Canada, our great neighbor to the north, is marking its 150th year of Confederation this year. There may be no more misunderstood province of Canada than Québec. French-speaking, connected to the country but somehow standing apart, it’s a distinct world within Canada. Here are five myths about the province that, once answered, may have you planning a trip in the near future.
1. They only speak French in Québec.
Well yes, they do speak French in Québec. By law, French must be the predominant language on signs and must be spoken first by retail employees. But if you haven’t spoken French since high school, this shouldn’t stop you from going.
“About 80% of Québécois call French their first language,” says Yves Gentil, a native Quebecer and president of DQMPR in New York. “However, English is widely spoken all over the province and especially in tourist areas. Many Quebecers do not speak French at all, especially in Montréal.”
2. Montréalis like a North American version of Paris.
“It is true that Montréal is a bit of a Europe without the jetlag,” says Gentil, “and that one can feel like being in Paris in old Montréal while walking along the St. Lawrence River. However, Montréal is really a multicultural Canadian city where the French and the English and many others live in harmony.”
Canada’s second-largest city is the second-largest French-speaking metropolis in the world after Paris, but Montréal is also one of the most dynamic and diverse cities in the world. There are large populations of Italian, Asian, Caribbean, Portuguese and Lebanese origin.
“You can wake up to fresh croissants and Italian espresso, have lunch in an old diner, enjoy an afternoon beer at an English pub and dance away outdoors at a free live show,” says Catherine Binette of Tourism Montreal. “Montréal is the best of all worlds, with a French European heritage, culture and feel. It’s European elegance mixed with North American party energy.”
In fact, while Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, Montréal is celebrating its 375th anniversary, with festivities such as special editions of the Just for Laughs Festival and the Montreal Jazz Festival. The city’s flagship hotel, Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, is undergoing a $140 million (CAD) complete renovation and will reopen in June. The 1,000-plus-room hotel is renovating all of its rooms, including the restoration of the famous suite where John Lennon and Yoko Ono had one of their famous Bed-Ins for Peace in 1969 (the other was in Amsterdam).
3. Western Canada is the place to go for outdoor adventures.
You clearly haven’t spent any time at Tremblant, in the Laurentian Mountains 90 minutes north of Montréal, which has been voted the No. 1 ski resort in the East by Ski Magazine for 20 of the last 21 years. Just a drive or a short flight from major cities across the Northeast, it offers French flair and a wide range of trails that comfort beginners and test the skills of experts. At the base is a pedestrian village that’s a clever re-imagining of an old Québec village, with winding walkways, shops and restaurants.
“Tremblant was really designed for families, with a secure environment,” says Pierre-Alexandre Legault, communications advisor for Tremblant Resort Association.
In winter, Legault points out, there are 96 trails for skiing, with notably good grooming and remarkable panoramic views of the Laurentians. A short drive away is the Domaine Saint Bernard, offering 1,500 acres of woodland with groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. For those who love winter, its worth knowing that Tremblant’s ski season extends into mid-April. It may also have the liveliest après ski and night life this side of Europe, thanks to bars such as Le P’tit Caribou.
Come summertime, the mountain and the surrounding terrain turn into a playground with hiking, mountain biking, swimming and boating, not to mention festivals in the base village.
“Summer is as big as winter,” says Legault. “We have three Ironman events, a 10-day blues festival in July and a world music festival in September. “
Beyond Tremblant, there is so much more wilderness to explore in Québec, from the Charlevoix Region along the St. Lawrence River north of Québec City to untracked wilds that reach to the shores of Hudson’s Bay. For comparison’s sake, it’s useful to know that the province of Québec is nearly twice the size of Texas.
4. Montréal is so far north that it’s always cold, which is why half the city is underground.
Many U.S. cities are located further north than Montréal, says Gentil, including Seattle and Portland, Ore. “August in Montréal can be as hot and humid as New York City, which makes the underground city a great place to catch some air conditioning.”
Montréal’s extensive “underground city” is connected by passageways. But it’s far from a true city. It’s actually a network of tunnels and stairs which connect shopping malls, hotels, metro stations and concert halls. It’s more about smart planning and convenience than anything else. It can feel like a maze but it’s actually quite well-laid out and easy to navigate.
Binette of Tourism Montreal says that “The weather is nice and warm from May to November. July feels as hot as Miami and the patio, park, barbecue and beer garden culture definitely outshines the underground city, which becomes useful during the colder days in winter.”
5. Americans may get a cold shoulder inQuébec.
That sentiment is a stale holdover from 40-plus years ago, when separatists wanted Québec to secede from Canada. Even then, the anger was directed at their fellow countrymen, not Americans.
“I don’t think this has ever been true,” says Gentil. “Quebecers consider Americans distant cousins and many of them vacation in the U.S. or have family there.”
The fact is that Quebecers pride themselves on being different from their neighbors yet are known for their friendliness and warmth.
Written by Everett Potter