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12 Weird Facts Most People Don't Know About Montreal, According To People Who Live Here

Facts about Montreal that might surprise outsiders and newcomers.

Senior Editor
Aerial view of Montreal's Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame.

Aerial view of Montreal's Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame.

Montreal, like any city, is full of unspoken rules, factoids and bewildering practices — threads that bind the fabric of urban life and give it its unique texture. That locally known common knowledge can baffle newcomers and visitors.

Inspired by posts on other city Reddit pages, 25-year-old Olivier Alix (u/Spiritual_Panic6924 on Reddit, @oliiivier on Instagram) took to r/Montreal to solicit some of the city's lesser-known facts, asking "what's some basic knowledge about MTL that most people don't know?"

The post, shared here with permission, garnered hundreds of comments.

The responses are illuminating.

from montreal

First, some fun facts from user u/MrNonam3, including the source of the city's drinking water (the Saint Lawrence River and Lac Saint-Louis, which empties over the Lachine Rapids), the discovery of diamonds on Île-Bizard in the '60s and '70s, and the namesake of La Ronde amusement park: the lost Île Ronde, now part of Île Sainte-Hélène.

In fact, as u/Motanfoutune indicated, the two islands that now compose Montreal's Parc Jean-Drapeau were created in part using the earth excavated during the creation of the metro system.

u/ilya123456 reminded readers about the magmatic origins of the hills of the Saint Lawrence River Valley. According to NASA, those bumps on the otherwise flat southern Quebec landscape, including our very own Mount Royal, were formed by hardened magma bubbles that emerged as the softer rock around them eroded away.

u/poutinebutnotrussian mentioned Montrealers' polite habit of forming a single-file line while waiting for the bus, unlike passengers in other cities who crowd around bus doors. "To our french cousins: here we line up when waiting for the bus," they wrote. "Get on the bus before the people who were at the stop before you at your own risk..."

Then, of course, there's the peculiar orientation of the city's street grid, which means, as u/prplx pointed out, that "north is not really north, south is not south, east is not east, and west is not west. North is actually [northwest], south is southeast, west is southwest and east is northeast."

That skewed grid makes for some bizarre routes, like how a driver going "west" on rue Sherbrooke Est between rue Viau and boulevard Pie-IX is actually travelling due south, as u/ymenard demonstrated.

u/Ceros007 mentioned some Montrealers' tendency to identify their borough rather than the city of Montreal in their addresses. Others suggested the habit stems from the early 2000s municipal mergers that made Montreal the city it is today.

u/AkuAkuAkuAku posited that residents who live in areas that were previously independent towns, such as Saint-Laurent, Lachine, LaSalle, Outremont, Saint-Léonard and Anjou, are more likely to list solely their borough in their address than residents of neighbourhoods that were already part of the City of Montreal, such as Saint-Henri.

Many commenters pointed to the actually well-known existence of the Montreal Underground, more like a connected series of shopping centres and metro stations than a fully-functioning subterranean city. But the result is that many seemingly isolated downtown office buildings serve as covert metro entrances. As u/lama00 stated, "you can enter any building with a réso sign and you will be able to walk to a metro station without freezing your nose off." Smaller than metro symbol signs, the réso signs can usually be found near or above office tower entrances.

(Though be warned following those réso signs might mean an awkward walk through office lobbies and through dark winding corridors.)

Also unique to the Montreal cityscape are the rows of outdoor (often precarious) staircases to upper-floor apartments in multiplex buildings, believed to be a way for early developers to include more usable interior living space in their properties, as u/Resentful_in_Dayton stated.

The city's relatively squat (at least in the North American context) skyscrapers, meanwhile, can be explained by a municipal ordinance that keeps buildings under 232.5 metres above sea level — the highest point of Mount Royal. The result, according to u/MrNonam3, is that buildings in some spots closer to the river can actually be taller than buildings in lots at a higher elevation on the downtown slope.

To this long list of weird facts, we'll add the use of rubber tires on the Montreal metro (the tires' frictional grip allows trains to accelerate more quickly and mount steeper inclines) and the island-wide ban on red-light right turns, seen as a way to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety.

What's your favourite bizarre Montreal fact?

This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

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