Montreal in all its guises: music!

“You know someone said that the world’s a stage.

And each must play a part.”

— Elvis Presley, quoting Shakespeare

Montreal loves a good show. The city is like one huge stage, where the line between spectator and performer is blurred and the question of where performance begins and real life ends is explored. To live in this city—or even to visit it—is to be open to unexpected theatre, to having your walk detoured. It’s participating in a symphony of the senses.

You would have to be deaf to not hear the music that sets the streets of Montreal thrumming, that makes our blood hum and tremble. Nearly a century ago, thanks to prohibition in the U.S. and the development of the railroads, the black community of Little Burgundy helped to make Montreal a world hub for jazz, competing with the likes of New York City.

Last Saturday, on the rooftop terrace at Ubisoft, French artist Arthur H. and a band of local musicians sent waves of sound across Mile End, the fertile ground that nurtured Arcade Fire, Socalled and other local talents who have made it big on the world stage.

When the weather is fine, Montreal’s public pianos appear across the city, in the Plateau and even atop Mont Royal, inviting strolling passerby to stop and listen to a gentle melody or even attempt a chord or two of their own on the rubbed-down keys. In fact, not too long ago, 17 public pianos played Louis-Jean Cormier’s “Tout le monde en même temps” in unison.

Montreal’s public pianos in unison, by Portraits de Montréal

For those who prefer skins to strings, and dancing on a Sunday, there’s the tam-tams, which started in the time of peace and love and is still going strong at the Sir George-Étienne Cartier monument every weekend. At Piknic Electronik, in Parc Jean-Drapeau, sounds are provided by beatbox and electronics rather than drums, but the concept is the same: dance until the sun goes down and then keep going! Other initiatives, such as LunchBeat Montreal, will go as far as to invite workers to loosen up on electro beats… on their lunch hour!

In winter, our resident musicians are still plying their trade, but this time in the underground, thanks to the STM’s “Étoiles du métro” program. The Piknic becomes Igloofest and even if the windows of your favourite bars are closed and iced over, the cold can’t completely muffle the hot beats of the many local and international artists who keep us warm on the dancefloor.

In summer, music pours out from every public space, from the back-to-back festivals and street fairs, and from the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, which has been known to perform outside in Olympic Park and the Kondiaronk lookout. It can be heard emanating from bars and venues, as well as basements and commercial spaces transformed into rehearsal spaces for the likes of Malajube and Half Moon Run. Even our religious places resonate with another kind of holy sound. And every type of fusion is possible, like Misteur Valaire teaming up with the MSO to perform at the Church of Saint-Jean Baptiste. In short, there is no shortage of music.


Source: Olympic Park

Obviously, music generates significant economic benefits for Montreal. New festivals in the month of August, namely Osheaga and Heavy MTL, are attracting a new class of tourists and managed to beat the Grand Prix in terms of hotel occupany rates. The Piknic now has a cousin in Barcelona. Even relatively niche artists like Poirier are successfully sharing their talents on an international scale. Talented Montreal MC Boogat raps in his mother tongue of Spanish both here and abroad. And when these artists tour the world, they are true ambassadors for the Montreal brand.

Poirier, with Boogat — Que Viva (official video)

i see mtl is looking for projects that could give Montreal new momentum. It would be surprising if a few of them didn’t use music as a key element. Do you have any ideas? Or know people who do? There’s a place for you in i see mtl!

Louis-Félix Binette

Seeing Montreal

Seeing Montreal is being open to seeing that which you routinely ignore and if there’s a large part of our city’s landscape that we find easy to overlook, it’s homelessness. The federal government estimates that there are 30,000 homeless people in our city, or 20% of all homeless across the country[1]. Needless to say, if we want to paint a true portrait of our city, we cannot, in good conscience, ignore those living on the street.

Let’s be honest: we have all been guilty of walking by the homeless with a hurried step, eyes focussed forward and giving no reaction whatsoever to that crucial question, “Can you spare some change?” It’s because we’re in a rush, we only have bills in our wallet, he smells like alcohol, “he’ll only spend it on beer”, etc. The reasons for ignoring the homeless are many and varied.

