City image 101: Integrate, chap#2

This post tries to answer question # 2 asked by MONU mag’s article about Post-industrial city and their image.


How diverse is the City’s culture? What type of barriers exist between different social groups: physical, emotional, economical, geographical?

Of course, Montreal is a bilingual city – in principle.  When I moved here, I was pretty excited about the prospect of meeting hundreds and thousands of other bilinguals, just like me. However, you quickly learn that each language has taken over its part of the city, creating these “2 solitudes”, a phenomenon where historically, both cultures tend to run parallel beneath the official cereal package translation policy (“Pétales Corn Flakes”!). Both languages are conveniently combined wherever marketers can (“Choix du Président’s Choice”). Some might argue the new generation of Montrealers is bridging this divide, but the fact that language is still a political issue here tends to affect each language’s presence and the city’s creative output.

But Montreal does offer these liminal spaces where both “mother tongue” languages converge: the Mile End neighborhood and all along Park avenue and St-Laurent are good examples. These spaces are usually home to most of Montreal’s creative capital, and at this junction of both cultures, a certain white noise takes place where newcomers can come in and contribute to the mix.

Economically speaking however, the distinctions are a little more clear: the Anglophone West remains on the overall wealthier than the Francophone East part of town. Beyond the typical historical patterns (most industrial cities’ affluent communities were built far from factories and to the West, or inland), this persisting discrepancy – even when the job market favors Francophones – is in part due to the local anglophone universities, and English Canadians from out of province wanting to live in a more hip, “latin” and alternative city. Local east-enders though, usually “pure laine” québécois, are still dealing with the remnants of Montreal’s industrial past, with communities still dependent on welfare checks in some parts of town like Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Yet you can see some pretty aggressive gentrification happening right now in HoMa, as it has been renamed.

Emotionally speaking, the city will probably always focus on this French-English duality, but this situation tends to ignore the city’s increasing ethnic diversity (supposedly 120 ethnic communities) and Quebec’s official policies try to capture them within the French speaking market. While some immigrants – a 1/3 of them arrived less than 10 years ago – are still trying to figure out how to deal with this emphasis on French when it comes to looking for a job, others claim pride in being part of an “exception culturelle”.  Fact is, this pro-francophone policy might give Montreal, an edge, but it also means that the city loses some talent to English speaking Canada.  Furthermore the English part of Quebec’s heritage tends to get swept under the rug for political reasons.   Historically, tensions existed between Protestants and Catholics over more than language differences, yet Quebec’s decision to shift the dividing from the criterion of religion to that of language  means that language is still  shaping Montreal’s future.