Ah, spring brings new life to Montreal

The factors that allow Montrealers to have a certain sort of urban lifestyle are the same ones that push them to take advantage of it

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Jacob SerebrinMONTREAL, QC, May 12, 2015/ Troy Media/ – There are few cities that embrace summer with quite as much gusto as Montreal.

As in much of the country, spring is often a short season here. Some years, like this one, it’s little more than a week or two of rain between snow and sun.

After all, winter in Montreal is a particularly grey season. A particularly wet season. It’s a different sort of winter than those of Winnipeg, where I grew up. Those winters were cold, but the days were sunny and the snow sometimes squeaked like Styrofoam it was so dry.

Montreal often covered in ice in winters

It almost never rains in a Winnipeg winter; in Montreal, it rains often, freezing in the evening and leaving the city covered in ice.

But then everything changes.

The Habs are in the playoffs. And as hockey becomes the thing we most associate with winter, the memories of the recently departed season become fonder. There is almost nothing that unites the diverse city of Montreal quite the same way hockey does.

montreal cafes
Hockey is not the only early summer ritual in Montreal

It’s a topic that can be brought up in almost any conversation. I can’t imagine many places, other than Winnipeg earlier in the season, where the fortunes of the team are so tied to the energy of the city.

They used to talk a lot about the two solitudes. They might not be quite as isolated as they used to be but a division remains.

The Canadiens transcend language, as the team’s name symbolizes. “The Habs” is an English nickname (though it comes from a French word).

During playoff season, “Go Habs Go” flashes on the destination signs of Montreal’s city buses. It is almost certainly a violation of Bill 101, the infamous language law, but no one complains – or at least no one listens.

The name is always written with French spelling, Canadiens, but pronounced as “Canadians” in English by Montreal Anglos. (There is always a cringe when someone pronounces it as if it ends in -ens).

Even these names tell us something about just how much history this team has. The reference to the Canadiens as the Habitants reflects a time when those two words were synonymous. When English-speaking residents of Canada still thought themselves British and French-speaking Quebecers were the only ones who referred to themselves (and were referred to) as Canadians.

But hockey never lasts quite long enough. For the Habs, the playoffs may even be over by the time you read this.

Fortunately the memories of past victories last longer than those of defeats.

Hockey is not the only early summer ritual in Montreal. This is another one, far less flashy and far less organized. When the moment is warm enough, the people of this city head outside.

I’m not talking about the terraces at popular bars and restaurants or the increasing popularity of cycling (around half the city rides a bike at least once a week). Instead, I’m talking about the popularity of the city’s parks.

Every weekend, thousands flock to them, few with any real plans. It is a chance to enjoy the sun and the company of friends, perhaps have a small picnic or a baguette and maybe a beer or a glass of wine.

It is an environment that makes the city feel lived in. That creates a sense of warmth and community deep in the centre of Canada’s second-largest metropolis.

Montreal is a city of neighbourhoods. A city of enclaves. Yet, the idea of the local park as a place for people of all ages to just hang out (for lack of a better term) is a common theme across the city.

Part of it is good urban planning; there are many beautiful parks across this city. There is also almost certainly something of a European influence.

A walkable city

But there’s something else: the density of the neighbourhoods surrounding Montreal’s downtown core are what allow this to be a walkable city, with local commerce throughout and with many fine urban parks.

But this density also means that many Montrealers don’t have a yard of their own. It is a city of walk-up apartments.

It is somewhat fitting, the factors that allow us to have a certain sort of urban lifestyle (a truly wonderful one, in my opinion) are the same ones that push us to take advantage of it.

Troy Media columnist Jacob Serebrin has lived in Montreal for 10 years. He writes regularly for the Globe and Mail and has contributed to the Toronto Star, Montreal Gazette and Macleans magazine.

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