Colourful walkup residences make the city’s Plateau district a feast for the senses. photo credit; Ashley Gasperino @ https://www.flicker.com/photos/ashley/gasperino/5055315268/

 

By BOB FOULKES

I’m a westerner, born on the prairies, living in Vancouver. I’m unilingual. With those qualifications, unlikely as it is, I love Montreal.

I’ve had a crush on Montreal since my first visit more than 40 years ago. An old friend, long passed away, took me to lunch at the Cafe de Paris in the Ritz Hotel on Sherbrooke Street. It was the early 1970s, Expo 67 was too recent to be a memory, the Expos were playing at Jarry Park and the cafes and bistros on Crescent Street were hopping. The lights were brighter, the girls were prettier, their French accented English made them alluringly irresistable, the men had more elan; in short, life in Montreal had a vibrancy and a continental savoir faire that I had never experienced in Taber, Alberta.

I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show under a tent in old Montreal: forever transformed by their vivid creative eccentricity, I never pass on a chance to see anything they do. It is imagination distilled. All these experiences were enthralling.

My crush defies logic; Pascal said the heart has its reasons which reason cannot know. My a crush on Montreal is like that, while it has ebbed and flowed over the decades, complicated by language, politics and geography, it has its reasons which reason cannot know.

See the city at a stately pace: hire a horse-drawn buggy.

After a recent visit, I’m in love all over again.

What has happened to infuse my crush with new energy?

First, Montreal is not as challenging to those of us in the rest of Canada as it once was. As a Westerner, I haven’t always understood Quebec, but I am more accepting of our differences. We are different. It is a difference that enriches and enhances Canada and is one of the reasons I love Montreal.

In the 1970s, Quebec’s Law 101 made French the only official language of the province and the federal Official Languages Act made French and English the official languages of Canada. This tested anglophones, especially westerners like me, isolated from daily contact with francophones. We felt intimidated and limited by our unilingualism.

The language issue is long settled. Most Quebecois speak French; most of the rest of us speak English. More Canadians are bilingual, it makes sense to be so. I no longer feel pressured to learn French, opening the door for me to now want to learn French. On my last visit, all my meetings were in French. Translation was provided but it was clear; in Montreal the language is French. Big deal, we got on with it and I learned a bit more French in the process.

The political climate has changed. The Bloc Quebecois, the federal party dedicated to Quebec separation, has been soundly defeated and marginalized — for now. The provincial Parti Quebecois is in opposition and facing internal turmoil and public irrelevancy. Opinion polls say Quebecois are tired of the constant debate around separation from Canada. The issue is  off the public agenda, for now.

My sense is that Quebecois recognize that their culture is not under threat; they can preserve their unique values and culture and succeed within Canada. They can compete, they will survive and they are thriving.

The rest of Canada can relax a bit; every contact with Quebec is not a tense negotiation. The question ‘what does Quebec want?’ has been set aside for a while.  The defining issue of our political agenda for the past 40 years is gone, the threat of separation that consumed our energy and sapped our confidence has left the building. We can all relax.

I am now free to pursue my crush with Montreal, an amusing flirtation with the promise of things to come. I want to get closer, I don’t want to take this unique special relationship for granted. It is a courtship; a romance celebrating all the special differences that make Montreal so alluring. The restaurants, the clubs, the sidewalk cafes, the museums, Old Montreal, the architecture, the flirtation with a continental culture; all expand and enrich my life.

I want to visit Montreal more often — she’s beautiful in spring. I also want to show Montreal how important she is to my vision of Canada. i want to woo her and flatter her. I want to ensure her old flame – separation – has no future appeal.

After all, she’s right here, like Paris without the attitude…..or the jet lag.

Bob Foulkes is a Vancouver writer, blogger and author of Adventures with Knives : Surviving 1000 hours of Culinary School