A few friends of mine have recently announced plans to move from Montreal to Toronto. These friends include the great Miranda Campbell, as passionate an advocate of the Montreal lifestyle as there ever was.
I’m all in favour of people making changes and blazing new trails, but something about these friends moving made me sad. Not just because they won’t be around—there’s something deeper that I can’t quite put my finger on.
Moving from Montreal to Toronto is a thing people do. They get tired of the bureaucracy, the corruption, the endless language wars, and above all, the difficulty of finding work.
I moved from Toronto to Montreal in 2001. When we announced the move, I would say 9 out of 10 Torontonians replied with a version of “Oh, I wish I could move to Montreal—but I can’t because of work.” I thought this was a weird thing to say, particularly when coming from people in their early twenties who had their whole lives ahead of them and were a little young to be shackled to a job.
But there’s no doubt that Montreal is a different economy.
When I lived in Toronto, I would routinely go grocery shopping without even looking at how much items cost.
Now, I’m like “Three limes for a dollar? Fuck that, I can get a better deal at the other place.”
The first time I paid for my groceries with a sock full of nickels and dimes, it was kind of romantic. The last time I did that, which was more recently than I care to admit, it just felt shameful.
In my early days in Montreal, I used to sometimes walk past the cafés of Mile End with a wistful sense of longing. I couldn’t even afford a cup of coffee.
Now, things have changed. My bills are paid, my debts are at a reasonable level, and I have money to spend on the odd indulgence. I’m able to buy a coffee, usually.
But it’s still nothing like the Toronto days, when I would go out for dinner several times a week, drink an entire bottle of wine with dinner every night, and buy new clothes whenever I felt like it. Today, none of those things apply.
A friend of my wife’s once told her, “In Toronto, people brag about how much they have on the go. In Montreal, they brag about how little they’re doing.”
It’s not quite like that anymore, but some of that spirit still remains.
In Montreal, I know several people who pay around $500 a month in rent. People whose rent is in the four digits tend to have really nice places in good neighbourhoods.
In Toronto, $1500 is considered a good deal for a high-rise apartment in the suburbs. In Vancouver, that’ll get you a one-room basement apartment.
That seems crazy to me, but I’ve been in the Montreal reality for over a decade now.
I once spent a few days in Kelowna, in the B.C. Interior. In the less than 36 hours I was there, I heard no fewer than three people say a variation on “Yeah, Kelowna sucks, but where else are you gonna go?”
I thought that was lame and might have even said so. But today, I find myself feeling similarly about Montreal. It’s a trap, a vortex. It sucks, but where else are you gonna go?
I live in a city of lost souls.
People get trapped here, they can’t imagine an alternative—or it’s too late, they couldn’t function anywhere else. They barely function here. But in this town, functioning is overrated. It’s considered bourgeois.
Montreal’s dysfunction is part of its appeal somehow. If it ran more smoothly, it would lose some of its ramshackle charm. Like a lot of its inhabitants, it can barely hold itself together.
The reasons to live in Montreal, especially as an anglophone, are not logical per se. But like romantic love, or religious belief, the attraction to Montreal is irrational at its root. It comes from the heart, not from the brain. My brain is constantly listing reasons why I should leave. My heart won’t budge. I fear it might stay here even if I moved on.