Living in Montreal:
Environment – Transport – Where to Live – Business – Jobs – Pros and Cons
Guide to Living in Montreal
With a metropolitan area population of just over 4 million, Montreal is Canada’s second biggest city, after Toronto.
Montreal has been overtaken by Toronto as Canada’s commercial capital, but it is still an important hub for commerce, arts, culture and architecture.
Montreal’s province, Quebec, is culturally distinct from the rest of Canada because its sole official language is French.
In fact, Montreal is the second largest French speaking city in the world, after Paris.
Montreal’s climate varies wildly from season to season.
Quebec winters are known throughout Canada as being cold, wet and icy – similar to Ottawa’s, and harsher than Toronto’s.
Thankfully, the municipal snow clearing system is surprisingly fast and efficient for the city’s size.
Summers are warm by Canadian standards. The average daily temperature ranges between 23 – 27 degrees Celsius, but can reach lows of 13 and highs of 35 degrees.
Montreal rates as one of the world’s most livable cities, and was named “Canada’s Cultural Capital” by Monocle Magazine and a UNESCO “City of Design”.
The Lonely Planet travel guide includes Montreal in its “10 happiest places in the World” list: in second place. “Clean, welcoming and refreshingly multicultural, Montreal is happy enough year-round,” says the guide. “Come July, though, it’s downright hilarious. Just For Laughs takes over the city in summer, packing venues with the best in both Anglo and Francophone comedy.”
Montreal is the business centre of Quebec and, taking its metropolitan area into account, is Canada’s second largest city. As a result, it is ethnically diverse; a fact reflected in the city’s various neighbourhoods.
Montreal features a China Town, a Little Italy, a Little Portugal and various other neighbourhoods adopted by immigrants as their own.
These enclaves give Montreal a taste of many world foods, cultures and music.
The dominant language spoken in Montreal is French, with 73 percent of residents using it as their primary language. According to the most recent census (2016) only 11 percent of Greater Montreal’s population have English as their mother tongue.
There are a number of areas of the city where English is the mother tongue of the majority. All street signs and public notices are posted in French, so it is best to learn some key phrases before arriving.
Montreal highlights its arts and culture scene as a key feature. The city is known for its many art galleries; and public art installations appear in the streets throughout downtown and residential areas. Main arteries like St. Laurent Boulevard and St. Catherine Street are frequently blocked to car traffic to accommodate street festivals like Just for Laughs, the world’s largest comedy festival; the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Montreal World Film Festival, Montreal Fireworks Festival and many other world class events.
Where to live in Montreal
Each borough of Montreal has its own atmosphere and character.
Before choosing your neighbourhood, it’s best to balance your ability to speak French with your area.
Some areas of Montreal, like Hampstead, Notre Dame de Grace and Westmount are predominantly English, but others like Rosemont, are very French. You will find fewer English signs, newspapers in corner stores, and neighbours with whom you can converse.
Some immigrants have found that living in a predominantly French neighbourhood forces them to practice using the language daily, and actually improves their skills.
Closer to downtown, Plateau or Mount Royal, most of the residents are English, or at least highly bilingual, and can converse comfortably in either language.
Renting is the most popular option for those looking to live near downtown. Montreal has the lowest rental costs of any major Canadian city.
Neighbourhoods like the Plateau, Mount Royal and Rosemont have both low and high rise buildings, and operate like tiny self contained cities.
They all offer affordable housing and low crime. The average rental price for an apartment in these areas can range from $1,000 to $2,000 per month for a 2 bedroom apartment.
These areas features all of the necessary amenities for their residents, such as grocery stores, hardware and home wares stores, hospitals and clinics, boutiques and cafes, bars and restaurants. These areas also offer easy access to bus and metro transit lines.
Neighbourhoods like Westmount and the Outremont have rental rates of approximately $1,400 to $3,000 for a 2 bedroom apartment, and are considered Montreal’s high-end areas. Police foot patrols are frequent, and these areas tend to have more small boutique style food markets and fewer large grocery stores.
For those interested in buying a home, the average price for a single family home is approximately $386,000 (2020), which is $108,000 less than the Canadian average, but higher than the provincial average of $350,000.
Popular moderately priced neighbourhoods to buy homes are outlining areas like Notre Dame de Grace, Laval and Kirkland. The average condominium/apartment in early 2020 costs around $275,000 in Laval, a two story home would average around $250,000.
For those looking for a more expensive home, the Westmount borough features homes costing between $1,000,000 and $5 million.
Montreal on the whole is safe, but you should use your instincts when traveling the city on foot at night.
Some less desirable neighbourhoods are St. Michel, Park Extension and Montreal North. These areas are some of the most impoverished in the city, and have been subject to occasional gang violence.
Business and Jobs
Until the late 1970s, Montreal was Canada’s business hub, but it was surpassed in both population and economic strength by Toronto.
Montreal continues to be an important player in industries including aerospace, software, electronics, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and transportation.
The city is one of the largest aerospace centres in North America; over 40,000 people are employed in Quebec’s aerospace industry at companies like Bell Helicopter Textron, Bombardier Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, and CAE.
