mount royal camilien-houde Montreal trash-talking mount royal mountain skyline city

Stop trash-talking Montreal

“For some Journal de Montréal columnists, the need to denigrate the city has almost become an unhealthy compulsion.”

I recently remembered a line written about Donald Trump during the U.S. election campaign when he kept harping on about migrants because it helped him with his voter base.

“If migrant caravans didn’t exist, he would have had to invent them.”

In similar terms, if Montreal didn’t exist, I don’t know what some Journal de Montréal columnists would ever write about. The need to disparage the city has almost become an unhealthy compulsion.

This ‘filthy, dangerous, chaotic’ mess of a place

Parks in Montreal Best of MTL
Beaver Lake

Montreal has become an “open-air asylum, a dumping ground” for all kinds of nasty elements, declared columnist Richard Martineau last week. 

“Remember when the city was safe?” he reminisced with a tinge of nostalgia. Those were the days when crime was “organized” and followed a “clear set of rules.” 

Today? Total anarchy. Disorganized crime is the worst. 

Martineau’s column was preceded the day before by Ygreck’s editorial cartoon depicting a scared family of four driving into Montreal only to be greeted by mayor Plante dressed as a traffic cone, holding up a sign that says, “Welcome to Montreal. Unceded territory. Cars forbidden. Bulletproof vests recommended.” 

A jab against acknowledging traditional Indigenous territories. A jab against bike paths and traffic-calming measures interpreted as a “war on cars.” And, finally, a jab against Montreal’s supposed high crime rate.

Ground-breaking stuff. No one’s made those jokes before. 

Remember the good old days? 

Biosphere fire, 1976

Not to be outdone in “old man yells at cloud” type-columns, a few months ago, Denise Bombardier wrote a six-paragraph winter-themed article to basically communicate one thing and one thing only: “Montreal, ugly even under the snow.”

That’s it. That’s literally the entire message communicated in that column. 

Journal de Montréal pundit Joseph Facal was so overjoyed to leave the city, he felt compelled to write about it. “Happy to have left Montreal for good,” he told his readers across Quebec. 

How many people do you routinely see online who haven’t set foot in Montreal in years bemoaning how “out of hand” and “lost to Quebecers” the city now is? How do you think they form those opinions of theirs? 

Among Facal’s many issues with our fair metropolis, people’s “rejection of the French language,” which, he says, “takes the form of a proud affirmation.” 

A strange thing to say about a city that is undisputedly French, yet clearly multilingual because of its demographics. Montreal polyglots don’t speak their other languages to “stick it” to the French language. They merely speak all the languages they’ve mastered, including French. 

Facal then goes on to complain about the usual trifecta of construction cones, traffic and inability to easily park your car, before ending with an unnecessarily acerbic coup de grâce. 

“Who can honestly say that Montreal is a beautiful city?” 


Cities need some post-pandemic love

Montreal best major city cycling North America
Cyclists in the Old Port

Is Montreal looking a little disheveled, a little rough around the edges these days? Well, sure… who the heck isn’t? We’ve just experienced three years of COVID that put us all through the wringer. Excuse us while we brush ourselves off and pick up where we left off. It might take a minute. 

Is Montreal sometimes a little chaotic, too graffiti-riddled, too messy, too traffic-congested and uncontained? Welcome to every big metropolis around the world. Urban centres will never feature cookie-cutter architecture and pristine lawns. They will never be sanitized suburban sameness. 

Large cities are hustle and bustle, they’re honking and exhaust fumes, they’re people in your way — and sometimes in your face. They’re metro cars, ugly concrete underpasses and obnoxiously loud conversations. They’re imperfect, unpredictable, gritty, organic and, yes, they have their share of problems as any compact space with millions living together often does. 

But they’re also magic. Music festivals, sidewalk cafés, late-night diners and speakeasies, breakfast lineups, mountains and lakes in the middle of a city core, green alleys pealing with laughter and summer picnics in the park. It’s the madness mixed in with the magic that makes big cities so wonderful. It’s a package deal. It’s what those of us who love living in big cities love about them. 

As for the claim that Montreal has become too violent and too crime-ridden, it’s beyond hyperbolic. While the city’s crime rate has, indeed, increased (as it did across the country), Montreal consistently ranks as one of the safest cities among the largest metropolitan areas in Canada and the U.S. In all my years living here, I’ve never felt unsafe walking around Montreal at any hour of the day or night. 

The city is far from perfect, but what we see often depends on what we look for.

