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Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Frenchlings in Montreal

Montreal is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen.  It's not flashy beautiful - it's subtle beauty that grows on you over time.  As you walk down the streets (and this is a city that is oh so walkable) you turn your head and there is a stunning little house painted in bright colors with lovely woodwork and a charming staircase leading up to the first floor.  This happens all the time, even in parts of the city that are a bit run down.

If you haven't been to Montreal may I whet your appetite with this video of the city?

The Frenchlings (my two Franco-American daughters who are studying in Canada) have an apartment near the Atwater metro station in the downtown area.  They are in what is called a coloc which is short for colocation - a situation where young people, usually students, get together and rent a communal apartment for relatively cheap.  I think the equivalent term in English is group housing.

Their building is old and has seen better days.  In fact from the outside it looks like it is owned by a slumlord.  I have to wonder what the neighbors in their gentrified houses next door think of this monstrosity in their midst.  The tenants are almost exclusively students at McGill, UdeM and UQAM which means that it is a transient population.

When we arrived last Sunday we saw some of the repercussions of this:  the small garden and  sidewalk in front of the apartment was littered with garbage and old furniture.  I winced when I saw that the outgoing students had dumped garbage all over the day lilies:

A very disorganized and unsightly grande poubelle.  In the students' defense, I didn't see any other place where they could have put all this.  Many arrived from abroad and other parts of Canada at the very last minute;  if they didn't get that stuff out of those apartments that day, then the landlord would have put it all out on the street in any case.

Back to the apartment.  Magnificent.  5 bedrooms for 4 people.  A huge kitchen.  A lovely common area (living room).  Decent modern bathroom.  Bright.  Hardwood floors.  Beautiful old molding around the light fixtures and the ceiling.  A stunning old fireplace in the living room.  All this for very very cheap rent.

It was, however, very dirty, many of the windows didn't close properly and there was still stuff from the previous tenants packed into the hallway.  The elder Frenchling and I scrubbed while the younger Frenchling and her father put together the furniture from Ikea (and Mike, we really could have used you - the most competent Ikea certified technician we know).  Here are some pictures.

Balcony off the kitchen (there is another off the front bedroom)
One of the 5 bedrooms
Living room
All in all, not too bad for temporary digs.

But as pleased as I am that my children are living here, I can't help but wish that these apartments belonged to people who loved them and had the time, energy and money to care for them.  To do for this place what we did for our little house in Versailles.  I wonder what will happen in a few short years when the landlord gets tired of dealing with students and the rot has spread too far, if they will be sold and torn down or rehabilitated.  I pray that the latter is their destiny.

"He who loves an old house never loves in vain."
Isabel Conant


Tim said...

Boston in the US is VERY VERY similar. I suspect if you were over in the Kenmore Square or Fenway sections of Boston a few days ago you would have seen a very similar experience. The double parked moving trucks, the mad dash shopping trips to IKEA etc. Plus Boston gets a lot of international students which makes everything so much more complex.

Boston is a better run municipality than Montreal i.e. the last two mayors of Boston haven't gone to jail(although the current one is in hot water for wanting to "blow up" Detroit. So in that regard things are a bit better organized in that the city sets up strategically placed dumpsters across the areas with heavy student housing. You still do have this madhouse September 1st move in date for everyone though.

In terms of what happens to these buildings as they become more and more run down. In Boston at least nothing of yet on a large scale until they burn down. Some unfortunately are so bad that they become fire traps.(Luckily at least in the last ten years or so I can't remember to many incidents were lives were lost). When things become really bad they do get condemned by the city. The most shocking thing is even on Commonwealth Ave and in the Newbury St area you have pockets of run down "student" style housing. This within block of the Four Seasons Hotel and Public Gardens.

NYC, Toronto, and DC are all different from Boston and Montreal. Boston and Montreal are both college towns in the way the other three are not. Some of our friends living in those other three places could probably explain the local situations their better. DC has the vaguely similar issue of the fact that many entry level jobs especially on Capitol Hill tend to be really LOW paying. So people starting out down there really have to scrounge around for a few years. NYC is a whole different world in terms of moving in and out of that is worth a whole blog post.

Tim said...

Very good article from Wednesday's Boston Globe on student housing and code violations.

Tim said...

Video from New England Cable News on Boston Student Housing code violation crackdown.

Blaze said...

Wow. I lived near Atwater Metro station when I was a student in Montreal in 1969.

I have many fabulous memories--most of which a mother definitely does not want to know about! It was the 60s. That tells you all you need to know.

Montreal was where Canada captured my heart.

Bienvenue au Canada, Frenchlings!

