A Day at the Botanical Gardens

We’re experiencing an Indian summer here in Montreal. Since it was such a beautiful day, I decided to spent it out of doors. And since I’m not watching the series ending of “Breaking Bad” tonight, I’m going to write about it!

I feel like I owe Montreal a bit of an apology after my last post. So, by way of saying I’m sorry, here is an ode to this gorgeous city on a beautiful, warm, sunny Sunday at the end of September.


Montrealers LOVE their brunch. It’s as if as the churches emptied, the brunch spots filled up. It’s pretty much a religious institution on Sunday mornings. Hangover cure? Perhaps. In any case, delicious.

This morning, my dear friend Marjorie invited me to join her at the pub Le Pourvoyeur, right next to Jean Talon market. Their smoked trout bagel was scrumptious and came with a hearty side-serving of home-cut French fries and a salad that was, thankfully, not over dressed. Perfect.

Brunch was followed by a stroll through the market. It is probably one of my favorite places in Montreal to people watch.

Chillies & Garlic at Marché Jean Talon
Chillies & garlic hanging out at the Marché.

Botanical Gardens

After our brunch, my lovely friend Taija invited us to join her at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. Last year, Chico and I went to the butterfly show at the Montreal botanical gardens, but we never saw the actual gardens. So we went along with Taija to the international Mosaïcultures show.

This weekend was the last weekend of the show, so in case you missed it, here are some of my favorite highlights.

Wooden horse
A wooden mare and foal

Don’t be fooled by the lack of people in these photos. It’s only by some miracle that I managed to get any shots with all the crowds jostling by!

Easter Island
These guys looked like a tribute to Easter Island

Some topiaries were of modest size. Others, not so much:

Lady and Bird
This was an entire layout with the birds and the lady hugging one to her.

The displays got more spectacular as we walked on. This was a particular favorite:

Ent Topiary

I loved this guy! He looks like an Ent from The Lord of the Rings! This whole section of the gardens was called the spirit of the woods, and this guy was pretty much the king.

But then, we came upon Gaia.

Mother Earth
The most splendid of them all.

It was so crowded and the sun was behind her, so it was hard to get a good shot. But Gaia, or Mother Earth, was composed of this head and two hand seemingly coming up from the ground. A giant eagle ate out of one hand and deer were running out of the other. A stream ran past her and giant horses were frozen in a gallop along it, while giant bison grazed across the path from her. It really was something.

Tree of Birds
The Tree of Birds.

The Tree of Birds was also something to be seen.

Lemurs in a line looking livid.
Lemurs in a line looking livid.

The giant petrified-looking lemurs were pretty hilarious.

Sadly, like I said this was the last weekend to get to the Mosaïcultures show. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It certainly beats what I had planned to do: stay at home and do laundry.

The day ended off with a relaxing evening at home and some delicious spiced carrot and red lentil soup (I recommend you switch coconut milk for regular milk–it makes it even richer and tastier).


With the Indian summer weather and activities like these going on, it’s no wonder that the city has felt alive all weekend. On Saturday night, well after midnight, Montreal was still wide awake with people coming and going here and there. I could hear laughter and singing under my window.

Drifting off to sleep with the sounds of merry-makers and a breeze ruffling the curtains reminded me of why, despite the bad and ugly parts of life in Montreal, I really do like it here.

Life in Montreal: The Ugly

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

The Ugly

I’d like to preface this post with a positive note, as what follows will be my observations of the ugliest aspects of life in Montreal. Though I will be kvetching in this article, life in Montreal is and has been wonderful. Listening to CBC radio every morning has helped to feel like I know the city, and overall I really like living here.


Life in Montreal: The Ugly
An illustration of the enormous problems Quebec has with care for the elderly (see translation below).

Quebec, like all of Canada, has a public health care system. Basic medical needs are covered and most employers offer additional coverage through private insurance companies.

While the idea of public health care sounds great, it has its drawbacks.

One estimate in 2010 was that across the province there was a shortage of more than 1,100 GPs. Family doctors in Quebec earn less than specialists and less than their colleagues in other provinces. So, logically, most medical students choose to specialize in a particular field or to leave the province.

Finding a family doctor is not as simple as picking up the phone and making an appointment. You have to call Santé Québec and leave your information in a voicemail message. That launches the process, but it can still take months for you to be assigned a doctor and more to get an appointment.

And don’t be fooled: “family” doctor doesn’t mean that the entire family will be treated by one doctor. That’s just a common phrase here for a GP.

Hospital Waiting Room
This is what the waiting room looks like at Hôpital Notre-Dame.

The worst thing that can happen to you in Montreal is a minor emergency (like a sprained ankle or a urinary tract infection). Unless you’re lucky enough to have a family doctor whose clinic accepts emergency cases on a day-to-day basis, you are guaranteed a wait of over 8 hours at an emergency room.

It makes you stop and ask yourself, “Does this sprain really need a brace or can I suck it up?” Not comforting.


It might seem a bit strong to call it that, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Last month, it was leaked that the Parti Québecois (currently in power in a minority government and lead by Pauline Marois) would be unveiling a proposed Charter of Quebec Values.