Sometimes, we tell ourselves that it’s the government’s job to help the homeless; but even if the government enacts measures, it will still be a long time before we see any difference. In Montreal, there are little more than 1,600[2] (data from 2011) spaces available to house the homeless, so we have a long way to go. Lack of housing is compounded by the weight of another trouble that plagues the homeless: solitude or the feeling of having been abandoned by society in general and being ignored by fellow citizens.

All us citizens have the power to make a difference in the daily lives of less fortunate Montrealers.

Remember the controversy over the anti-loitering spikes installed outside the Archambault storefront? Happily, a great enough number of citizens spoke out against this scandalous practice and the spikes were removed. In this instance, we made a difference.

Collectively, there are so many things that we could be doing to improve life for the homeless. In San Francisco, a bus was transformed into a mobile shower. In New York City, a hairstylist devotes his weekends to giving the homeless free haircuts. When Robin Williams died, the world learned that the actor required everyone who wanted to hire him to also hire the homeless for small, odd jobs[3]. This is only a small cross section of what’s possible.

The blog Humans of the Street, a side project by Portraits de Montréal, shares the stories of homeless persons, revealed during impromptu conversations sparked by a simple “Hello” or a smile. The testimonials reveal that many of these men and woman survived difficult pasts, but they also show that the homeless have a story to tell, if we stop and listen. I’ve heard it so many times—the simple act of taking the time to listen makes a huge difference in their lives. Only yesterday, I asked Jeff, a homeless man I met around Place des Arts, what people could do to make his daily life better. His answer, “Smile at me.”

Seeing Montreal is seeing the homeless—but it’s also seeing them as human beings.

Mikaël Theimer 

[1] Source: L’omniprésente Itinérance, Philippe Orfali, Le Devoir, July 26, 2014

[2] Source: L’itinérance à Montréal en chiffre, Radio Canada, February 4, 2014

[3] Source: RadarOnline, August 18, 2014

Four priorities that will contribute to revitalizing our city and its economy

The city of Montreal arouses feelings of ambivalence. On the one hand, it’s a unique metropolis in North America and is celebrated as such. On the other hand, we’ve been performing far below our potential for a very long time. i see mtl seeks to give us a collective shake up. It’s a call to action, a call for change that asks us to relentlessly pursue the future.

i see mtl will contribute to revitalizing the city and its economy. Four priorities have been identified.

The first projects us into the future and is based on our strengths, as well as our unique challenges. We call it, Identity and Aspiration.

On the economic front, there must also be new companies of every variety (start ups, family businesses, co-ops, etc.) that will accelerate economic growth and support sustainable development throughout greater Montreal. These new companies must be able to grow very quickly and, above all, be actively engaged in contributing to our city’s future. This is the Business priority.

In order to increase the number of companies and “gazelles”, Montreal must also be home to people with the necessary skills and creativity. This is the Talent priority. This means reaching out to those who have been “left behind”, including drop-outs and poorly educated individuals, as well as new Montrealers who have international diplomas that are not being recognized. However, this also means attracting and, more importantly, retaining talent of all varieties.

Lastly, there’s the Environment priority. That is, helping companies and citizens in the region evolve in a common geographical framework. This framework must be efficient, inspiring and robust and could include infrastructure, design and the environment. 

These four priorities were identified as undertakings for community leaders. We are not prescribing what the government should do. We are asking ourselves what we can do.

A “leader” is understood to be someone who is in a position to act on behalf of the city. This could be the president of a bank or an especially dynamic community association. In short, anyone ready to respond to our call to action.

In the last few weeks, we have been travelling across the metropolitan region to persuade leaders to make this commitment. We have met with more than 200 people from the business and university sectors, as well as union representatives, engaged citizens, community organizations, associations of every sort, intellectuals, dreamers, etc.

Our website will soon open the discussion to all Montrealers. Then it will be up to you to act!

Félix-Antoine Joli-Cœur, Project Lead, je vois mtl


1)    Identity and Aspiration: Position Montreal as a metropolis that breaks barriers, as a source of great pride and as a catalyst for future growth.