P. Moore said...

I think Montreal is a great place for your daughters to not only attend university, but to extend their life experiences. It is a wonderful historic city with a character all its own. In Canada, if you compare it to Toronto, it is a much different place. Toronto is now much bigger and very cosmopolitan but Montreal seems a little more interesting and a richer history.

I hope it turns out to be a super experience for them both.

Unknown said...

Wrote you a note on FB about this. I'm in a university city here in Canada. Many student landlords do not keep up their properties. Student housing is a money maker for them. In their defence some have put in a lot of money to these old homes only to have the students trash the houses so it's not common that old houses around the campuses are kept up. Some are, some are not.

Move in and move out week are often like this with tons of moving trucks, parents helping kids to get settled, parking issues and yes garbage. This scene will play out again when they move out as a mass in the spring. I'm always happy to see them come, love helping them out as my neighbours during the year and when summer comes, I'm kind of happy to see them go. lol.

Many people LOVE living in these old neighbourhoods around campuses. I'm one. It is a joy to live around so many eager young people in a mixed family neighbourhood with access to university libraries and events. We usually have our student neighbours over a few times in the year.

Sounds like Boston is similar. These eastern, older university cities sound pretty much the same. It's going to be lovely in Montreal. You'll see.:) and I LOVE the dwelling you chose!

Catherine said...

Ottawa is quite similar. Some of the nicest parts of town in terms of architecture are also hugely transient with the student population. Kudos to them for affordable housing, but a bit of a shame for these amazing run-down homes.

kermitzii said...

I know totally the difference between Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. When I was in Toronto for 11 years, I had a colleague in Montreal. With the American perspective he despised Toronto. Toronto is just for working people; Montreal definitely has the culture by far. I totally agree but Toronto might have changed since 1996 when I left. Vancouver is just an airhead western outpost for parking money in real estate. So I left America yesterday, will it change?

Christophe said...

Good luck to your Frenchlings in Montreal. Hope they have a great year at McGill. A colloc is definitely better than a dorm where I lived my first 2 years of classes preparatoires.
So which language do they speak there? Are classes taught in English or both French and English?
What is the main language spoken outside of university?
I've never been to Canada, but it's on my list of places to go.
And who knows, maybe my Frenchlings will decide to study there.

Have a great weekend. I am recovering from a car accident with a uninsured driver. I've been rear ended at a light on Friday. Nothing serious, but not fun to deal with and pretty upsetting to see my recent car messed up.

bubblebustin said...

Montreal is wonderful any time of year, but especially now and into the fall. Next time you go, try to visit a charming town, St Saveur, in the Laurentians.

Quebecers should get out the rest of Canada more.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Time, good to know that Montreal is not the only one suffering.

@Patrick - Agreed! I did have a chance to so some walking around town before I was shanghaied into scrubbing floors and walls. Mass at the cathedral was really something. I also attended the noon AA meeting at one of the very old churches in downtown. At the McGill bookstore I picked up this book: Along a River about the first French-Canadian women. If you have other titles, I would be thrilled to have them.

@Atticus, That makes me feel better. I am still not happy that the children but the garbage on the day lilies. Sidewalk is fine - plants deserve better. The building is so beautiful even in its run down state. It must have really been something a hundred years ago. The elder Frenchling did good.

@Christophe, Ouch! I wish you a speedy recovery.
The two unversities have very different language requirements. McGill is English-speaking BUT the French-speakers have the right to turn in their homework in French. The University of Montreal is, on the other hand, completely French-speaking and they have all kinds of resources for aspiring Francophones: tutors, classes and so on.

On the streets of Montreal and in the shops I haven't yet met one anglophone who was not competent in French. The reverse is not necessarily true of the francophones - I have met French-speakers with little or no English.

So the impression I have is that this is a fabulous deal for the anglophones who must be bi-lingual and what a gift that is. Think of all the doors that are open to them because they have fluent French and English. Think of all the doors that are closed to someone like the woman from another part of the province I met who had almost zero English and a thick Canadian French accent that would most likely make her very hard to understand in France or other francophone countries. Not sure she got such a great deal.

Blaze said...

How things have changed since I lived in Montreal 45 years ago. Then, it was francophones who were bilingual and anglophones who were unilingual.

I had only very bad, very limited high school French. Whenever I tried to use it, francophones would immediately speak to me in English.

This quickly defeated my goal to try to learn French. Plus, two of my roomates were British with no French. My other roomate grew up in Quebec. Although she was fluently bilingual, she developed her French from living the previous year in Switzerland.

To this day, I regret not doing more to learn French when I spent a year in Montreal when I was 18.