July Monkey

Here’s the 12 Monkeys theme for July: Describe your first impression of Montreal.

If you’ve never been to Montreal or have no idea about the city, or if you were born in Montreal and have no sense of a “first impression,” then describe your first impression of another city — preferably one you went to live in.

Here’s my monkey:

Montreal: Three First Impressions

(1) When I was a kid I passed through Montreal a couple of times while on train trips with my parents. My only recollection of these brief visits is the awe I felt at the cavernous inside of the train station. In particular, I remember repeatedly running up and down the escalators, to the chagrin of my mother who wanted me to behave. But what can you expect? My hometown of Sydney, Nova Scotia was utterly devoid of those hulking and rattling contraptions. Montreal was like a futuristic science exhibition, except we were allowed to touch the displays.

(2) Years later, when I was about 17, my brother and I took a road trip to Ontario. He lived there at the time but had come home for the summer. One day he announced that he had something to do back in Kingston so he tossed me in the car, deputized me as co-pilot, and off we went.

The car was a Ford Pinto, 1974 I think, so it didn’t go very fast. Sydney to Kingston was about a 20-hour run and we were determined to make it without stopping to sleep. By the time we got to Quebec City we were exhausted and needed a break, so we did the most irrational thing imaginable — we drove into Old Quebec and went into a bar for a beer. It was a hip place called Le Balzac — all dark and foreign and every table had a telephone and an illuminated ball with a number.

Then we grabbed some coffee and hit the road again. We passed through Montreal at about 3:00 AM, and because we arrived on the island via the Lafontaine Tunnel I didn’t get to see the city’s skyline. We traversed the city via the Trans-Canada (aka, the “40”) and I was shocked at the amount of road traffic on the highway at that time of night. I was also baffled at the signage; signs over the service roads said “40” with an arrow pointing straight ahead — but to my naïve eye that meant Hey, the 40 is over there, on the other side of that guard rail! My impression of Montreal that night was of a city of cars and confusing road signs.

(3) When I was about 20 years old, I took a train from Sydney to Ottawa to visit my brother. There was a problem with the tracks near Trois-Rivieres so everyone had to get off the train and wait while busses were rounded up to take us to the train station in Montreal. Finally, I got to see a view of the city, as it was still daytime when the bus crossed the Jacques Cartier Bridge. It wove through downtown and deposited me at Place Bonaventure, where I walked through to the train station.

I had missed my connecting train to Ottawa and had to wait several hours for the next one. I decided to use the time to look around the city a bit. I was still very much a small town boy, and was well aware of it. Although I had a burning desire to explore, I was intimidated by the huge scale of everything, the lack of English being spoken, and the awareness of my own naïveté. Regardless, I exited the station and walked up the hill towards the biggest thing I could see — Place Ville Marie.

By the time I got there — some two blocks away — I was already worried that I would not be able to find my way back. Clearly, my current uncanny sense of direction had not yet matured. As such, all I did was walk around the outside of Place Ville Marie a few times, making a vow to come back some day to really explore this place. Then I made my way back to the train station and hunted unsuccessfully for the escalators that had provided so much amusement some ten years previous. That day, my impression of Montreal was of a place that I needed to come back to, to explore.

18 thoughts on “July Monkey

  1. Montreal Monkey

    July’s monkey is “Describe your first impression of Montreal.” I’m not sure that I have a first impression of our fair city. I was born at the Royal Victoria hospital, and lived on the South Shore until we moved to…

  2. It’s such a vivid memory, my first days in Montreal. Thanks for getting me to think about it again.

  3. Oui je suis réellement en vacances, mais primo je suis blog addict et en période de désintoxication (pardonnez ma rechute) et secundo je voulais absolument participer aux singeries de Martine et de Blork, car j’y prends part depuis février.

    Premières impressions, Montréal.
    Je suis né à Montréal sur le Plateau Mont-Royal, à une époque où ce n’était pas encore huppé, la photo sepia et le carosse en rotin pas dernière mode, en font foi ! Quand on est petiot tout nous semble énorme, donc mes impressions premières de Montréal; c’est que le parc Lafontaine était la brousse et Dupuis Frères était à l’autre bout de l’univers. Les tramways m’impressionnaient et tout le reste me dépassait largement!

