Life in Montreal: The Bad

This is Part Two in my three-part series about life in Montreal: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  You can read the Good here.  Today, it’s the Bad.

Life in Montreal: The Bad
The Bad

The Cold

Everything you’ve heard is true: Winter in Montreal is rough.

Though we had a very mild cold season our first year here, the second year more than made up for that.  The winter of 2012-2013 was characterized by a lot of snowfall (including a mega snowstorm on the 28th of December, which we thankfully missed).

Wintery HellStarting in November, the cold sets in and that brings along with it several downers.  For one, lots of apartments are heated with electricity.  That means your skin will dry out and shrivel.

Secondly, Canadians like to compensate for the cold outside by cranking up the heat indoors.  I thought I was going to have a perfect opportunity to display my collection of  winter woolens.  But if you wear wool under your GIGANTIC winter coat (which yes, you do need), as soon as you get indoors (metro, supermarket…) you will suffocate.  You’ve practically got to wear a bikini under your parka.

Thirdly, the wind.  Oh, the wind.  Horizontal, rough, cold and brutal, the wind was the worst part of this past winter.  That, and the ten days of about -30°C (-22°F) during daylight hours.  There were days when the thought of going outside was almost terrifying.  It’s days like that when you understand why grocery stores offer home delivery service.

I do feel the need to add a positive here: despite the cold, winter in Montreal does bring a lot of sunshine. People put on their snowshoes, ice skates and cross-country skis and get outdoors.

The Roads

Are abysmal. It’s partly because of the cold, and partly because of political corruption (to learn more, do a Google search of the Charbonneau commission).

Montreal Sinkhole
This really happened.

During winter, the city scatters lots of salt and gravel on the ground. Come spring, as the snow melts and goes from white to gray, brown then black, all that snow and gravel get into tiny little cracks in the roads and the cracks grow.

And grow.

And turn into potholes. And finally… SINKHOLES! Sinkholes open up and swallow construction vehicles.

Enough said.

The Homeless

This is the saddest part of Montreal. It was one of the first things that struck me when I got here. There are people on most street corners, and in all seasons.

People of all ages and both genders can be seen in the streets. According to recent estimates, there are between 10,000 and 30,000 homeless people in Montreal. One report shows that homeless people represent about 1% of Montreal’s population yet account for between 20 and 30% of tickets issued (in 2004 and 2005).

There aren’t enough shelters to house the homeless and people are turned away even in the harshest weather conditions.

One explanation for these numbers are the holes in Quebec’s healthcare system (more on that in “The Ugly” chapter of this series) that allow drug abusers and mentally ill patients to slip between the cracks. Whatever the cause, it is heartbreaking to see.

Organizations working to improve the situation include Dans la Rue. If this is a cause that speaks to you, I recommend you look them up.


This article may seem like a real downer, but you should read The Good part of this series and remember that every place has its flaws.