Yara El-Soueidi: There's a pall over Montreal, but I love my city

When things seem gloomy, sometimes all we need is a little perspective.

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I was determined to start 2024 on a positive note. This first column was supposed to be an ode to a new year, a year to look forward to.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I could write about. And there seemed to be little in the way of positive news.

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Quebec’s new sign laws? Soaring house prices? Business closures? Maybe interview the owners of my favourite bar, Turbo Haüs, about the fines they’ve been getting for making too much noise? This after the venue moved from a residential neighbourhood to the Quartier des Spectacles, where you might expect, well, spectacles.

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I thought about it and realized that 2023 has come and gone, and it barely feels like we’ve turned a page. Things don’t appear to be getting better. Everywhere I look, things seem messy and chaotic, like the weather we’ve been having.  

“It is a mess,” said a friend when I told her nothing inspired me other than the current “mess of things.”

And I’m not talking about the war raging in the Middle East, though it does add to the mess of things here in Montreal.

The mandate of this column was always supposed to be “Montreal through the eyes of a millennial woman.” I do want it to be positive, particularly my first column of the new year.  

My first-ever column was about Nike’s Montreal bagel-inspired dunk lows. Since then, culturally, Montreal seems to have lost much of its spark. Music venues are closing (or being ridiculously fined). Other businesses are closing, too. The STM is considering cutting métro hours as a “theoretical scenario.” Tenants’ advocates are reporting evictions in Quebec are at an all-time high. The list goes on, with no indication of better days ahead.

That said, I’m tired of reading about how our city has become so ugly and bleak. I’d rather focus what is positive and beautiful. I thought about that and realized there is plenty to love about Montreal.

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I love our public transit system. I believe it is one of the best in North America. True, it’s not always reliable. And the fares are higher than we would like them to be, or should be. And the métro doesn’t run all night. But if you’ve ever taken the subway elsewhere, you know our métro is special. And you know that getting around Montreal by métro is easy most of the time. 

I love our neighbourhoods and how walkable our city is. I once walked from my place in Villeray to St-Henri, and even if it seems like a trek, it was one of the most fun treks I’ve ever done. I went through the neighbourhoods, noticing what makes them different, and heard the various languages in the streets. How beautiful is it to be part of this patchwork of communities?

I love how people dress in our city. I love the bagels. I love summers in Montreal — the festivals, streets closed off to cars, and drinking in parks. I love how engaged and activism-forward Montrealers are. I really love when people “Frenglish” their words. I love the heat waves and extreme cold. I love that we are 5½ hours away from New York by car. I love how everyone who comes here for the first time seems to fall in love with the city.

I love telling people I’m from Montreal, even when the city is a mess.

Because it is messy and chaotic right now, we have every right to be angry and dejected. But even through the mess, sometimes, it takes just a moment to remember why we love this city and to keep going. 

I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Yara El-Soueidi is a writer and culture columnist based in Montreal.

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