2)    Talent: Attract and retain talent, as well as reach out to those who were “left behind” to better fulfill the needs of our city and its evolving economy.

3)    Business: Build more new businesses that can grow rapidly and be actively involved in generating success for our city.

4)    Environment: Significantly harmonize how we live and work with our collective aspirations and ambitions for prosperity.



Views of the city


How can we “see” an object as vast and complex as a city - a city as diverse as Montreal? How can we truly “see” this object when it’s right under our noses, when we’re living in it? How can we collectively “see” this object when there are almost four million pairs of eyes in the metropolitan region? The very concept of the gaze is put into question.


Visualizing your city

To visualize vast territories, we usually resort to maps. On these large pieces of paper, we can trace the lines that represent the outlines of our environment: the contours of an oblong island and it’s smaller sibling to the north, flowing riverbanks and the graphed streets of a modern city. More recently, thanks in large part to Google, we can zoom in on those maps and see the rooftops of our own homes. We can now virtually tour our city, occasionally even spotting a neighbour, their gaze captured by a camera with nine lens.

Thanks to data collected and made available by the City of Montreal, we can also learn more about the details of city life, including more about the enormous poplar in my backyard and the almost 250,000 trees throughout Montreal. We can also play with the geolocalized data produced by Montrealers everyday; like the clever folk at LiveHoods did to create dynamic maps of Montreal’s neighbourhoods. That is, not historical maps, but rather maps that trace the urban to-and-fro of our everyday lives.


You say gaze, I say point of view

But we are less interested in compiled statistics than in what individual Montrealers see day to day. In addition to what they see, we also want to understand how they see the city; to slip into and be immersed in their point of view, if only virtual reality enabled us to do so. Last Monday, L. Jacques Ménard, one of the catalysts of I see mtl, wrote that he was inspired by the “eyes of the first-time visitor”. What about Montrealers? Can we still feel wonder for our city, despite our “jaded eyes”?

For the last several weeks, I’ve been listening in on what Montrealers are saying by monitoring keywords, in both English and French, on public networks like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums, etc. I track and I observe, looking for the embers and sparks that still animate conversations about this city. I try to “see” Montreal through the words we use to talk about it.

It’s a delicate task, as every news item - from P. K. Subban’s new contract to the Victoria’s Secret store that will soon replace a bookstore on Ste-Catherine street - sets off a stormy debate that distracts the eye looking for more subtle signals. It’s like trying to hear a birdsong through the rumble of chainsaws and lawnmowers. Or pointing a flashlight through a telescope lens. There is hidden, in every conversation, every debate and every project, the true essence of what we see in Montreal.

"Seeing Montreal" is being in the present moment, it’s finding a place far from the bustle of life and political chatter, a place where you can let these conversations grow. Seeing Montreal is creating a communal space where our ideas can become projects and where our actions can be shared and inspire us all. Inspire us with the words we need to talk about our city with pride. Inspire us with the passion or flame that will help us work together and give Montreal new life.

Louis-Félix Binette




Culture in my neighbourhood, I love it! I contribute! I participate!

Like any other cosmopolitan city in the world, Montreal faces some big challenges - both economic and social - when it comes to development. 

It’s a recognized fact: arts and culture play a key role in the economic development and notoriety of Montreal. A recent study by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, with the collaboration of Culture Montreal, estimates that culture generates $12 billion of direct spin-offs for the metropolitan region (Culture in Montréal: Economic Impacts and Private Funding, Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, November 2009).

Furthermore, from a sustainable development perspective, arts and culture are important to maintaining social cohesion and well-being within communities. Numerous studies illustrate the major impact that arts and culture can have on living environments; most notably on sense of belonging (to a neighbourhood, city or community), neighbourly relations (mutual assistance, tolerance) and improving urban security (preventing delinquency).

Scientific literature also points out a strong link between arts and culture and a range of socio-economic integration indicators, including post-secondary graduation rates, employability, civic engagement and voter turnout, among others. Arts and culture contribute to fostering creative, well-integrated citizens who are more inclined to confront the challenges posed by a “knowledge society” such as ours.

