12 Moments Since I Moved To Montreal That Permanently Altered My Brain Chemistry

I have been forever changed.

Staff Writer
​The author doing their best "mind blown" face in their apartment. Right: A view of Montreal from Mount Royal.

The author doing their best "mind blown" face in their apartment. Right: A view of Montreal from Mount Royal.

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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

Moving to Montreal, the land of bagels and smoked meat, was a significant milestone for me as a young student just hoping to make their way in the world. Now, as an adult living in the city, I realize that plenty of moments throughout my time here have been just as important as that initial move.

As many of my generational peers say on TikTok, these moments permanently altered my brain chemistry: they changed me in a way only a city like Montreal can change people.

Hearing a real Québécois accent for the first time — and understanding NOTHING

I came to Montreal a doe-eyed American with just enough French to make it in the big leagues — or so I thought. It turns out that "great at French" in North Carolina is "embarrassingly out of practice" in Montreal!

The first time I heard a thick Québécois accent — from a lifelong Hochelaga resident who soon became a close friend — I struggled to make sense of the words that should've felt familiar to me. It finally started to soak in that I was in a whole new place, and that getting used to it would take some practice.

Eating a fresh bagel right from the bag

Before my friend's casual conversation shook my confidence, I had a peerless moment of food euphoria: eating a fresh St-Viateur bagel in the back of a friend's car touring the city.

I got sesame seeds all over the floor, the car seat and myself, but that warm, fluffy, crispy bagel was one of the best I've ever eaten.

Seeing the view from Mount Royal for the first time

After my downtown tour, my family made the trek up Mount Royal with me. From the observatory, the view was overwhelming: there were so many new places for me to discover, laid out in front of me (and behind me, but I didn't care about the rest of the city at that point. I went to McGill, what more need I say?)

Every climb since that first has felt different. Now, I recognize the shapes of familiar buildings, and I can point to my favourite coffee shops and neighbourhoods with confidence.

Buying (temporarily) legal weed as an 18-year-old

Moving to Montreal in mid-2018 offered young me the unique opportunity to buy from the fledgling SQDC during the time when 18 was the legal age of majority. This was before the CAQ recriminalized weed consumption for those under 21.

For the year before the age of majority was increased, I was smoking joints hand-rolled by workers in Quebec's first regulated cannabis market — participating in a little piece of Montreal's history, while also getting responsibly intoxicated.

My first big blizzard and temperatures under minus 20 degrees

In the winter of 2019, Montreal was hit with more snow than it had seen since 1968. I remember going outside to the most snow I'd seen in my entire life, in temperatures as low as minus 35 C real feel (weather records confirm a low of minus 23 C in the days I remember as chilliest).

I survived and even enjoyed living through such a disruptive but also routine occurrence. Making it through that winter made me feel one step closer to being a true Montrealer (albeit a transplant, but what can you do).

Going to a small indie show where the bands were actually good

There is so little as special as Montreal's indie music scene, with outrageous talents hidden in every dive in the city. As a date and a bit of a joke, my then-boyfriend and I went to see a small show in 2019, at which four of the dadliest-looking men we had ever seen took the stage.

We shared a look of amused disinterest, and I whispered that we could leave whenever we wanted to. But as soon as they started wailing on their guitars, we realized we had made a mistake: these dads could PLAY!

I stayed for the entire concert, enjoying the entire time what should, by all rights, have been a funny anecdote. Instead, it's one of my fondest pre-pandemic memories in the city.

Getting splashed by disgusting road water

Conversely, the first time I got splashed by a road puddle was one of the worst moments I've spent in Montreal. I never thought it would really happen to me, but I strayed too close to the road at one inopportune moment and found myself covered in the nastiest, filthiest water I've ever touched.

A kiss from the city, perhaps. Now, I stand five feet from all puddles, and I haven't been soaked since.

Learning about the Quiet Revolution

I learned nothing about Canada in all my years of American schooling, so hearing about this cultural shift and the impact it has had on modern Quebec was perspective- and life-altering.

René Lévesque's Liberal party and its reforms changed Quebec into a more secularized, coherently nationalist province with an education system now divorced in large part from Catholicism, which had ruled Quebec for decades. If you don't know much about the Quiet Revolution and its impact on Montreal, here is a fine place to start

Watching frosh happen downtown as a non-student (the worst)

Okay, yes, I did attend frosh, and yes, I got my fair share of noise complaints in first year. But I never understood the extent of how annoying froshies can be when you are not among them.

The first time I saw a frosh group take over a residential downtown street as an adult, I felt a seething, anti-fun Scroogery that has yet to fade from my brain. Be quiet, y'all!

Driving through the city for the first time — and surviving

After years of staunchly avoiding driving in Montreal, years of seeing horrible driving and worse parking, I finally was forced to drive through the city to get my first Canadian work permit.

And you know what? It wasn't that bad. It turns out that when you're a good driver, other drivers being bad isn't as bad as it could be. When me, my girlfriend and our rental car all survived the trip, I knew I had taken another step into Montreal adulthood.

Shovelling my very own steps

When I first moved to Montreal, I lived right downtown in a shared apartment building with many fellow undergrads. Now, I live in a walkup in the suburbs — which means that I had to shovel my first path this year.

It feels like a milestone, a gesture of permanence and a sense of home. Clearing the snow and carefully de-icing our steps is still special to me, although I know that one day it'll be a boring chore.

Finally understanding the Québécois accent

When I shovelled my driveway, I happened to choose the same time as our next-door neighbour, a sweet francophone woman who greeted me kindly.

Finally, I understood every word.

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

Willa Holt
Staff Writer
Willa Holt is a Staff Writer for MTL Blog focused on apartments for rent and is based in Montreal, Quebec.
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