on the plateau | urbanphoto


The Plateau Mont-Royal is hard to pin down, maybe a little crazy. It speaks a bunch of different languages, wears mismatched clothes and you never know what mood it’ll be in next. The only certain thing about this Montreal neighbourhood is its location: north of Sherbrooke, east of the mountain and within the belt formed by the Canadian Pacific tracks. Aside from that, the Plateau is a neighbourhood of contrasts and juxtapositions. Aesthetically, culturally and linguistically, one section of the neighbourhood can be entirely different from another. The Plateau is both the lively francophone neighbourhood of Michel Tremblay’s novels and the teeming Jewish ghetto of Mordecai Richler’s books, not to mention the Portuguese enclave around Duluth Street or the genteel bourgeoisie of rue St-Hubert.

In essence, the Plateau can be broken into two distinct halves, with rue St-Denis as the dividing line. The western half is more English-speaking and heavy on immigrants – Jews once upon a time, now Portuguese, Greeks and Latinos. It is also the home of students packed four or five to an apartment and the hip anglo scene centred on St-Laurent, the Main. (In fact, the Utne Reader proclaimed the Plateau as one of the hippest neighbourhoods in North America, perhaps a rather dubious distinction.) As you move east, the Plateau grows more francophone and a tad less hectic with the relaxed green sea of the Parc Lafontaine acting as a barrier to the clubs and noisy restaurants of the Main and St-Denis. Architecturally, too, the neighbourhood varies greatly. The uniform 1910s-era triplexes at its eastern extremes look nothing at all like the hodgepodge Victorian cottages, townhouses and triplexes in the west.

Despite this diversity, the Plateau really does feel like a single neighbourhood and not just a loose collection of villages. A friend of mine who has lived on the Plateau for twenty years remarked that, for him, crossing under the CP tracks feels like leaving Montreal - the rest of the city seems so different. So what binds the Plateau together? In terms of population, this is one of the densest neighbourhoods in Canada, with more than 100,000 people living in a mere 2.5 square miles. The Plateau is the cultural heart of Montreal, home to most of its galleries, studios and theatres and a liberal atmosphere conducive to artistic creation. Plateau residents enjoy the lowest car-ownership rate in Montreal, opting instead to walk or bicycle. There’s a relaxed, leisurely air to the neighbourhood, with more balconies, terrasses and bustling sidewalks than other Montreal neighbourhoods.

Above all, the Plateau is a microcosm of Montreal. It has everything that makes this city special: those whimsical winding staircases and brightly-painted cornices, big rambling apartments, a lively mix of anglos, francos and immigrants, students, families and the painfully hip The Plateau is fun, fascinating and complex. Walking its streets, you never know what's around the next corner.


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