With no real plans for spring break, I decided to take the girls to the Paris of North America for a few days to see what Montreal was all about. Whenever we go to a new place, we find it fun to think about whether or not we could live there. The youngest one has such wanderlust, she enthusiastically wants to live in just about every place we visit. The older one, a little more reserved, definitely measures the pros and cons. This trip, I’ll be honest, a little part of me was thinking about doing some immigration research just in case this years’ controversial Presidential election goes awry.
Here are a few things we learned:
- Montreal is cold! While it was 70 degrees in NYC this week, we had snow several times in Montreal. Not much accumulation, but it was there. March is definitely off-season for tourists but that gave us a real chance to explore the city as residents. While we hit some of the major tourist stops, Old Town, the Port, City Hall and the Musée des Beaux Arts, we also spent a lot of time wandering neighborhoods, and, of course, eating! Here is a photo of one of the best known foods in Montreal (Poutine) at one of the best restaurants for said food, La Banquise.
- Montreal is truly a bilingual city. Most signs are in French, but the residents flip back and forth between languages with fascinating ease.
It is not uncommon for people to start a sentence in English, and finish it in French or vice versa. The two languages are so interchangeably used, that our girls kept wondering what is taught in school. We asked around a bit, and we learned that if you are immigrating to Montreal from Canada, you have the choice of either French or English public school. However, non-Canadians, would have to enroll in French speaking public schools. Private schools are, of course, your choice, and are much cheaper in Canada than in the U.S. My girls were decidedly split on this outcome. The big one has no interest in learning French although she thinks it’s a beautiful language. The little one, was thrilled to imagine having to take her daily classes in French.
- Our favorite neighborhood, and one we could really see ourselves living in, is Plateau Mont Royal. Montreal architecture in “the plateau” is delightful. The streets are lined with a combination of brightly colored stone Victorian homes, some with turrets giving them a real castle feel, and row houses, many with signature circular outdoor staircases. Combine that with unique boutiques, a strong cafe culture and a young bohemian vibe and we concluded it was exactly the neighborhood we would want to live in if we were to immigrate to the “City of 100 Steeples”.
- After doing a little bit of research on the rental market, we learned that the majority of leases change hands on July 1, which has become know as ‘moving day’ in the region of Quebec. This tradition is a carry over from the French colonial government, to accommodate the weather. The official moving day was originally May 1 and was actually moved from to July 1 in 1973 to safely allow children to finish the school year before changing schools. Many of the best apartments get leased long before July 1, so if Montreal is a city that interests you, start looking now. Imagine what the streets of Montreal must look like on July 1, lined with moving trucks!
- Overall, immigration to another country is never as easy as it looks. There are often severe limitations on the ability of non-citizens to work and a whole lot of paperwork and red tape that needs to be done to gain citizenship. If you are serious about getting a new start in a new place, whether its for fear of our next President, or for a different life experience, here’s a starter guide from the Canadian Immigration Newsletter.