The three largest industries in Montreal are business services, manufacturing and retail. Nearly half of all people employed in Montreal reported in the last census that their occupation was in the sales and service industry.
From the latest figures (2018), the average household income in Montreal is $81,800 yearly, which is 9.8 percent below the Canadian average.
Montreal is currently suffering the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy has been introduced lasting to August 2020 to help employers retain staff. The unemployment rate, which in Canada means the number of people actively searching for work but unable to find a job, is 14.0 percent in Montreal (May 2020), higher than the Quebec and Canadian averages at 12.9 and 11.5 percent respectively.
Montreal’s language laws require employees working with the public to be able to speak French competently, but most employers look to hire people who can speak both French and English to serve a broader public.
Montreal is home to the world’s largest inland port, the Port of Montreal. More than 26 million tonnes of cargo pass through this busy port yearly. It is a hub for shipments of sugar, grain and oil products destined for world markets.
As a result, Montreal is also one of Canada’s largest railway hubs and home to the headquarters of the Canadian National Railway. The Port of Montreal’s activities generate $1.5 billion in economic spin-offs a year and over 18,000 jobs.
The majority of Canada’s French language film, television and radio production takes place in Montreal. Many streets in the neighbourhood of Old Montreal feature the original buildings and cobblestone roads of early settlement. This neighbourhood is often used in period pieces and films set in Europe.
It is not unusual to pass several film crews working on different films as you pass through the city on a summer day.
Education – Primary, Secondary and Tertiary
Living in Montreal is easy if you wish French to be the language of instruction.
For schools with lessons taught in English, you may have to look harder.
In fact, depending on your background, public schooling in English may not be available at all.
Environment and Getting Around
Getting around Montreal without a car is quick and easy. The city has a robust transit system of 185 bus lines and 4 subway lines, called the Metro, with 68 stations.
While often crowded during the morning and evening rush hours, most bus stops operate once every 15 minutes, and the metro lines once every 6 minutes. Montreal’s subway system is also visually interesting. Each station was designed by a different architect, and feature original artwork and themes.
Many vehicle owners use public transit to commute to work, and park their cars to use on the weekends.
As most residents own vehicles, and few apartments feature on-site parking, owning a vehicle in Montreal is often tedious.
Montreal is smoggy in summer, and the main entries to the city are generally congested at rush hour.
A commuter rail system serves the outlying parts of Montreal, and serves 15.7 million riders yearly.
Cycling in popular in Montreal, and the city is often held up as a Canadian example of a bike friendly city.
Main streets often feature bike-only lanes, making cycling during heavy traffic safer and less stressful.
What to do in Montreal
As Canada’s largest French city, Montreal has literally thousands of cultural attractions.
From museums to art galleries, historic sites to beautiful architecture, Montreal has something for everyone.
Mount Royal offers one of the best known vistas in Canada.
Located in the heart of the city, this urban park features popular hiking and cycling trails in the summer, and cross country skiing and tobogganing in the winter. The 233 metre summit offers an outstanding view of the entire city.
For those who enjoy a more guided approach, museums like the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (Montreal Contemporary Art Museum), the Biodome and the Olympic Park offer reasonably priced guided tours of some of Montreal’s landmarks.
The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal is home to works by notable Quebecois, Canadian and international contemporary artists.
The Biodome, Botanical Gardens, Insectarium and Planetarium make up the Montreal Nature Museums, the largest natural science museum in Canada.
The Biodome is a particularly popular destination.
It allows patrons to travel the four different eco-systems of the Americas, complete with plants, animals, climate and environment.
It is one of the few places in Canada you can visit with colourful tropical butterflies and subarctic dwelling penguins in the same afternoon.
A visit to the Olympic Park will take you back in time to 1976.
Originally built for the Summer Olympics, the park is now open to the public and professional athletes alike. A guided tour explains the history of the construction of the stadium, and no visit is complete without a trip to the top of the observation tower, the largest inclined tower in the world.
A walking tour of the Old Port is a view of the evolution of Montreal. The Port features architecture from the 17th century to the 20th century, often right next to each other.
Many of the small cobbled streets are barely wide enough for one lane of traffic so driving the Old Port is difficult, but small restos and cafes dot the corners offering many places to stop for a rest, lunch or even a glass of wine for those on foot.
Montreal is also home to major sports teams including the National Hockey League team, the Canadiens; Canadian Football League team, the Alouettes; and more recently the Major League Soccer team, the Impact.
Montreal is unique in Canada as it is the only French metropolitan city. While this makes it a difficult relocation point for those who speak little or no French, its wide range of cultures offers excellent opportunities to meet people from around the world and participate in a diverse range of activities.
Montreal’s transit system is far reaching, quick and one of the most affordable in Canada.
Major enterprises in the city are business services, manufacturing and retail sales. The city is also a hub for students as it has the most universities and schools per capita in the country.
While the average yearly family income is slightly lower than the national average, rental and housing prices are significantly lower than those of other major cities.