Montreal is popular for a reason 

Montreal festivals
The Jazz Fest

A recent Léger study commissioned by Montréal Centre-Ville revealed extremely high satisfaction rates for our downtown core, with 94% of students, 93% of residents, 92% of tourists and 91% of workers appreciating it. 

Those surveyed expressed appreciation for Montreal’s vibe, its world-class cultural scene, its walkability, the variety of entertainment and free activities to be found, the gastronomy and proximity to all services. That also included accessibility to downtown by public transit.

Unsurprisingly, those who had the least favourable opinion of downtown Montreal were Quebecers 55+ who live outside Montreal. It’s the typical urban/rural divide seen almost everywhere around the country, certainly not unique to Quebec.

CNN Travel recently included Montreal in 10 of the best cities in the world to see while riding a bicycle, while another study found Old Montreal to be the most Instagrammable tourist destination in all of Canada. The Time Out Index, an annual ranking of the world’s greatest cities, ranked Montreal the ninth best city worldwide in 2022. 

After a three-year pandemic shutdown, the city has bounced back exceptionally well. Last year, the Palais des congrès alone welcomed more than 500,000 visitors and delegates to its spaces, with huge economic spinoffs for both Montreal and the province. Coming in at $426-million, the 2022–2023 results were almost double pre-pandemic figures. 

Tourism magnet aside, the city is also a global hub for leading-edge sectors like Artificial Intelligence research as well as the video game and aerospace industries, while Montreal’s cultural sector is a huge job creator. It’s why the city, contributing most of Québec’s GDP, is the province’s leading economic driver.

And yet, you wouldn’t know it by reading some of these columns, which positively drip with contempt for what we have to offer and who we are.

Reading between the lines

health healthcare Bill 96 Parc Ex Extension mural parents teachers educators schools
A mural in Parc Ex

It’s high time we acknowledged that many of the people who openly disdain Montreal don’t hate the city, they hate its politics. 

When some of these columnists drone on about the “good old days,” lamenting that Montreal is “unrecognizable” now, that it’s “too violent,” “too dirty,” too chaotic,” “too woke,” what they usually mean is that Montreal is too diverse, too “ethnic,” too English, too Haitian, too Muslim, too Parc Ex, too Côte-des-Neiges, too Montréal-Nord, too populated with people who don’t act like them, speak like them, vote like them.

At the end of the day, these pundits’ dislike of the city often mirrors their politics. It mirrors their aversion to Montreal’s symbiotic, multicultural mix that has always defined and always will define this city. They want Montreal to be this singular, one-size-fits-all, homogenous entity, but Montreal has never been just one thing.

Of course, Montreal is French — both officially and in its essence! It’s the largest French-speaking city in North America, but it’s also North America’s most bilingual and trilingual city. It has a long-established English community, and all minority groups that have put down roots here have irrevocably changed the city’s core throughout the ages. Well over a third of Montreal’s population are members of a visible minority and close to a quarter are allophones, speaking something other than French or English as their mother tongue. Most Montrealers have at least one parent born abroad. We’re an integral part of Quebec, but we’re also very different from the rest of the province. 

Diversity affects our viewpoints 

Expo 67. Photo via the McCord Museum

It’s natural that our demographic differences and proximity to immigrant communities is also reflected in the way that we vote and how we see the world. Most Montrealers don’t support Bill 21 and many more here question the negative effects of elements of Bill 96, the CAQ’s language law. A whopping 80% of francophone Montrealers recognize and appreciate the city’s unofficial bilingualism and the presence of many other languages. A higher percentage of Montrealers than Quebecers overall support increasing immigration. 

While the CAQ dominated rural and suburban ridings across the province, it barely made inroads here. It’s obvious that these columnists often write for the tabloid’s base, which is primarily outside of Montreal. 

Time and time again, many of their columnists and the newspaper’s management choose to divide and scare with their sensationalistic front pages and immigrant-bashing. Because, let’s face it, when you bash Montreal, you’re bashing what makes it different from the rest of Quebec. And that primarily means the input of English, allophone and immigrant communities. 

They’re basically telling us that the presence of minorities here has made Montreal worse. While, in fact, every Montrealer who loves and appreciates this city knows it’s precisely this mix of everyone’s cultures and contributions that make it such a beautiful, exciting and — let’s not forget — delicious place to live in. 

There’s a big difference between pointing out real societal issues affecting Montreal (increased homelessness, gentrification, lack of affordable housing etc.) and just using them as a launching pad and lazy excuse to denigrate the city. ■

Read more weekly editorial columns by Toula Drimonis.