Today is the warmest day of the year so far in Montreal. It's also the date when Quebec drivers are permitted to finally change out their winter tires, marking the unoffical beginning of spring — at least in typically Quebec bureaucratic terms.
Spring is a strange season in Montreal. It's more like a battle between winter and summer before the cold finally slips away for good. As such, it represents the worst of both seasons. Moreover, its brevity (at least in terms of weather) makes it lack a definite identity. Montreal capitalizes on its summers, falls, and winters and has woven these seasons into its culture — spring, not so much.
As we approach the official beginning of the spring season, let's prepare for some its worst qualities.
TLDR: Spring sucks. Here's why.
The melting snow reveals the months of litter that have accumulated under those tall banks. The glistening white powder yields to dirty grey mush punctuated with empty, decaying Tim Hortons cups. There's even an Instagram page dedicated to Tim Hortons litter in Montreal.
It's muddy and wet
All that melting snow leaves huge puddles covering sidewalks and roads across the city. Pedestrians often find themselves the victims of cruel drivers that pass carelessly through huge, brown puddles. Plus, all the gravel laid to break up ice in the wintertime becomes dislodged and completely covers public surfaces. The last eleven days of March are particularly gross — street cleaning doesn't start until April 1st (an especially brutal April Fools Day joke).
Mud is the least of our worries, however. The thaw also brings with it potential for flooding. This flooding is only going to get worse each year as climate change progresses. Hopefully the tens of thousands of Quebec students that took to the streets today to demand more comprehensive environmental policy can avert that disaster...
Sidenote: Speaking of protests, warmer weather also means the return of strikes and demonstrations in Montreal. Such public spectacles are generally a good thing, but they're nonetheless frustrating for the unsuspecting commuter.
All that mud and litter reeks. Plus, there's the rotting matter that has been for months covered in a thick blanket of snow.
Potholes are an especially major problem
Potholes form when water freezes under surfaces, expands, and breaks up tar or concrete. Once the ice melts, Montreal becomes a treacherous, cratered mess. It takes months before the city fills some of the worst potholes. Others are never filled at all. Then, of course there are the "reverse potholes" — ice-covered holes that road crews filled with tar that will inevitably break up, leaving rubble in the middle of city streets.
The resumption of major construction projects
Constructions projects slow down when snow and ice cover work sites. But crews will soon be able to return to work. The lack of snow also means that there will be little sound insulation when workers begin to once again hack away at the city's aging infrastructure.
There's little going on
Sure, there is a festival or celebration here and there — including, most notably, cabanes à sucre — but spring is mostly a liminal period in Montreal. Residents will have to wait until summer for most of the city's festivals.
The scramble to find apartments
The apartment hunt has begun! In anticipation of the July 1st unofficial municipal Moving Day (the date when most leases end or renew), Montrealers are scrambling to lease new apartments. An increasingly competitive market has made finding an apartment difficult. Online listings disappear within days. Most people are also unaware that values differ greatly across the city — $1,000/month will go much further in some boroughs than others.
Students also begin to move out of the city in April, meaning crowded sidewalks and, oh yes, more litter.
If the last two days were any indication, Montreal is in for a capricious spring. Fleeting moments of sunshine and warmth yield to rain, wind storms, and even more snow.
Sweating on the metro
That unpredictable weather can make it difficult to know how to dress. Often, Montrealers leave their homes prepared for frigid temperatures only for a warm front to pass through city streets (blowing litter and stench in the process; see above). These temperature fluctuations can be especially difficult during commuting hours, when Montrealers have to pass through the always-sweltering metro system. Hello back sweat (all over metro seats).
While we should be thrilled that winter is slipping away, the seasonal transition takes a toll on our mood. Just ask the chubby bear that reluctantly emerged from hibernation at the Montreal Ecomuseum yesterday.
Good luck, Montreal!