With the approach of its 375th anniversary in 2017, Montréal is preparing to strut its stuff for an international audience. Numerous urban redevelopment projects are underway, including new recreation and performing arts venues, pedestrian-friendly public spaces, and revamped infrastructure. There's also a new energy in Montréal politics, as first-term mayor Denis Coderre strives to heal past scars from partisanship and corruption.
Best on Film
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974) Mordecai Richler’s timeless story of a Jewish upbringing.
Jesus of Montreal (1989) A prizewinning take on Montreal and Catholicism.
Incendies (2010) Two siblings confront the mystery of their mother’s past.
Funkytown (2011) Bilingual film set against the backdrop of Montréal's 1970s club scene and the burgeoning secession movement.
Best in Print
Two Solitudes (Hugh MacLennan; 1945) One man’s struggles with his English- and French-Canadian background.
The Tin Flute (Gabrielle Roy; 1947) A waitress looks for love in the slums of St-Henri.
How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired (Dany Laferrière; 1985) Provocative début novel from this Haitian-Québecois author.
Barney’s Version (Mordecai Richler; 1997) Richter's acclaimed murder mystery, told by a pair of less-than-reliable narrators.
In business and industry, Montréal does well for itself, boasting the highest number of research centers in Canada, an impressive high-tech sector and the third-largest fashion industry in North America (after New York and Los Angeles). While overall the cost of living here is low compared to most Canadian cities, and home prices remain about 40% to 50% cheaper than in Toronto or Vancouver, Montréal has seen a rapid rise in rental prices over the past few years, and gentrification has become a hot topic. The Plateau used to be the affordable bohemian place to live; now those without cash to pay for ever-increasing rents are being pushed out. Consequently, the creative scene is moving up to Little Italy, Mile End and Park Ex. Other pressing issues are the city’s aging infrastructure, its high unemployment relative to other Canadian cities, and a city government that many see as cumbersomely complex, inefficient and costly. Montrealers also complain about paying the highest taxes of any province in Canada.
In spite of the city’s shortcomings, Montrealers remain proud, citing the city’s burgeoning film and music industries, its vibrant multiculturalism and its rich intellectual life. Not surprisingly, Montréal does quite well in quality-of-life surveys (often ranking well ahead of Paris, Barcelona and San Francisco for instance). A 2015 survey by the Economist rated Montréal as the world's second most liveable city, while Mercer's annual Quality of Living rankings regularly list Montréal among the top 25 cities globally (the city finished 24th in 2015).
Get ready for a big party. Montréal has a triple whammy of anniversary celebrations coming up in 2017: the 375th anniversary of the city's founding, the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation and the 50th anniversary of Expo '67, the World's Fair that focused major international attention on Montréal back in 1967. Perhaps the biggest promoter of the 2017 festivities is Montréal's new mayor Denis Coderre, whose efforts have included a personal visit to the Vatican to invite Pope Francis to attend!
To mark the occasion, Montréal has unveiled an ambitious series of projects designed to spur economic growth, improve locals' quality of life and attract visitors by showcasing the city's rich history, cultural diversity and artistic creativity.
History takes center stage on the brand-new Promenade Urbaine Fleuve-Montagne, a pedestrian route connecting the St Lawrence River and the slopes of Mont-Royal. Plaques along the route will invite both locals and visitors to contemplate the impact of geography in shaping Montréal's history and culture.
Other initiatives invite visitors to get out and explore the city's outdoor spaces. A brand new open-air rink at Esplanade Clark will welcome skaters in winter and double as a public square in summer. Across the river, Parc Jean-Drapeau is getting spruced up with a panoramic riverside promenade and a new amphitheatre on Île Ste-Hélène designed to host major shows and festivals year-round. A slew of other new construction is in the works.
As always, Montréal loves any excuse for a good party, so you can expect to see a full lineup of events emerging as the date draws near; see the official 375th anniversary website (www.375mtl.com) for details.