The development of cultural quarters must be based on a collaborative effort made by all partners and players impacted by this issue. It must be part of a larger development push for culture across the city, but it must also be anchored in Montreal’s local communities, in order to meet the specific needs and character of each.

Developing and supporting arts and culture in our neighbourhoods, our city and across our entire region, is giving citizens the opportunity to make a real contribution; it allows them to fully reclaim their city, to celebrate its vitality and to look towards the future with optimism.

To this end, consider this article as an invitation to share the best-kept cultural secret in your neighbourhood with all Montrealers. Tell us all about it!

Manon Barbeau, Founder and Director General of Wapikoni Mobile, and President of Culture Montreal’s Cultural Quarters Committee.

I see Montreal… through others’ eyes

You’ve seen them too. A camera around their neck, their nose stuck in a map, sitting in a calèche… There are lots of them, especially in Old Montreal, where my office is located. When I see tourists, I like to imagine how they ended up choosing Montreal from among so many North American cities.

You and I see Montreal with jaded eyes. Its attractions tend to get lost in the daily shuffle of life. But imagine what strikes the eyes of a first-time visitor. The old stone buildings side by side with the big modern city, the European charm, the French language, the river, the countless good restaurants, a vibrant cultural life whether you’re a fan of shows or museums.  Can you name even one other North American city with a million or more inhabitants that, night after night, attracts thousands to a non-stop series of festivals and does so without having to fear for their safety? Montreal is a human-scaled metropolis that’s great to live in, a university city that’s an epicentre of creativity.

There are plenty of reasons for visitors to say “wow!” when discovering Montreal. And maybe, in order to appreciate our metropolis’s full potential, we should draw inspiration from how they see us. Actually, that’s part of the thinking behind our approach: a desire to look at Montreal in new ways to give a new impetus to it and the entire community. It’s the idea behind the “I see Montreal” movement (, which is organizing a citizens’ event this November.

Here’s how the initiative was born. Two years ago, when Montreal was at rock bottom and the bad news was coming thick and fast, I had an idea: that there must be other metropolises comparable to ours that have gone through a rough patch and then found their way back to good times and prosperity. At my invitation, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which had just set up shop in Montreal, agreed to have its international network of researchers and experts in management and comparative economics look into the issue – free of charge, I should add. Lasting more than a year, their work resulted in an analysis full of lessons and summarized in a report titled Building a New Momentum in Montreal, which was published in February and is available for downloading at  

We compared Montreal with seven other metropolises around the globe that have successfully transitioned from decline to growth. We studied how they turned their situation around. We found they all used the same strategies. For example, the entire community was mobilized; leadership was established at the metropolitan level and supported by the higher levels of government; the city’s inherent strengths were built upon without trying to reinvent the wheel; public and private investment was channelled toward a limited number of projects and priorities; and, everywhere, improving citizens’ quality of life was one of the thrusts, with projects to beautify and green the city, improve access to the waterfront and so on. We then questioned nearly 60 local leaders from every background to identify Montreal’s advantages and challenges. Lastly, by combining their points of view with the strategies that have proved successful elsewhere, we developed a ten-point revitalization program.

The next step is ours to take. What’s innovative about this approach is that it’s not a shopping list to be submitted to the various levels of government. It’s an apolitical citizens’ movement aimed at bringing together all of Montreal’s stakeholders. It is the community that is mobilizing – proudly and responsibly – to join forces with elected officials and especially Mayor Coderre in order to give back to Montreal all its glory, prestige and dynamism. And if we succeed, everyone will win. With Montreal running at full speed and shining at its brightest, all of Quebec will benefit. Because our metropolis accounts for more than half of Quebec’s economy and generates more than half of the Quebec government’s tax revenue.

For several months now, the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal has been working with representatives from all parts of the metropolis to organize the citizens’ event on November 17. You have a place there. So, tell me, how do you see Montreal?

L. Jacques Ménard, C.C., O.Q.                                                                           President, BMO Financial Group, Quebec                                                               Chairman, BMO Nesbitt Burns

I want to sell you some lettuce

It’s green and delicious. Leaves are crisp. Lettuce is known to be good for your health. You can let your culinary creativity go wild with it, in both winter and summer.

