David Whitley compares his experiences in Canada’s big three metropoles.




Sidling down past cafés and restaurants that have abandoned their usual premises to sell their wares from temporary grills on the street, I find myself following the noise to a park. Inside, a band is playing a free gig. The singer announces that the next tune is a love song written by a car to a human being called: “How Do You Like These Deals?” I find myself bopping along next to a septuagenarian woman with a Last of the Summer Wine blue rinse perm and two screamingly camp men holding up a sign that says: “Marry Me”. Oh, yes, and I’m drinking apricot beer. 


Later on, I find Boulevard Saint-Laurent whooping over several impromptu games of Rock Paper Scissors that appear to be breaking out domino-style down the cordoned-off road. It is perhaps a little bold to categorically state that Montreal is easily the best city in Canada. After all, I’ve only been to the three biggest cities in Canada, so I can’t really speak for the relative charms of Winnipeg, Calgary, Saskatoon and Edmonton. This said, from what I’ve heard, Edmonton isn’t even the best city in Edmonton.


But I know if I could choose just one city to visit on a future trip to Canada, Montreal would be it. And Saturday night’s experience of walking down Boulevard St Laurent and rue Saint-Denis sums up a lot about why. Montreal has an incredible energy, a seemingly permanent state of festival, a terrace bar culture and a spirit that you just want to throw yourself into.


It’s just somewhere that doesn’t feel like anywhere else, a mix of European and North American, historic and pioneering. There’s loads to do and see – I felt like I’d barely scratched the surface in four days and wanted to kayak down rapids, see the art galleries, visit the old Olympic stadium and do some serious eating. Part of the charm is down to the language thing. Montreal flits between French and English with ease. It doesn’t have that ludicrous French protectionism and self-importance that the rest of Canada generally criticises Quebec for. In fact, Montreal kinda looks at Quebec as a slightly embarrassing family member.


If you have to compare the three main Canadian cities to bands, Vancouver would be Coldplay. It’s got all the right ingredients, can be spectacular to look at and often pulls out a cracker. But expose yourself to it in more than short doses and it feels bland, like something crucial has mixed the ingredients into a dull, healthy soup.


Toronto, on the other hand, would be Roxette. It has a desperately uncool reputation, and is hardly setting the world on fire. But give it a go; you’ll find that it produces consistent winners and is hugely likeable whichever track you head down.


Montreal, of course, would be hometown heroes Arcade Fire. It’s big, it’s complex, it’s far from identikit and it has an electrifying energy. Despite everyone and his dog raving about it, the qualities that drew people in originally are still there. And, you could argue, it just keeps improving.