Have Some Champagne With That Brisket?
Montreal is just bubbling with Jewish culture
November 08, 2007
Jewish Exponent Feature
Ever since the Parti Quebeçois came to power three decades ago, bringing with it greater nationalism and stricter language laws favoring French, it's been easy to feel uneasy about Jewish life in Montreal.
The Jewish community has shrunk from a high of about 120,000 before that 1976 election, to just under 100,000 now. Many who left were the younger, well-educated postwar generation of Ashkenazi descent, who had been educated primarily in English. (Barred from attending the Catholic, French-speaking schools, they'd attended the English-speaking Protestant ones.)
But come to Montreal today, and you'll find a Jewish world that feels more vital than many American communities with comparably-sized communities. You can see live Yiddish theater, visit a new world-class Holocaust center and sample kosher restaurants serving everything from Chinese food to Moroccan chicken tagine.
The Jewish community in Montreal is one of the most traditional in North America. According to a report by B'nai B'rith Canada's Institute for International Affairs, the community has a remarkably low intermarriage rate (less than 7 percent) and a remarkably high rate of religious observance (50 percent keep kosher).
At roughly the same time that wave of Ashkenazi Jews left, about 20,000 Sephardic, French-speaking Jews arrived -- most of them coming from North Africa, especially Morocco. And with a continuing influx of Jewish immigrants, including as many as 10,000 Russian Jews in recent years, the city has maintained a vibrant Jewish culture that is now about 25 percent Sephardic.
In Search of 'Duddy'
Visitors looking for signs of Jewish life have several sections of the city to explore. Anyone interested in history will want to go to the Mile End neighborhood, the setting for Mordecai Richler's famous novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Just east of Mount Royal Park is a five-street-wide area between the Avenue du Parc and the Boulevard Saint-Laurent -- the Jewish neighborhood for much of the first half of the 20th century.
The old neighborhood was increasingly abandoned after the war, as Jews started to make their way out to the suburbs. But Mile End is still home to a large Chasidic community. And it still looks a lot like it did when Richler wrote about going to Tansky's store for a package of Sen-Sen.
The rowhouses remain, with their outside staircases and little balconies. And some of the old haunts, like Moishe's Steakhouse and Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen, are open for business as usual. The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre People come to Moishe's for the best steaks in town, while Schwartz's long, narrow dining room teems with crowded tables of patrons ordering sandwiches piled with smoked beef.
Several blocks north is the St. Viateur Bagel Shop, celebrating its 50th anniversary. It is open day and night, 24/7, and regularly wins the prize for best bagels in Montreal -- as much for the atmosphere as for the bagels themselves. You can see the flames coming out of the wood-burning brick oven, and watch the bagels being pulled out on a long-handled tray and then dumped into a long, sloping bin.
They still use the same recipe from 100 years ago -- hand-rolling the bagels and dropping them into boiling water for five minutes before baking. And forget about cinnamon-raisin or chocolate-chip bagels: It's sesame or poppyseed, and that's it!
For a completely different scene, head west out Côte St. Catherine Road to Snowdon, a neighborhood of duplex and split-level homes, where many Jews moved after the war. There, you'll find a small campus of Jewish community and religious organizations and cultural groups.
The Segal Centre for Performing Arts at the Saidye Bronfman Centre mounts plays of both general and Jewish interest, including an annual play in Yiddish. Montreal has the largest Holocaust-survivor population in Canada; across the street from the Saidye Bronfman are the Jewish Public Library and the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, with 5,000 square feet of exhibit space. The library sponsors all kinds of lectures, readings, films, and live-music and other events for both residents and visitors.
A few blocks south of Côte St. Catherine Road is the commercial Queen Mary Road, which feels something like the way Mile End must have felt a few generations ago. There are charcuteries (delis that specialize in meats) where everything is labeled only in Russian, with vats of sweet-and-sour cabbage and trays of whole smoked fish and caviar. There's Israeli fast-food at Chez Benny and kosher pizza by the Snowdon metro station. Cell phones ring, voices chatting in French and Arabic more often than in Yiddish.
Yes, indeed, Jewish life in Montreal has changed, but remains alive and well. For more information, go to: www. tourisme-montreal.org.
Life in Montreal - Telegraph Mentor
Patricia Smith says Canadians are genuinely nice people; friendly and welcoming, fond of the British and very proud of their homeland.
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 28/11/2007
Patricia Smith is willing to answer your questions about Montreal.
