Well, more accurately, a research trip. I just spent my vacation in Montréal, where my next book is set. I hadn't been to the city in a long time and I was pleasantly surprised by how much had changed.
First off, the city is much more multicultural than I remembered. It was fantastic to see. I stayed in the Mont Royal area for most of my trip, away from the throngs of tourists downtown, and the locals were from many different ethnic groups. I also did research in the NDG and St. Léonard neighbourhoods. I had expected NDG to be diverse, as it has been home to immigrant populations for many decades, but I was blown away by the diversity in St. Léonard.
Every neighbourhood I visited, people spoke both English and French. That was another pleasant surprise: how many francophones are bilingual. I always approached people speaking French first. But at the grocery stores and cafés, the staff greeted me with "Bonjour/hello." Sometimes, I responded in French. Other times, I tried English. They were always able to interact in either language.
On the Metro and on the street, I heard people flow from one language to the other. Especially young people. They mix the languages seamlessly. It was an eye-opener for someone who left the province not long after the 1995 referendum. What a difference a generation can make.
I was in the city for both la fête nationale (Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day) and Canada Day. The celebrations were very robust for the first, but they were certainly not muted for the second. I took in the big concert on June 23 as well as the parade down rue Saint-Denis on the evening of June 24. The parade was more like a circus show with performers donning costumes and recounting the history of the province. The final float, below, brought everyone into the street to dance the night away.
There was also a parade on Canada Day, but this one resembled the opening ceremonies for the Olympics. Banners from over 100 countries were proudly carried in front of groups of representatives from those lands. It took over two hours for all of the participants to march, dance, sing or cartwheel past us. There were festivities throughout the day, followed by a free concert in the evening and fireworks over the Saint Lawrence.
That was the third pleasant surprise: how many people in the city are proud of being Canadian. Perhaps in many cases, they see themselves as partly Canadian and partly something else (whether that is Québecois, Jamaican, Indonesian or Danish). No matter. It was great to see people waving Canadian flags and cheering on each of the groups represented in the parade.
Yes, the city has changed. The tall glass towers along Boulevard René Levesque make the downtorn gleam like other major metropolitan cities. It only takes a stroll along Ste. Catherine or into Vieux Montréal to see how this city is different from Toronto, Vancouver or Chicago. The joie de vivre I remembered from my years in the province has not diminished an iota.
A little footnote to my blog post and my trip. After Montréal, I stopped in Vancouver for the Paul McCartney concert. Vancouver is another former home and a city that has undergone so much change since I left. The food is still amazing, and the concert was so much fun. Here are a few pics from the show. Keep rocking, Paul! That was a great vacation.