This lettuce comes from Montreal.

It was picked this very morning and is ready to be consumed. This lettuce is part of a new, trendy diet that doesn’t count calories; rather, it counts kilometres.

Montreal’s greater metropolitan region is home to some of the best agricultural land in Quebec. But our agricultural zone is also shrinking, bit by bit, every year.

Our city’s nurturing lands are changing, adapting, being transformed. A third of Montrealers practice urban farming. In recent years, several environmental and community organizations, located in municipalities across the region, have begun offering parcels of land to its citizens. Urban farming has its virtues, notably, that it provides numerous citizens with food security. It also optimizes many square kilometres of otherwise-unused asphalt rooftops atop city buildings.

The return of agriculture as a sector of economic activity takes on a whole new meaning in the city; namely, greenhouses being built in industrial zones, which are in dire need of new purpose or new businesses to rent space. Pioneers are breaking new ground. Like entrepreneurs proposing a sustainable vision for our city, combined with an innovative business model for production and distribution.

I dream about this delicious lettuce every day, starting with the development of commercial greenhouses in the city, to redraw the dull landscape bordering highways and railways and bring a rich new palette of colour, as well as transparent materials. I dream of companies powered by the rays of the sun, of knowing my grower by name and meeting him at the market every week. This vision is a balm against the prevailing discussions on climate change.

One of the Montreal events that I love the most to participate in is the annual Marché de la brunante, organized by Conférence régionale des élus de Montréal (CRE) and Société des arts technologiques (SAT). This event is attended by all seasoned growers on the archipelago - the diehards - as well as a new generation of growers working in central areas, who are producing honey on rooftops and fallow fields, as well as greenhouse vegetables and other locally processed products. No, there aren’t any pineapples, papayas or star fruit. But there is a lot of pride. My friends and I stuff our bags full of goodies to make 100%-local meals. I wish that this annual celebration of flavour could happen on a more weekly basis.

I also dream about having economic conditions in place that encourage the activities of new growers in our urban context. They respect all the standards required for food production, but do they enjoy the same advantages as their rural counterparts? How can we better support this new generation? What incentives can be put in place to help growers who have chosen urban zone farming over green zone farming?

I want to eat this 100%-local lettuce for dinner tonight. Unfortunately, there isn’t any available at the market today - all sold out!

Olivier Lapierre

Pride and the dream

It’s fascinating to hear Montrealers talk about their city. After covering the weather, traffic woes and construction headaches (a favourite summer topic), these creatures living above the 45th parallel north demonstrate a remarkable capacity for relativism. It would be difficult, some might say in their defense, to expect anything less from this population subjected to four intense and trying seasons, and living in an environment that can change dramatically in the blink of an eye.

That said, even in April, when Montrealers happily stuff their wool hats, scarves and winter coats into storage at the first hint of spring, those tongues won’t stop wagging. And that’s true if they speak the language of Shakespeare or Molière. Whether it’s an argument or a rant, bantering on the church steps, waging a Twitter war or debating the headlines, Montrealers rarely hesitate when it comes to sharing their opinions. But what do we learn from analyzing these conversations?

At first glance, it would appear that Montrealers love good news. They enthusiastically laud any change that signals improvements to their everyday life or neighbourhoods. Montrealers also get excited when you dangle an innovation - and the promise of a better future - before their eyes. Their ears perk up whenever a stranger praises the city and they definitely celebrate when a local talent makes it big on the international scene, whether it be in the arts, business or, even better, both!

Of course, Montreal also has its fair share of killjoys, always willing to put a damper on the party. They are not hard to find either: Montrealers can just as easily tap into malcontent as they can passion. It’s part of their nature. The citizens of Montreal get excited about improvements, but they’ll never get carried away. After all, one swallow does not make spring. A large-scale project for the city will get them excited, because it opens up a range of possibilities. One bridge becomes a new gateway, an international symbol, a catalyst for innovation. However, without being too defeatist, Montrealers also see the possibility for potential failure. What if everything doesn’t go to plan?