Our mentors are volunteers and any information they provide is for information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Click here to access the message boards terms and conditions.
My family moved to Montreal in early 2000 when my husband was offered a job with a Biotech company here. I also worked in the Biotech sector in Montreal for two years but left to start my own relocation company, Home Thoughts.
My company is a Destination Services company that specialises in helping Brits who are moving to Montreal to find housing and schools, showing them where to shop, helping them to get drivers licenses, finding them cleaners, doctors, dentists, child-minders etc. Basically, all the things I wish someone had helped me with when I moved here!
In addition to my experience of international relocation, having worked here as well, I understand the work ethos, which is very different from that in the UK and in the US. If anyone has any questions about visiting or moving to Montreal I am more than happy to answer them.
Ask questions and read the answers on the Mentor Noticeboard.
Geography: Montreal is located on an island gently nestled within the St. Lawrence Seaway in Eastern Canada in the Province of Quebec. The city is dominated by a large hill in the centre, grandly called 'The Mountain' by the locals, and only slightly less grandly officially 'Mont Royal'.
This beautiful parkland, with the Mansions of Westmount and Outrement cut part way up it, has a chateau at the top and a lookout from which you can see right across to the States. Looking down you can see the business center of Montreal, the McGill University campus buildings and the bridges that cross the St. Lawrence. To the north of Montreal only 45 minutes away are the Laurentian mountains with their superb ski resorts, golf courses, lakes and cottages for summer and winter. To the East an hour away, are the Eastern Townships, again with superb skiing, golf, lakes and holiday cottages.
The US is 40 minutes away to the south with Boston and New York six hours drive away and one hour by air. There are several daily flights to London only 7 hours away, and to the rest of Europe.
Cuisine: The French influence means that the food is great; the croissants and pastries are second only to France. It appears that everyone who has ever emigrated here also loves food because there are restaurants of every nationality serving good food to suit every budget. Eating out here is so cheap compared to the UK, the portions are large, the service is great and children are welcome everywhere.
There is a lot more smoking here than in the UK so ask for a non-smoking table if that is your preference. Wine and spirits are very expensive as they are sold by a Quebec government agency, the SAQ.
The wine sold in the supermarkets is more like Ribena. Beer is more reasonably priced and can be bought in supermarkets or corner shops called depanneurs.
People: Canadians are genuinely nice people; friendly and welcoming, fond of the British and very proud of their homeland. It has been said that Canada is a bit boring, but this is really not the case in Quebec. The European influence, particularly that of the French, really livens things up.
After Paris, Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city in the world. 69% of its three million people speak French as their mother tongue, 12% speak English and 19% don't speak either. The reality of the situation, however, is that in this tolerant, vibrant, and youthful city most of its inhabitants are functionally bilingual, often trilingual, and so coming here only speaking English is not a problem. Even if you speak perfect French you will be spotted as a visitor as the Quebecois accent is very different. I have lived here for four years and people still start speaking in English to me the minute I say 'Bonjour'.
Montrealers love Brits and the shop assistants always want to chat, telling you who in their family is British, and how much they love your accent. There are also large numbers of immigrants from non-English or French cultures and there is no obvious racial tension. I suspect this is because they are not perceived scroungers or benefit seekers but just as new additions to a long line of immigrants, who are here to work hard, learn French and get on with life.
Weather: Montreal has four distinct seasons. Winter is long lasting from November until the end of March. It has usually snowed by the middle of December and carries on intermittently until March. January and February are the coldest months with temperatures averaging -10ºC but on the odd day it does fall to -40ºC with the wind chill factor. -10ºC sounds cold but it isn't really provided you have the right clothes. It is a dry cold and so it doesn't penetrate through to your bones as it does in the UK. The children love the snow, which is dry and brushes off easily, and you can always appreciate the beautifully clear blue skies.
Spring is very short lasting from April to the end of May, but everything grows extremely quickly and it is delightful to see the grass and flowers pushing through past the residual snow. Summer runs luxuriously through June to September and is hot and often humid. The temperature can reach the mid 30's in July and August and it is truly fantastic. Fall (Autumn) runs from October until mid-November and is beautiful with red, brown and gold colours abounding. It is a great time to travel to Vermont and the Laurentians or anywhere woody and rural.
Standard of Living: Everything in Montreal is roughly half the price of that in the UK, from food and clothes to restaurants and housing, and people are not embarrassed to question prices or complain about bad service. Salaries are lower than in the UK but despite this you will still have a much better standard of living in Montreal.