  4. My monkey is up! And yes, I agree with kowy – it’s really nice to reminisce about my first days in Montreal.

  5. I was born there but still I know my first impression must have been of the rotating floodlight atop of Place Ville Marie. To my brother and I, it was always this wonderful exciting beacon telling us that Montreal is the place to be. Of course my brother was in his 20’s before admitting that he believed the lights were there to help spot UFOs. :/

  6. My favourite landmark / “you know you’re in Montreal” moment was seeing the Redpath Sugar sign when arriving on the VIA train …

  7. July Monkey: Welcome to Montral

    This month’s monkey asks readers to contribute our first impressions of Montral.

    Besides a quick stopover at Dorval Airport when I was nine and on my way to Florida, my first time in Montral came when I was 11.

  8. July Monkey: Welcome to Montral

    This month’s monkey asks readers to contribute our first impressions of Montral.

    Besides a quick stopover at Dorval Airport when I was nine and on my way to Florida, my first time in Montral came when I was 11.

  9. July Monkey: Welcome to Montreal

    This month’s monkey asks readers to contribute our first impressions of Montral.

    Besides a quick stopover at Dorval Airport when I was nine and on my way to Florida, my first time in Montral came when I was 11.

  10. Mine’s up. Sorry about the double ping. I messed it up the first time. I have an IQ of 48.

  11. (I’m going to post my monkey here because it’s not really suitable for my own blog. Hope that’s OK.)

    I was born in Montreal but do have some impressions to note. Until I was nine, my family lived in Verdun, and we had no car. We used to take the 108 bus up to Cabot Square and then the 15 along Ste-Catherine when we wanted to do any shopping. This was shortly before the metro was built, and back then the land that now has the Alexis Nihon Plaza on it was not built up – I think it was some kind of sports field. My impression then was that the city just – stopped, after the Forum, which was its pre-refurbished self then too. Ste-Catherine was also two-way at the time, which seems pretty amazing now. I liked the city feel of it, people rushing to and fro, and always have.

    Expo 67 was a big deal and a big inspiration for me. I was nine. We had moved up to Snowdon in connection with my dad’s work. My mother let me go to Expo on my own with my little sister, who was seven. She’d just give us a few bus tickets and tell us to be back for dinnertime. I don’t think people would do that now, but she knew I understood how to get around, and I never got lost or into any trouble. I also acquired a huge sense of confidence in my knowledge of Expo and the city. I gave directions to lost adults, sometimes, although I don’t know how seriously they took the bespectacled little redhead with the smart-ass manner. I loved Expo – it was my first exposure to a fully designed environment and it was full of stuff perfectly suited to enthrall a clever kid. My affection for this city is based pretty strongly on my early respect for a town that could pull something like that off.

    As i got into my teens, bit by bit I got to know more parts of the city. I recall that my friends and I had the romantic idea the Main was a mad, bad, dangerous street – not just the bit around Ste-Catherine, mind you, but the whole thing. Gave our discovery of that part of town a nice illicit atmosphere. None of my friends drove – we all walked, cycled and took public transit, just as I do now, but we got around and broadened our views.

    Around that time, more ethnic food became commonly available. I remember my first souvlaki – it was at Kojax on Ste-Catherine – and my first shawarma, at Basha’s. I’d been brought up in an anglo-Canadian household where we never even used garlic, so the discovery of things like tzatziki was a godsend. Since then I’ve always found myself widening my explorations of the city via food discoveries too.

    Thoreau said “I have traveled extensively in Concord” and I think it’s fair to say I’ve traveled extensively in Montreal. I feel I know it well, and yet that there are still many corners that I have not stood on and pondered. And that makes me happy to be here.

  12. Yay, Monkeys!

    Kate, that was great. Feel free to let your monkeys out in these comments any time!

  13. First Impression of Montreal: A Monkey

    Blork and Martine sponsor the project 12 Monkeys. This month the task is to “describe your first impression of Montreal.” I remember mine well. A few years ago I flew to Montreal to spend time with my then new love…

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