This charter of values would essentially ban the wearing of overt and ostentatious religious symbols by public sector employees. Remember, Quebec has public health and education systems, so that means any hospital or daycare, school or university employee.

Quebec is also a destination for many immigrants from north Africa, and Montreal especially has a large population of muslim Quebecers who hail from Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria and other places.

Protesters in Montreal
Source: CBC.ca

In the proposed Charter, which has been officially unveiled (HA you’ll get what I did there in a minute), the Parti Québecois outlines what counts as overt and ostentatious. Small crosses (like the one I wear around my neck), earrings and rings showing religious symbols are acceptable. However, large crosses, yarmulkes, the hijab and turbans would all be banned. (Get it? Unveiled? LOL!)

Basically, this is a not-so-veiled (there I go again with the puns) ban on visible minority religious symbols. The crucifix that hangs in the National Assembly would stay, because it is apparently not a religious symbol, but part of Quebec’s heritage.

Since the basic tenants of the Charter were revealed, incidents of racist and xenophobic behavior have seemed to increase, according to the CBC. Now I may disagree with the principle of wearing the hijab, but that doesn’t mean that I want to deny your right to cover your head if you feel so inclined. Apparently, Pauline Marois disagrees. People like this guy, are with her (note: that link is in French).


I am lucky enough to be in good health and to belong to a majority religion here in Montreal. For people who don’t, though, life in Montreal is, or could be about to get, ugly. I can see the beautiful, fun and good sides of this city, but I could easily understand someone who struggles to.


A translation of the text in the image above (thanks to Facebook friend Stéphanie who posted the pic):

Let’s put old people in prisons. They’ll get one shower a day, video surveillance in case of problems, three meals a day, access to a library, computers, TVs, a gym, cable, satellite TV…

Let’s put criminals in retirement homes. They’ll get cold meals and lights out at 8pm, one bath a week, they’ll live in a smaller room and they’ll pay $2,000 per month!!

This is injustice, this message must be shared!

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.

Life in Montreal Part 1: The Good

Because this post was getting to be long, I’ve decided to split my Life in Montreal article into three parts: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  No copyright infringement is intended.  Uh, don’t I have to say that?

I probably can’t claim to be entirely new to Montreal now that I’ve spent more than one winter here.  But my arrival experience is recent enough to give a few pointers for newcomers to Montreal about what to expect when moving here.

I came to Montreal in January 2012 knowing very little about the city.  Friends of mine who had lived here told me it’s fun, but they also warned that it gets extremely cold.  Other than that, I had few expectations.  Chico had been here for about half a year before I arrived, but since he’s always jetting here, there and everywhere, he wasn’t a reliable source of information about the city (I love you, Chico!).

First, the Good!

Life in Montreal: The GoodThe Good

Montreal is surrounded by natural beauty.  If you are an outdoorsy person, this is the city for you.  Even on the island there are tons of parks, even a national park at Cap St-Jacques on the west end of the island and the famous Mount Royal that gives the city its name.

There are bike paths all over the city.  As soon as the weather turns warm, people kit up and cycle to and from work.  (Remind me that I need to come back to this point in the Bad section.)    There’s a public bike system called Bixi that is active from April through November which makes biking around the city so convenient and easy.  It’s been one of my favorite parts of Montreal!

Public transportation is pretty good (though a little pricey at a monthly pass rate of nearly $80), and though also a bit expensive, food shopping is decent with two large markets in the city at Jean Talon and Atwater.  There’s a lot of retail shopping options (I got my wedding dress up at Plaza St-Hubert!), but as the Canadian dollar is quite strong these days you are better off making a quick cross-border weekend trip and hitting up shops in Vermont, New Hampshire or New York state.

Jean Talon Market Montreal
Peppers for sale at Jean Talon market

Montreal is also an incredibly diverse city.  There’s of course the mix of English and French which makes the city unique.  But then there’s the huge “allophone” (as the non-English and non-French speakers are called) population that makes Montreal so vibrant.  My home is not far from the Portuguese neighborhood and there’s an Italian quarter, Jewish neighborhood, Greek area, and more.  The city has done a lot to bring international businesses here, so in the streets you hear all kinds of languages as you walk down Ste-Catherine street.

With all these diverse cultures comes a large variety of food.  A bad meal in a restaurant in Montreal is a crime, and sometimes you can feel overwhelmed with choice for dinner spots.  I use UrbanSpoon and Yelp, but there’s also RestoMontreal and of course individual recommendations.  The café culture here is great, and as soon as the weather turns nice, restaurant terraces pop up along the streets.  Ste-Catherine street is shut down to traffic most of the summer, and pretty much every weekend there’s some kind of festival or street party going on.

Perhaps my favorite part of Montreal so far has been the combination of European style and North American customer focus and friendliness.  People are polite and positive (for the most part) and if you come here speaking both English and French (or at least willing to try speaking both), that immediately ingratiates you with most people.

There’s more that’s good, but I’ll end it there.  Tune in at some later date (I’m not making any promises of regularity here) where I discuss the Bad parts of Montreal.