Healthcare: The medical system, Medicare, is very similar to the NHS with the same sorts of advantages and disadvantages. Treatment is free on demand and the doctors and nurses are generally very good but the waiting lists are often long. GP's are in short supply and you have to wait for hours in the Emergency Room (casualty).
Once you arrive on a work permit or land as an immigrant you need to obtain a Medicare card to get treatment. The private health system in Quebec is very limited. You cannot pay to see a consultant or have tests performed in a public hospital more quickly but you can go to a private clinic for certain tests, particularly if you are an adult. Many health insurance schemes will pay for this.
The cost of prescription medicines is borne by the patient or by the private insurance that you will have through your employer.
Dental care is high quality but very expensive and not covered at all by Medicare for adults and even for children the provision is limited. Employee insurance schemes cover dental treatment but cover varies from scheme to scheme.
As in the UK, adults in Quebec pay for eye check ups and children and those on welfare benefits do not. Medicare does not cover the cost of glasses or contact lenses, however, most insurance schemes cover the costs in part or completely. Glasses and contact lenses are considerably cheaper in Quebec than in the UK.
Driving: If you hold a valid British Driving License you can obtain a Quebec license without taking a test. You can drive for a few months on your international license but it is best to get a Quebec license as soon as possible. You can obtain this from the SAAQ (Société de l'Assurance Automobile du Quebec).
You are legally required to carry your license with you when driving as well as the insurance and registration documents for the car. The rules regarding drink-driving, the wearing of seat belts, and use of child car seats are similar to those in the UK, i.e do not drink and drive, wear seats belts at all times and make sure your child has the correct car seat for their size and age.
It is relatively easy to adjust to driving on the right hand side of the road in Quebec, because the speed limits are lower than in the UK and they are, by and large, obeyed.
The general consensus among expats is that drivers in Quebec are not very good. It is not that they are deliberately obstructive or aggressive; they just seem unaware of other cars, not letting you into a lane or out of a side street, pulling out suddenly and rarely indicating. There is 'no fault' insurance in Quebec. That is, if you have an accident your insurance company pays for your damage and the other parties company pays for their damage regardless of who was responsible. Any injury to your person is insured by the SAAQ.
Banking: If you are just visiting banking is fine, you can use your UK cashpoint cards in the ATM's which are everywhere, not just in the banks but in cinemas, depanneurs and supermarkets. Of course, UK credit cards are accepted everywhere. The banks are open 10am until 4pm on weekdays only and have very long queues so use the ATM whenever possible.
If you are planning to move here for a few years banking is more difficult. Your credit reference in the UK is no good here at all and you basically start from scratch proving your financial worthiness to be given a credit card and overdraft facility. Getting as many store cards as possible is one way to improve your credit rating.
Driving in Montreal is an experience
Posted By Marshall, Scott
Updated 1 hour ago
Driving in different places can be difficult to many people.
The fear of not knowing where you're going can be very overwhelming. Roads you've never seen before and higher than normal traffic can lead to high anxiety.
I was recently in Montreal and if you've ever driven there you'll already know it's an experience of a lifetime.
The cab ride from the airport to my hotel was interesting to start with.
The driver didn't use his turn signals. Most people will use them at least most of the time. It lets other road users know your intentions.
In Montreal, it lets other drivers know what your plans are early enough so they can speed up and block your move. If you're in Montreal you don't signal. That way nobody knows your moves.
We all know that fuel prices are higher than we would all like, so the drivers in Montreal decided to work together to save fuel. They follow each other very closely so they can cut down on wind resistance. Race car drivers call this 'drafting'.
The cab driver was driving close enough to the traffic in front of them that it looked like they were being towed by the driver in front.
I thought it was very nice of the lead driver, or drivers, to avoid suddenly stopping. That was nice of them, don't you think?
Most drivers would understand they need to have some response time from the driver in front if they stop suddenly.
You should leave more of a following distance if the driver ahead of you is unsure of where they are going so they'll have enough room to turn around as necessary.
As a side note, following further back also give you more to stop if the lead driver stops suddenly. We should all know that, right?
Now, I enjoy playing and watching sports like a lot of people do. I like the competitiveness of sports.
Being a pedestrian in Montreal seems like it's a sport to many of the drivers in Montreal, though.
When the cab driver was driving along the road and was about to enter an intersection, a pedestrian stepped off the curb right in front of us. There was no horn honking and only a slight swerve was done to avoid hitting them.
