Thursday, July 8, 2010

Canada found in Montreal

Define what Canada is, our culture and what is it to be a Canadian, without saying how we are not Americans. This was an essay my grade 13 Canadian history teacher assigned us after the death of Pierre Trudeau (our most famous Prime Minister)who reigned in a time when Canadians knew what is was to be a Canadian. This wasn’t an easy essay to write as most of the time Canadians rhyme off how we are unlike Americans and then throw in a few stereotypes. We play hockey, have maple syrup, beavers and moose then it stops. Surprisingly we actually do have a unique culture.

My trip to the Montreal Jazz festival taught me about what it is to be a Canadian and what our culture really is. Although this fashionable, artsy, cosmopolitan city is located in a province that at times would prefer to separate and be its own country at the same time Montreal defines what we are all about.

Sitting in a crepe restaurant I hear as our waitress switches between French and English with her customers with complete ease and no sign of an accent in either. I feel guilty with my horrible French; I have let it slip since taking it in high school and am a bit ashamed asking people to speak English to me in a country where both are our official languages.

Being colonized by both Britain and France we are somewhat a middle ground between Europe and North America. Which you can especially tell by walking the streets of old Montreal with its narrows cobbles stone streets, old pubs and outdoor cafes. I even spotted an elderly lady walking back from the corner store with a bag full of baguettes. Hippies flocked to Montreal in the 60’s and took over Saint Louis Square and Prince Albert street areas, there you will find old brightly painted houses with long staircases, cafes lining pedestrian streets with diners people watching with their dogs by their side and bohemian clothing shops with the smell of incense wafting out.

The city reflects Canada’s image of an Eco conscious country, I have never seen so many bicycles this side of Holland. The streets are lined with bicycle rental stations where you pop in your credit card and take a bike for a tour, with so many locations you just leave it where you finish. Most of the locals have their own bikes and it seems to be the preferred mode of transportation during the summer months. I was amused watching the streets seeing the bikers riding past seeming to go up in down in tune with the jazz music being heard from the festival stage.
I took in the sights hiking up Mont Royal where you have a fantastic view of the city and can really see the contrast of old and new. The Olympic stadium in one corner and the old port in the other. I even did the cliché thing eating Poutine (a French Canadian delicacy; french fries topped with cheese and gravy) in a pub called Montreal Poutine, ate crepes at an outdoor cafe and donned my fedora matching the trendy artistic crowd.

Montreal seems to reflect the best of Canada, music, art and culture, the new world meets the old. You see equality between French and English, multiculturalism, hip, trendy and eco friendly. Not to mention a fantastic hockey team (I had to throw that one in there).

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