squeeze past the big guy on the end and walk through the “kitchen” there’s a small dining area at the back. The kitchen consists of a large grill and a kitchen stove like my mother used to have. The service is gruff, but friendly.
The menu here is basically grilled things and fries, with a few scraps of lettuce on the side. Doesn’t sound appealing, but the chicken here is divine! Stay away from the other assorted salty and over-cooked meats, and stick with the frango.
This is certainly more of a day place than a night place. If you’re lucky, the chicken will be the day’s special, in which case a hefty portion will run you $5. Otherwise it’s about $7.00. To really get that Portuguese verisimilitude, wash it down with a small green bottle of the very sweet Sumol pineapple soda.
Location: South-east corner of rue Rachel and rue Clarke.
(No advertising fee was paid for this Cheap Eats blurb.)
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.
Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city on Earth (after Paris). People from Montreal are called “Montrealais”.
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.
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)
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).
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.
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.
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 MontrÃƒÂ©al 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.