This is because they have seen it all. They are proud, but not inclined to brag. Ambitious, but modest. Always ready to celebrate, but opposed to pomp and circumstance. Rosy of cheek and with hearts pinned on sleeves, but staying vigilant and sleeping with one eye open, forever worrying about tomorrow. Leaping into the hopeful arms of spring, but also surrendering to the inevitability of fall. Sharing their pride and dreams through victory and defeat, but wearing them as both badges of honour and crosses to bear as well.

We are lucky to live in a city of such contradictions, to be able to understand one another even when we don’t speak the same language. If we were to organize a public dialogue for Montrealers, what would the subject be?

  • Talking about the future wouldn’t be a bad start, considering that it’s already a hot topic.

  • We are also considering a discussion about our current talent pool and what we’re missing - but only if it doesn’t turn into ranting and complaining.

  • We are totally open to suggestions of paths to follow, but we’ll still need to do it our way.

  • We will actively contribute to the launch of a large project, provided that we feel it will generate concrete benefits.

It is perhaps time, in this dialogue, to get an overall view of who we are, in order to better understand who we could become.

Louis-Félix Binette


When Montréal reveals itself

Montréal has a place on the world map. It’s a city with influence: its artists, scientists, athletes and business people are international ambassadors. It’s also a destination: millions of people from around the world consider Montréal a great place to vacation, in the ranks of Barcelona, London and Sydney. Over eight million of them visit us every year. Others come here to live, work and start a family.

But just what is Montréal? What does it represent for the people who live here and the people who admire the city? What are its symbols? Paris and New York have no shortage of them. But what about Montréal? Once you get past the summer festivals, once the snow that makes our winters bright has melted, what lingers in the collective imagination, in the global buzz in which cities are characters? What makes us who we are? Once the dust has settled on the major debates and the constructions sites, what image are we left of ourselves? We don’t really know.

And yet, so much is happening in Montréal. This city is a hive of entrepreneurial activity. And we’re not just talking about people who start businesses. We’re talking about people who develop projects and see them through, without asking for permission, approval or recognition. People come together over shared passions, in parks, restaurants and community halls. There are plenty pretexts for doing so. But what we love most is getting together to make things happen.

In Montréal, every day there are hundreds of people asking questions, not expecting ready-made answers. In Montréal, we roll up our sleeves, call a few friends and neighbours and, quick as you like, fix up an old movie theatre or convert a church. We hold a food drive for a local organization, we put together a neighbourhood party for children of all ages. In sports, health and education, in neighbourhoods and entertainment venues, this city is built on home-grown projects.

If we could really “see” Montréal at its most ordinary, in the noblest sense of the term — in the initiatives that are not seeking the extraordinary, simply what is true, felt and necessary — what image would we have of ourselves? What image would we project to the world? What new ambitions would we discover for our society? What new life would we breathe into Montréal?

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that we can picture all of the initiatives, all of the efforts, that make this city our own, a bastion of joie de vivre that is the envy of so many tourists and immigrants. Would we find the thread that runs through it, a sort of hybrid identity that unites us in our differences? Rather than searching for a label that sums us up, we can do a stocktaking of the ingredients that make us what we are and that are the recipe of our success, to repeat it, improve it and build on it.

And what if together we tried, just for fun, to “see Montréal”?

Are you aware of any projects that could give the city new drive?

I see mtl

I see Montréal

I see Montréal 
as a city with a unique destiny 
a city that rolls up its sleeves 
that doesn’t fold its arms 
that revolves around solutions, not questions

I see Montréal 
as a hometown and home port 
where we proudly affirm our differences 
where we attract the very best, for good 
where we look beyond borders while leaving no one behind

I see Montréal 
as a land brimming with possibility and poised for success 
a place that dares us to poke our noses outside 
to work together so that our dreams take root 
and our ambition becomes as contagious as it is lasting

I see Montréal 
as an open book, 
urging us to express in black on white 
our affection and our commitment 
to embracing the entire world in living color

I know what Montréal was 
just as I see today what it could be 
it’s not enough to know it, you have to show it 
I see Montréal through a new light, and I’m sharing my vision

I see Montréal becoming… More, and better

This pledge is my first act