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It might sound trite to say that Montr?al feels the most "foreign" of Canada's cities, given the obvious language difference. But there's more to it than just language. Montr?al's customs are more European, its people more insulated against American influence than Toronto or Vancouver. A majority of people here are bilingual, and close to a third are trilingual, given the long-standing Jewish, Italian, Portuguese and Greek communities and the recent waves of Caribbean, South American, and Asian immigration. Many natives will break into English with ease if they sense that you're not fluent in French, giving the impression of a city that's entirely comfortable being both very Qu?becois and very Canadian, and making the most mundane Montrealer seem urbane and worldly.
Apart from its majority-French roots, the city was historically founded by huge enclaves of Scottish (the founder of McGill University being one of the most prominent), English, Irish and Eastern European immigrants at the turn of the century. But throughout the Province of Qu?bec's long, protracted battle for secession from Canada (the last referendum indicated a 51% vote against secession in the province of Qu?bec although majorities of both English- and French-speaking Montrealers voted against secession), many of the city's Anglo population left for parts west, mainly Toronto, which was a major factor in building that city's commercial and financial power. However, Montr?al is seeing many English speakers coming back to the city, as well as numerous international immigrants and investors, with residences in western sectors of the city, as well as in the trendy Plateau Mont-Royal area being snatched up at an incredible rate. The gay section around St. Catherine Street has especially experienced a rebirth in recent years; what were once boarded-up windows are now thriving cafes and bars.
Though Toronto is taller and has a denser downtown than Montreal, the two cities are similar in size and in population (just over three million each). Torontonians have a brusque, clipped manner that has grown icier as the city has grown bigger and bigger; Montr?al's residents combine a Parisian hauteur with a more European, sanguine love of food, wine and good times. Like Paris and unlike Toronto, Montr?al's downtown is animated and populated day and night, seven days a week. Flanked on the south by the mighty St. Lawrence River and presided over by the mountainous Parc du Mont Royal, Montr?al has a wealth of natural beauty, as well as urban beauty -- its recently revamped old quarter, Vieux Montr?al, and old port, Vieux Port, are romantic neighborhoods of churches, converted warehouses, museums and public squares. Montr?al is a cultural capital of Canada, with numerous annual festivals in theater, dance and music. The International Jazz Festival is the largest in the world; and June's Grand Prix Car Race, held in Montreal since 1978, is the only Formula One race in North America. Cirque du Soleil was founded in Montreal, and still maintains its headquarters here.
Part One | Part Two