Maybe you need to drive as close as possible to a pedestrian when you're driving there? I didn't see the rules for this one, so maybe I'm wrong.
I may have exaggerated my thoughts here, but every event did actually happen.
The bottom line here is no matter where you drive, keep space around your vehicle and communicate to other road users.
Plan your route so you know where your turns are and get into the proper lane well in advance.
If you do all of this, you'll be safe driving - even while in Montreal!
Scott Marshall is the director of training for Young Drivers of Canada.
He has spent almost 20 years in driver training. For questions or comments regarding this column e-mail Scott directly at [email protected]
Taken For A Ride In Montreal
Warning: Loyal reader ripped off by taxi driver at Montreal Airport.
by Wendy Perrin
Frequent globehopper Joe_Kayaker reports that he was "taken for a ride" when he landed at Montreal International recently:
"It was late in the evening, the shuttle bus to the Airport Novotel had stopped running at 10:00 p.m., and none of the taxis would take me on such a short trip. Grrr. I finally found a taxi driver who would take me. As we were driving to the hotel, he said he didn't understand why the Novotel was called an "airport hotel," since it's not really that close to the airport. We drove for quite a while, and the ride cost $30. When checking into the hotel, I asked how much a cab ride from the airport is supposed to cost and was told, 'No more than $15.' I overpaid by only 15 bucks (well, Loonies), but how does one avoid being taken in by unscrupulous taxi drivers? Thanks, Joe"
Joe, you paid $15 in what I call "tourist tax." I've been taken on circuitous routes and overcharged by cab drivers in many a city -- Cairo, Beijing, Moscow, New York -- but I have to say I'm surprised to hear of this occurring in orderly and lawful Montreal. Here's my test-driven advice for avoiding unscrupulous airport cabbies:
1) Ask the hotel in advance how long a taxi ride it is from the airport and what the cost should be. The Hotel Novotel Montreal Aeroport's web site says it's "just 10 minutes" from the airport and provides a map of the route (see left).
2) Before getting into a cab, ask the driver how much the ride will cost. If he quotes a price higher than what the hotel told you, offer your price. Negotiate and reach an agreement before stepping into the cab.
3) When you arrive at your destination, if the driver demands a higher price than was agreed to, ask for a receipt with the driver's name on it, write down his ID number (make known to him that you're recording it), and take out your camera to snap a picture of him and the car. Often, as soon as you pull out the camera, the driver will drop the price.
One more thought: If the hotel has a doorman or bellman, see if he can hold the cab while you notify the front desk that you're in the process of being ripped off. I've never done this myself, but I bring it up because a few weeks ago a hotel in Madrid happened to suggest just this. When I called the Tryp Atocha a few days before my arrival in Spain to confirm my online reservation and find out what the length and cost of a cab ride from the airport should be, the front-desk clerk volunteered that if the driver tried to overcharge I should tell the front desk and they would deal with him for me. I got the impression that they had done so for other guests in the past.
Hope this helps, Joe. Always good to hear from you.
The New York Times
June 28, 2008
By BEN SISARIO
MONTREAL — On Wednesday night, in the last of his three concerts presented as preludes to the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Leonard Cohen, the 73-year-old hometown poet-hero on tour for the first time in 15 years, said that on his last time through town he was “60 years old, just a kid with a crazy dream.” Between waves of applause and hollers in French and English, he added, “I am so grateful to be here and to be from here.”
Mr. Cohen’s math notwithstanding, hometown pride and musical reverence are at the center of the festival, which opened its 29th season on Thursday and runs through July 6. Billing itself as the largest jazz festival in the world, it attracts one million visitors a year to more than 500 concerts in a three-block music zone downtown and brings about $100 million in revenue to the city, according to Canadian government estimates.
With CD sales in a chronic slump, the music industry has been turning increasingly to live events for income, and in recent years big smorgasbord festivals have sprouted up all over North America, aiming to present all kinds of music for all kinds of people. But with a setting ideal for tourists as well as for local residents, and a solid history of eclectic programming — among the attractions this year are Woody Allen, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Public Enemy and the local debut of Steely Dan — Montreal has held on to a rare prestige.
“There is no parallel in North America and perhaps no parallel around the world,” said Scott Southard, a jazz and world-music booking agent who has 15 artists at the festival. “In Europe or Bonnaroo, for instance, they have to erect an entire village in a remote location. Here you have an urban environment without having to reconstruct the venue infrastructure every year.”
