The Pulse of Montreal

I don’t make this statement lightly: Montreal in the summer has a pulse unlike any city we’ve been to.

We’ve traveled to all of the world’s great cities. Both Janna and I lived most of our adult lives in Houston, a city of 2.3 million and a metro of 6.3 million. Houston has a dull hum, almost a buzz, like a fly in your ear, from the cars and the traffic. We were in New York in May, and it was nice, but it was a blur.

We’ve been in Chicago, which we love, but it’s place-to-place. You walk among the crowds, and stop in to this restaurant or that store, dodging taxis when you cross the street. London is a waltz of tourists and iconic landmarks, but it doesn’t have the soul of Montreal.

St. Catherine Street, closed to cars and open to patios in the summer.

The closest comparison might be New Orleans, but even the city of soul doesn’t drive the same non-stop, every corner beat as Montreal.

If you’ve never done Montreal in the summer, you need to. We’ve only been here for 2 days, and we’re already reminded of why Montreal inspired this insane trip in the first place. You step out of the door, and the first street corner has a park, which has been inhabited all day by a rotating cast of artists painting in a makeshift boxing ring.

Food at the Atwater Market

Walk down the street, there’s a man on a ukulele, and patios that don’t block the flow of traffic, but are one with the beat of people walking by. Passersby stop at patios for a chat with a friend, or to sneak a peak on the results of the soccer matches on the tv’s inside. Restaurants inside the boundaries of dozens of city-blocks shut down for free festivals (and most of them are free) create an integrative mojo between living, visiting, and experiencing the city. A seamless integration between a mile-long art fair, street musicians, patio restaurants, and Jazz festivals, and there’s nothing about it that feels punctuated or discrete.

Artists painting a mural on a street next to a patio.

On Friday, or first full day in the city, we went to watch a hip-hop, break-dancing, jazz band in a park about a mile away. That turned into a parade, that led us to another stage, where another jazz show started almost immediately. That led us to another part of the city where there were food trucks and street musicians galore. It all flows, it all jives, there’s a rhythm.

And that’s happening, every day, for 11 days in a row.

That’s this city, and it goes on through miles and neighborhoods that are at the same time both harmonious and distinct. There are parks everywhere, and even the smallest of those parks have events and activities, but are not overburdened by them.

This cat, and all of the chirping birds, happened literally 100 yards from the bustle of St. Catherine, seen above:

It has that breadth of New York or Chicago, where the city seems to just go on forever in every direction, but has pockets where you feel as though you’re in the resort towns on the shores of Lake Michigan. And you don’t even have to leave the city to climb a mountain: there’s one right in the middle of downtown.

The view from Mont Royal, in the heart of downtown Montreal.

This is the pulse of Montreal, and it’s a pulse that we haven’t found anywhere else. It’s as if you shut down all of the streets in Brooklyn for a free music festival, added the Boise Farmers’ Market, St. Louis’ Delmar Loop, Milwaukee’s Third Ward, Portland’s food carts, Seattle’s Public Market, and put them all in one city – but left out the criminals (Montreal has one of the lowest crime rates of any city of its size in the world) and the cost (our airbnb in Montreal, fully furnished with bills, costs less for 2 months than 1 month of rent in Houston).

In Houston, they shut down a small stretch of one street for a few hours every month, to allow patrons to amble past a mile of…parking lots…punctuated by on occasional restaurant or mattress store and act as though they deserve a medal for it.

Montreal is the best version of what Houston is trying to accomplish there.

If you’ve not been here, get here. In the summer. We won’t talk about the winter.


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