Resuming our anniversary tour (celebrating 20 years as Canadian citizens), we’ve spent the last several days in Quebec City, Ottawa, and Montreal. Here are a few observations:
Quebec City… The European charm seduced us, but it was quickly evident the old city comprises more tourist-oriented shops than authentic businesses serving locals. Compared to Montreal’s Plateau Mont-Royal, old Quebec feels like shallow entertainment. We were also startled to discover that locals call Quebec City “the national capitol,” one of the city’s most impressive buildings is labeled “the National Assembly,” and not far away is a regional park that Quebecois call a “national park” and where we were told our Canadian National Park annual pass was invalid. So is Quebec a Canadian province, or not? We think all Canadian citizens should be deeply offended by this national posturing within Quebec. If Quebecois are that desirous of independence, let them have it.
Ottawa… We arrived here hoping the capitol of our adopted nation would impress us. It didn’t. As capitol cities go, it’s very modest. Parliament Hill and its immediate surroundings (the Chateau Laurier, the Rideau Canal, the Ottawa River, the Museum of Civilization) are beautiful. But the Parliament buildings are so slavishly imitative of British architecture, it’s rather embarrassing. Nothing original here? No innovative Canadian architecture? What a disappointment. And while touring Parliament, we were reminded that for any bill to become law in Canada, it must have “royal assent.” Come on, Canada, why do we continue to bow and scrape like this? Let’s have some self respect and sever these humiliating Commonwealth ties. What did impress us in Ottawa was the extensive network of bike paths. Bravo! We spent most of an entire day cycling throughout the city. The sight we found most engaging was John Félice Ceprano’s balanced-rock sculpture garden in (yes, in) the Ottawa River. We admired it for half an hour. While touring Ottawa, it was continually apparent that residents of our nation’s capitol are unhappy. Almost nobody smiles at, or even makes eye contact with, passing pedestrians. They all appear to be shouldering a weighty mental burden. What’s the explanation for this? In New York City, people recognize each other, often smile, and appear very content.
Montreal… A beautiful city, with many elegant, historic, stone buildings. The stately, leafy neighbourhoods of the Plateau Mont-Royal (north of Rue Roy, south of Ave Laurier, in the vicinity of Rue St. Denis, Ave Duluth, and Ave Laval) are a national treasure. Very European yet distinct. We walked here for hours. Not just on the more commercial Blvd St. Laurent (shops, boutiques, restaurants) but also through the residential enclaves, where three-story homes rich in character are squeezed together for block after block. We call this kind of walking “urban floating,” because we have no particular destination and we’re sauntering at about the pace of a float in a parade: allowing time to see, be seen, and interact with everybody and everything we pass. Urban floating in Montreal is a joy. The city oozes creativity and fashion. And the people who live here are obviously very social. Restaurants everywhere, and most of them full! If we were urbanites, this is the Canadian city we would call home. We especially appreciated how alive the city is at night. People are out, the sidewalks are buzzing, the shops are busy. It’s invigorating. What also astounded us about Montreal, however, is the high percentage of citizens who smoke cigarettes. Everywhere you look, you see people lighting up, puffing away, blowing smoke in your face, tossing butts in the street. It’s disgusting. Nowhere else in Canada have we seen such a high concentration of smokers. These people are apparently oblivious to the health risks of smoking and the unfair burden they’re placing on our healthcare system. Still, we loved Montreal.