Begun in 1980 by two concert promoters, Alain Simard and André Ménard, as a way to fill up what was then a dry summer concert calendar, the festival takes over four concert halls of the Place des Arts performing arts complex as well as numerous theaters and clubs around the perimeter. Several blocks of downtown streets are closed for outdoor stages, retail and food booths and children’s activities. Despite the size, Mr. Simard, the president of the festival’s parent company, L’Équipe Spectra, said that “the goal is not to be the biggest jazz festival in the world, it’s to be the best.”
But as the festival approaches its 30th season, it is preparing to grow even bigger, with help from a four-year, $120 million government plan to develop the area around Place des Arts. The first phase, to be completed by next summer, includes a 75,000-square-foot park and performance ground, the Place du Quartier des Spectacles. The festival has also been given a 30-year lease and a $10 million grant from the Province of Quebec to renovate a nearby vacant building; when completed it will add one club for use year-round.
As a tourist draw second only to Grand Prix du Canada, the Formula One race held in Montreal in early June, the jazz festival has become an important symbol of Montreal’s cosmopolitan lifestyle, said Charles Lapointe, the chief executive of Tourism Montreal, a nonprofit agency financed through a hotel tax.
“The jazz festival exemplifies perfectly what we are presenting on the foreign market,” Mr. Lapointe said. “You can celebrate on the streets without any problems with security and express all the pleasure you want.”
Civic pride and creative abundance was clear on Thursday, the official opening. (Mr. Cohen’s touring schedule prevented him from being part of the festival proper; he appears at the enormous Glastonbury pop festival in Britain on Sunday.)
During the afternoon crowds gradually filled up the Place des Arts campus, slurping on ice cream cones beside the fountain and listening to the sound check for a tribute to Mr. Cohen featuring Chris Botti, Madeleine Peyroux, Buffy Sainte-Marie and others. Darting between indoor evening concerts by the veteran jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, the young British songwriter Katie Melua and the African performers Vieux Farka Touré and Salif Keita, a visitor could quickly take in half a dozen outdoor concerts, parades and magicians. Two-thirds of the concerts are free.
The Cohen tribute drew an estimated audience of 100,000, filling the plaza and nearby streets. But the concerts by Mr. Cohen himself were the clear early highlight. Dressed like a spy in a crisp black suit and fedora, Mr. Cohen, who has said that after years in a Zen Buddhist retreat in California, his lifelong depression has finally begun to lift, sang a sleek and emotional set of nearly three hours. In “Bird on the Wire,” “Hallelujah” and “Tower of Song” he sang of being weighted down by cynicism and starving for affection, but between songs he doffed his hat and smiled broadly for sustained ovations.
The festival, a nonprofit enterprise run by the for-profit company L’Équipe Spectra, has an operating budget of $25 million. And though about 18 percent of that comes from national, provincial and city sources, the biggest form of government support is the closing of several blocks of busy city streets. The bulk of the budget comes from corporate sponsorships (40 percent) and sales of tickets and memorabilia (39 percent).
The prominence of sponsorships gives the festival a sense of hyperbranding. Looking over Place des Arts, it is almost impossible not to see a giant symbol of General Motors, the lead sponsor: besides GM logos on banners and fliers throughout the grounds, the company also has five displays of new cars for contests, and at least one of the many marching bands wended its way around, wearing black GM T-shirts.
Festival organizers say that they have made efforts to ensure that the sponsorship is tasteful and not intrusive. Signs are only seen outdoors, where concerts are free, they say. There is no advertising for the paid concerts indoors, and the organizers say they will not rename the event to suit any sponsor. To create an egalitarian atmosphere, the festival also shuns velvet ropes.
“You will never see a V.I.P. area on the site,” Mr. Ménard said. “There’s never a place where people walk and are told, ‘No, that’s not for you.’ The unemployed can stand next to the president of the sponsor company.”
For the Cohen tribute on Thursday night, however, there was a small area of bleachers near the stage reserved for the news media and others. But a reporter who lacked the necessary badges was still able to enter with a few kind words. And unlike many large festivals, this one had a network of fenced-off pathways that made quick travel through even a crowd of 100,000 tightly packed fans on Thursday evening easy for anyone needing or wanting to get through.
“The vibe is very peaceful,” Mr. Ménard said of the festival. “The fabric of this city is all about the quality of life. The fact is, we have long, deadly winters, so come summertime, everybody is in for a party — but a civilized party.”