It’s one thing to hate communists. But to hate Montreal, too…?


Alexander Solzhenitsyn on Montreal:

What I first saw was Montreal and, seen from up in the air, the city seemed horrible to me—impossible to imagine anything more hideous. This meeting was not promising. And the following days, where I roamed it aimlessly, confirmed this impression. The monstrous Jacques-Cartier bridge, made of green metal, trembling from eight lanes of automobile traffic, under which I would have had to pass had I arrived by boat; and, right after, I would have seen the joyless smoke from the brewery with the flags floating from its roof; and the alignment of industrial concrete docks so inhuman that, on one of the islands in the river, the remains of an old half-barracks half-prison building pleases the eye like a living thing. And, closer to heart of the city, the black tower of Canadian radio followed by the absurd and tight group of skyscrapers in the shape of boxes planted in the middle of immense urban spaces. Montreal aspired to imitate the “megalopolises” of America without being able to.

[Via Lagacé. And please pardon the dodgy translation.]


It’s one thing to hate communists. But to hate Montreal, too…?

  1. That’s Montréal’s dirty little secret: While there are certainly some absolutely gorgeous spots (Bernard and Querbès in Outremont is one of my favourites) it can also be absolutely, mind-numbingly ugly.

  2. Eight lanes? Maybe for Ladas…
    Industrial concrete docks at a commercial port? Quelle surprise!

  3. Not exactly the best part of town – by the Jacques Cartier Bridge. As for our skyline, it dates from the 1950’s when most American cities and NO Canadian cities had any skyscrapers. Our boxy towers were among the first modernist skyscrapers in the World. Montreal didn’t aspire to be like an American city at all. Before you pass judgment on Montreal get a historical clue: Montreal’s golden era in the late 1800’s and again in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s when (other than NYC), this metropolis was something to behold. How about talking about St James Street or Sherbrooke street West? Westmount or Outremont instead?

  4. “That’s Montréal’s dirty little secret: While there are certainly some absolutely gorgeous spots it can also be absolutely, mind-numbingly ugly.”

    Which, oddly enough, is how I’d describe Solzhenitsyn’s writing.

    Plus, he would never praise anything with a significant Jewish component. Or Catholic. Or Athiest. He was an ugly man who hated everything.

  5. Ah yes, Bernard and Querbes, where I first lived when I moved to Montreal. It’s true that it’s enough raise anyone’s expectations.

    It’s true: The city is no aesthetic triumph by any stretch. But I’ve always found that what it lacks in beauty, it makes up for in livability. Compared to other places I’ve lived (especially Toronto), apartment life is so much easier in Montreal, thanks to basic things like having grocery stores nearby, washer/dryer hookups in most apartments, bigger places, etc.

    But, aside from places like Vancouver, where beauty is more a function of natural landscape than architectural achievement, are there any major Canadian cities that can properly be described as “beautiful”?

  6. Philippe – I have never been, but Quebec City is always highly talked of and I hope to find out for myself next year…

    ‘Where I come from, there’s a saying that you must have two cities in your heart: your own and Quebec City, because it is the most beautiful city in Canada, the most enchanting.’
    — Prime Minister Stephen Harper

  7. It’s true: The city is no aesthetic triumph by any stretch
    Then stop looking at the buildings.
    Downtown, summer, people-watching: Hands-down winner? Montréal!

  8. Montréal’s appeal is in the little details at eye-level. A successful city has both…appealing monumental architecture and attractive at ground level Most North American cities can’t claim both.

  9. Not to besmirch the words of a dead commie, but I actually find The Jacques Cartier Bridge quite visually appealing. Jacques Ferron gave a rather morbid ode to its beauty: “The north section of the bridge of the Jacques Cartier Bridge is sometimes dubbed “the bridge’s cathedral”, which is an expression I find pretty. It is the point from which we propel ourselves into nothingness. It’s as if people are trying to achieve a finer death by climbing very high.”

  10. Not ‘commie’. I meant Russian. How Freudian of me.

  11. I like Quebec City and I’ve certainly spent more than my fair share of time there, but there’s something Disneyland-esque about a lot of the restoration. Still, I’ll agree it’s probably the prettiest city I’ve visited in Canada.

  12. Quebec City is indeed beautiful, a must see. It has a character of its own and unique architecture. I live in Montreal which is not that beautiful. But it has a vibrant city life, with festivals and incredible night life. Last year or so, an article about universities mentioned that McGill was the first choice of students across the country because of that.

    I also read that Montreal is the Canadian city with the highest rate of restaurants per capita. People go out a lot and interact, which makes a city lively and buzzling.

    It is also quite a safe city. I often walk home alone from the office after dark. It’s an hour long walk, and I have never been afraid. That kind of freedom is priceless.

  13. first impression of Montreal coming in from Dorval, 26 April 2002: riot police…

  14. I hate montreal b/c i never got to visit. I hate the unemployment that prevented that. I cannot comment about their bagels or their gas stations.

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