Discovering Montreal

By Freeman Fletcher (FILM ’18)

Spring 2017 students gathered in the Residence lobby during Orientation (Hannah Cartmel)

I entered Montreal on a bus, the most dystopian civilian transport this side of the people wagons from Planet of the Apes. I was nervous and it was raining. I was nervous because I hail from a small town in Maine and have never stayed in a city for longer than a couple days at a time on family vacations. It was raining because of global warming.

As we drove closer and closer to Central Bus Station, a few things immediately struck me about Montreal:

1) With a bit of fog and rain, Montreal looks like the city in Blade Runner. Is that every city? Again, I wouldn’t know, I’m practically a bumpkin.

Students in front of Notre-Dame Basilica during Spring Orientation’s Scavenger Hunt (Sammi Vashaw)

2) If you’re planning, have planned, or currently plan to study anywhere abroad, no doubt your parents have foisted book upon guide upon website upon pamphlet upon book about the greater area in which you’ll be staying. If you’re like me, you ignored most of them. It’s not that I don’t like having a plan, it’s just that that’s a matter for my psychological examination blog, not this one.

Alack, Montreal is a beaut. A crochet pattern with, really, no discernible pattern. Gothic architecture neighbored by industrial fortresses and capping off the block with a sheer tower of glass. It would be maddening in its chaos were it not so damn mesmerizing in its boldness.

One of the many delicious creations shared by students (Megan McAvoy)

I was late to orientation (yours… truly) so I dropped my bags and joined my fellow students for a weekend of exploration, occasional revelry (as I’m SURE the kids know, the drinking age here is eighteen), and bonding over city spanning scavenger hunts and a Canada-centric pub quiz (no, worried parents, the school does not pay for the students’ drinks). Via Facebook, we’ve been sharing advice for classes, experiences we’ve been having in the city, and even sharing meals we’ve made that have ranged from delicious looking and well-prepared dishes to harrowing concoctions of improvisation.

The moments I valued the most, however, were the ones where I got to see more of the city. A joy of life I didn’t discover until I was depressingly older is that of discovery. You never know where you are until you’ve seen as much of it as possible. I haven’t (Jeez, I’ve only been here for like a week and a half, back off) but in the time I have had to explore, whether it be with friends or by myself, I’ve been left breathless. It’s a lot of walking and I’m way out of shape.

The first thing to know about Montreal is that it’s a very safe city. Granted I’m tall and rarely am I truly in danger but nary a hint of it have I seen here. It’s a stereotype, but the Canadian people are incredibly kind and generous. Most of them also happen to speak English rather well. Thank Insert-Deity-of-Your-Choice-Here for THAT, right? The second thing to know is that, if you come for the Spring semester, it’s cold. If you’re acclimated to Burlington, you’ll be alright but if you’re a college student, you’ll complain anyways. The third thing is almost the entirety of Montreal can be accessed underground. The vast underground city, while not populated by the Ninja Turtles and French revolutionaries I had hoped to find, is a mind-boggling achievement. Again, it’s a lot of walking but if you would rather that than the cold, you’re covered.

Street art peppers the urban landscape (Sammi Vashaw)

When I graduated from high school, the guy that spoke at the ceremony (I think he was important but apparently he recycled his speech so I don’t care) gave the advice of getting lost. That’s terrible advice. It’s a harsh planet we spin on that will chew you up and spit you off. Since I’ve been in Montreal, however, I’m finally beginning to understand what he was talking about. Montreal is expansive and as above, so below. Since I’ve gotten here, I’ve been dying to get lost. What a weird feeling.