That old Montreal Toronto Rivalry

(This is the English and slightly longer version of my article from this morning’s La Presse)

Believe it or not, Toronto is friendlier than Montreal and the food is better, but the city is filthy, its infrastructure is falling apart and crime is a serious problem

Two years ago when I moved from Montreal to Toronto, I was surprised by how friendly everyone was. When I took the dog for a walk, random passersby would greet me in the way that people do in small towns – wishing me good morning and commenting on the weather.

Downtown in the financial district, women would stop me mid-stride to proclaim their love for my shoes or inquire where I had bought my winter coat. If I lingered with my e-book reader at a sidewalk café – yes, Toronto has lots of those too – waiters and fellow patrons alike would solicit my opinion on whether they should get one.

Although Montreal prides itself on being the “warm” city awash in joie de vivre, Montrealers look decidedly unfriendly next to Torontonians who, according to stereotype are supposed to be cold, efficient, uptight workaholics who spend every free moment discussing real estate.

Okay, that last one is still true. People here do talk constantly about the exorbitant house prices and where to find a reliable contractor, but beyond that, pretty much everything else Montrealers think they know about Toronto is dead wrong.

First off, Toronto the good is now Toronto the messy, with litter strewn all over town. Used coffee cups decorate downtown bus shelters, garbage containers are often packed so full nothing else can be deposited, and, on a recent Saturday morning in the upscale Yonge and Eglinton district, a small park was carpeted with trash.

Toronto’s once efficient public transit system is now a wreck. There are delays on the subways almost every morning and water leaks in most stations. After a strong overnight rain, it’s not unusual for the Union Station stop to be flooded, leaving workers with brooms sweeping futilely at 10-cm deep pools of water during morning rush hour.

Crucial streetcar lines operate on reduced schedules and face inconvenient detours as major urban arteries are shut down for months – sometimes years – for construction while the streetcars that remain in service are packed to the gills or stalled in traffic.

Meanwhile, almost every day brings a spectacular new crime story. This summer’s include the 17-year-old who was killed by a shot to the back of the head while eating in a Chinese restaurant and the young man injured by stray bullet fire while he was attending, of all things, a violence prevention barbecue.

The situation has changed drastically since the last time I lived here in the early nineties when the city actually worked. Part of the reason I returned is because I genuinely like Toronto and have never been one of those Montrealers who snobbishly poke fun at it, but I am finding it increasingly hard to defend this city and the good things about it.

More and more the crime and dirt reminds me of pre-Giuliani New York while the powerful unions bring to mind Quebec before it brought in essential services legislation.

Yes, there goes another myth, supposedly lefty Quebec has tougher anti-strike legislation when it comes to services designated essential than Ontario, which is why Toronto can lose its garbage collection in the middle of summer and no one in the country’s fat cat business capital does a thing.

Thank goodness Toronto has surpassed Montreal in the food department with fantastic places to eat and drink all over town. We need our original restaurants and tasty Niagara wines to drown our sorrows as we discuss Ontario’s new harmonized sales tax and why prices and taxes keep going up in a city that’s in rapid decline.

In case any of you Montrealers, eating your staid old steak frites and drinking your boring French wines, feel the need to roll your eyes heavenwards over Toronto’s plight, I suggest you might also want to check in that direction for falling concrete. At least we don’t have that in Toronto – yet.
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You can read more of my newspaper work in the New York Times archives.

10 thoughts on “That old Montreal Toronto Rivalry

  1. Fake news is your comment in montreal la presse. We montrealer don't eat steak fritte and drink french wine. Thos is generalisation, just as wrong as saying toronto people are boring. Next time try st-urbain restaurant and 2singes de montarvie and primo and secundo and realize you were wrong JF Goyette montreal and toronto

  2. I've been to all those places and I stand by my claim. Toronto has surpassed Montreal for good restaurants.

    Also, I still like steak frites, but it is kind of a boring dish.

  3. I am a proud Montrealer and love, love love everything about my city. I do, also, love Toronto, for different reasons. While I agree with you that Toronto has greatly improved in the gastrononic scene, I would never say it surpasses Montreal. The steak frite and boring French wine thing is plain ridiculous. I don't think I have had that in a restaurant since I've been to Select in…Toronto.

  4. I'm sorry, but that comment about "french wine" and steak frites was just wrong and insulting. Of course you have the right to like Toronto's restaurants more (which is highly debatable, but a matter of opinion), but you do not support your opinion very well with that kind of insult et gross generalization.

  5. Also, in your opinion is the difference due to an improvement in the quality of restaurants in Toronto or a decline in the restaurants in Montreal or both?

  6. Well Clarah, I have to say Select does a pretty good steak frites.

    And, of course, that's just my opinion that Toronto has surpassed Montreal, but I find there's more variety and more originality here.

    As much as I love many Montreal restaurants and food shops, I've felt for decades that Montreal's a bit behind the times, which can be a good thing in that you miss the bad trends, and a bad thing in that you miss the good trends.

    To anonymous, who asks if I think Toronto's gotten better food-wise or Montreal's gotten worse, I'd say mostly the former. If anything Montreal's coasting on its reputation, which is not to say that it doesn't have some exceptional places.

    As for my Toronto recommendations here goes:

    – for breakfast Lady Marmalade on Queen east, where they make perfect eggs benedict every time and I've never had anything bad

    – for vegan and vegetarian (no steak frites here) Fresh, which has 3 locations: Bloor, Spadina and the original on Queen west. I like Bloor best.

    – for Italian – Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant again on Queen east. Great seafood.

    – for Spanish tapas, Cava at Yonge and St. Clair

    – for local food and wine, Jamie Kennedy wine bar although I haven't been there since JK left so I can't vouch for it now

    – for steak frites, the Drake is decent or Batifole in Riverdale although they make you pay separately for your frites which drives me crazy

    – next to Batifole, there's a great cheap Vietnamese/Thai place that's almost cheaper than doing it yourself

    – across the street and closer to Broadview, the Pearl does excellent takeout Chinese

    – Plus, Toronto has Whole Foods and Pusateri's, which don't really have Montreal equivalents

    – and, oh yes, the Roasted Marshmallow ice cream at Greg's would be my desert island flavour, beating out even Bilboquet's tire d'erable.

  7. Toronto is a great city.nice bars, too mamy starbucks. But It's always the same with toronto people: we're better. This attitude is more boring than steak and fries. I have never been impressed with toronto restaurant…evey place seems to copy what's going on on montreal. Hell,if the ny times raves about mtl restaurant it should mean somethong. To everyone except toronto people of course.

  8. This sounds like a West Islander wrote it. One who has some ancenstry ties to Toronto.

    • Nope. Not a West Islander and no ancestral ties to Toronto.

      I still love Montreal, just prefer living in Toronto these days.

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