A Little Bit About Montreal from an Unabashed Local

Maurice Richard's sweater from 1953.
The Rocket's sweater from his glory days in 1953.

“Let me begin by dispelling a few myths about Montreal,” Ruby Roy, our confident and Montreal-born guide told us, as we stood in front of our bus about to depart for the city’s Old Quarter.  First, it’s not just French, it’s more than 100 nationalities, and people here speak a lot more languages than French and English.  She described the three million residents who live on this almond-shaped island in generalities that only a local could get away with. “When we  walk down the street, we look you in eye,” she said. “And if a woman likes another woman’s dress, she’ll tell her so.”

“We don’t work after five.  And on a  nice Friday, many of us start the weekend at 2. We don’t follow rules easily…if a restaurant doesn’t have outdoor seating, forget it, it’s done.  A neighborhood has to have a bakery, a cheese store, a chocolate store and a wine store. You can tell each neighborhood because the lamposts are all different.  There are more than 500 BYO restaurants here –we drink red wine so there’s no point in trying to sell a lot of other drinks. Plus, the state liquor stores are usually open late, so when you run through the first bottle you just pop over and buy another.”

Outside we passed “Bixi” stands, rows of bikes, 5000 in all, that are available in 500 locations throughout Montreal. “It’s a combination of bike and taxi,” Ruby explained. “People here use BMW to get around. That’s Bike, Metro and Walk!”  She shares one car with eleven other members of her family, and said that laws force people to change over their snow tires, parking is a royal pain, and “we hate the people from 450 (area code), since they aren’t smart enough to realize they should leave their cars at home in this crowded city!”   Eighty-one percent of Montrealers own or ride a bike, she added.

As she talked, a man holding a beer with a five-day beard mocked her, pretending to give his own version of her history lessons. Another drunk was spotted taking a leak into the river along a pedestrian walkway. But more about what really makes this city tick, and it’s not the public drunks.

“There’s a shortage of men in this city,” Ruby told us. “There is one religion, and that’s hockey. The priorities here are hockey, Food, cycling….and sex.” That’s when she added the part about the shortage. There is construction everywhere, she added, as we passed a dusty area outside of the basilica that was being torn up. It’s the same basilica where hockey hero Maurice Richard had his funeral, and Celine Dion was married. But Ruby wasn’t fond of the singer, she was much more interested in the hero. “Richard scored 50 goals in 50 games,” she said. My son said he didn’t like hockey, and we were all crushed.”

But Les Habs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since they moved out of town she told us as we passed the once iconic Montreal Forum, now a entertainment venue called the Pepsi Forum. “On the $5 bill we have the number 9.” You can guess who’s number that was.