[I thought I’d do a few blog posts about my relationship with Montreal, here we go…]
I first came to Montreal in the summer of 2005 for Office Products Expo ’95, a name meant as misdirection from the fact that it was an urban explorer’s conference. I was living in Calgary at the time and visiting were Siologen and Feccie, Siologen I knew from my year with the Sydney Cave Clan in 2001 and Feccie his partner in crime. Working for an airline I managed to get the three of us on a flight to Montreal for the event, not really knowing anything about the city except that it was the second biggest metropolitan area in Canada and that it was French.
We rode the shockingly inconvenient 204 and 211 buses from the airport to meet with… I don’t remember who actually. I do remember Siologen noting on the way in that he was glad to be in a French city because the graffiti was better. At Lionel-Groulx station I recall one of us getting on the wrong metro and playing a bit of musical cars/stations. We connected with another Sydney connection, Chris who was an avid Pynchonite like me who’d shown up at a Cave Clan newbies night and joined with us in adventures involving indoor spool fires, security guard chases and an ascent of the Syndey Harbour Bridge with a thunderstorm in the distance. Sometimes I forget how charmed my life is. Anyways we rocked up to Chris’ apartment three urban explorer gypsies from down under and out west and pretty much informed him that we’d be sleeping on his floor. In retrospect it was kind of rude, but Chris took it in stride and came along for numerous adventures with us over the weekend. Its a good thing his girlfriend was out of town.
As it was an urban exploration conference most of our time was spent in the old malt plant, lectures on credibility props and looking like you belong, a short but exhillerating jaunt through the McGill steam tunnels – “Is that? Shit it is.” “What?” “We’ve been hanging out in front of a security camera for the past five minutes.” “I think we should go… Now!” It was also the weekend that I met Nel58 whom I love and don’t see often enough, and Steve Duncan who becomes a funny connection a few years later. Alex and Rodney were there as well. We threw debris at Avatar-X from the roof of the malt plant, dropped grape soda from the top of the Dow Brewery (right next to the cop shop), Siologen rode an electric cart through the vast halls of the Alstrom rail plant and we shot fireworks in the Wellington Tunnel. An unconventional way to be introduced to a city for sure, probing its abandoned and underground parts, but that’s just the kind of guy I am.
I saw plenty of the regular sites too. Parc Avenue, the International Fireworks Competition (from the top of Dow mind you). I experienced a bit of Mile End culture and after Chris’ girlfriend came back and kicked us out we stayed for a couple of nights on Avenue Mont-Royal before staying in the under renovation apartment of Steve’s cousin Ryan who would later become one of my best friends in Montreal though I wouldn’t meet him until years later. Steve summed up one of the aspects of Montreal that was on all of our minds on the short walk from the pizza shop to the apartment. “I fall in love with a new girl every five minutes in this town!” The girls were, and are, lovely, as was the beer at Brutopia and Reservoir.
Up until this point I had pretty much settled my sights on Toronto as the ideal escape from Calgary. I knew the Burners and the urban explorers in Toronto, it was big and multi-cultural, but after less than a week in Montreal I had already been swayed. While Toronto was big and diverse and exciting Montreal had a certain je ne sais quoi to it that was just much more appealing. Montreal had colour, instead of Toronto’s monochrome black and white reality. Montreal had parcs and grand historical buildings where Toronto had steel and concrete. The pace of life in Montreal was so much more meandering and relaxed, it was clean and fun always seemed to be in the air. There was also the language. For the first time since I was in grade school I was speaking French, it was practical, it was lighting up parts of my brain that had been dormant for years. Language is the software of the brain and Montreal was like a whole new suite of software to play with.
I vowed to live there someday.
The next time I visited Montreal was to check and make sure that I hadn’t been deceived by a trick of the light or the intoxication of too much running, climbing and adrenaline. I flew in for a metro party. Newmindspace was in town running a party on the metro that would ride around as long as it could. I decided to use couchsurfing to find some hosts outside of the urban exploration circles to get a different, more “normal” perspective on the city. The girl I stayed with came with me to the party and we rode the Metro from one terminus to the other and back again before the STM police shut down the show and forced us to disperse. It was a surreal experience taking over a public space like that with such a sense of energy and joy. Nothing like this would ever happen in sleepy old Calgary. We had a blast and so the next day instead of going and doing their thing without me my host invited me to come with them to a Cabane a Sucre in the Eastern Townships.
A Cabane a Sucre is a sugar shack and the event is a celebration of the coming of spring and the maple syrup harvest(?). I ate more sugary goodness, fried pig’s ears and other unidentifiable delights than my stomach could possibly handle, but still I ate and ate. What followed was Quebecois folk tunes, line dancing, haybale rides, a petting zoo and my first tire de neige. It was a cultural explosion, in my mind and in my mouth. That was the day I realized that there was more to Quebec than Canadians who spoke French instead of English, there was truly something different going on here. I became fascinated by a culture that I had only the very beginnings of an understanding of.
Not long after that I was surprised to discover that my application to transfer from Calgary to Montreal had been approved and I would start training for my new position at the beginning of September, only a week after the end of Burning Man. Preparations began quickly. Twice I flew back and forth to Montreal looking frantically for an apartment in a city that I still barely knew, each time bringing piles of baggage that I left at Nel’s house who graciously stored them for me. When finally my apartment was empty and my car filled to the brim my friends ensured that I would be sent off in style by getting me so drunk at the Hop ‘n Brew that I couldn’t see let alone walk by the end of the night. A day later I was on the road for Burning Man, another Australian Dirge in the passenger seat and Brian and Brandi completing the convoy in their rental camper. We would be together all along the I-95 and the I-80, at Burning Man and then after exidous split ways with Dirge and I heading east towards my new home…