Moving to montreal as an anglophone?
May 3, 2006 7:59 AM   Subscribe

What should I know about moving to Montreal, considering I am an anglophone?

Out of the blue, my wife is being headhunted to take a high level position at a company in Montreal. We are investigating further, but it seems like it might be worth the jump. I'm concerned that my lack of french language skills will hurt me in seeking a job for myself, however.

The company that is headhunting her has an office on Chemin Ste-Marie, so it's in the southwest of the city. What areas are nearby that would have nice homes for a small just-getting-started family that would be anglophone friendly? We both make a reasonable income, so we would most likely be looking at houses in the $200,000 - $250,000 range.

Finally, any other general advice about the city?
posted by WinnipegDragon to Work & Money (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The West Island in general--anywhere in the vicinity of Chemin Ste-Marie--tends to be pretty Anglophone, at least compared to downtown. I grew up Anglophone in Pointe Claire, and my grandmother, who doesn't speak a word of French, has lived in Pierrefonds for the past 50 years; my Anglophone aunt and uncle live in Beaconsfield.

I haven't been in Pointe Claire for the past ten years, and that was when I was pretty young, so I don't really have any idea about the employment situation. My sister whose French is fairly poor managed to get a swanky retail job downtown, so I don't think it would be impossible, but it would definitely be worth it for you to learn French eventually. Pointe Claire is a lovely place to live, though I can't really speak to any of the other areas in the West Island.
posted by Jeanne at 8:10 AM on May 3, 2006

I haven't lived in Montreal for over 30 years, but my very Anglo family had no trouble there. (and in Point Claire, coincidentally) And while a lot has changed, there are still a lot of Anglos in Montreal. Plus French isn't impossibly hard to learn although I doubt you'll ever desperately need it, at least in Montreal. Outside of urban Montreal, you probably need some French to get by.

I'm sure real Montrealers will chime in.
posted by GuyZero at 8:18 AM on May 3, 2006

Chemin Ste-Marie is not actually in what is considered the south-west of the city, it's on the West Island. I think there's a good chance your wife's company is in Kirkland, which straddles the A40.

In that area you should easily be able to find a nice house in that price range. I would try Beaconsfield and Pointe-Claire first, but someone with greater familiarity with the area might provide better advice with that.

As far as jobs go, it might be a problem but it shouldn't be prohibitive in that part of the city. Particularly if you're not averse to working for a large company, preferably a subsidiary of a US company or one that does a cross-Canada or North American business rather than a strictly local operation.
posted by mikel at 8:25 AM on May 3, 2006

Jeanne and Guyzero, you're both wrong. The Montreal area is as a guess 99% francophone and even more rural areas including Hudson has been taken over by the french.
Most Anglophones left in droves between 1979 and 1995 ( the year of the last referendum to determine sovereignty)
Personally, I'll never forget the moment I was in Montreal in 1996 and while waiting in line I was having an english conversation with someone and a francophone interrupted us and asked us to "keep it down" in order to not offend the majority around us who were francophones.
posted by GoodJob! at 8:32 AM on May 3, 2006

I left Montreal less than a year ago to move to Toronto for a job. Other than the last 11 months, I had never lived anywhere else than Notre-Dame-de-Grace (basically the last bit of the old "City of Montreal" before you hit the West Island). I am an anglophone with adequate French but am far from fluently bilingual. My parents, who are both native Montrealers, do NOT speak French. Many of my classmates in high school, CEGEP (Marianopolis) and - especially - University (McGill), were unilingual anglophones.

The key to harmony between the two solitudes is to make an effort to understand the other by learning some small phrases for everyday situations. In cases when those phrases are exhausted and an impasse is reached, smile and apologize and try to mime your way out of it.

If you don't expect everyone in QC to speak English, Quebeckers won't expect everyone from outside QC to speak French.

Goodjob's story of being told to keep it down was probably less as a result that he was speaking English at the time than that he was doing so loudly. I have never, ever, ever in twenty + years of being a Montrealer, been treated badly as an anglophone.

You shouldn't have any major problems not speaking French in the area of town your wife will be working in from a social/personal standpoint. As far as work goes, that will be more difficult. I second mikel's point of going after companies with a North American area of work. Note though that generally when Canadian companies have office's in Quebec, it's because they want access to the QC market and therefore want to have some of their business done in French.
posted by elkerette at 8:48 AM on May 3, 2006

Sorry goodjob, I called you a "he" before checking your profile.
posted by elkerette at 8:49 AM on May 3, 2006

GoodJob! is exaggerating, but not by as much as I thought.. From Going Forward:
The Evolution of Quebec’s English-Speaking Community
Generalizations about the Quebec Anglophone population tend to arise from perceptions of the economic and social condition of the Montréal English-speaking community. In the Montréal region, mother-tongue Anglophones represent some 13 percent of the population. Between 1996 and 2001, the real numbers declined by over 4 percent from 426,605 to 408,185. Approximately 300,000 of the region’s mother-tongue Anglophones reside on the Island of Montréal (rather than the entire region), and represent over 17 percent of the Island population (on the basis of mother tongue).
You definitely need to hear the practical experiences of actual residents..
posted by Chuckles at 8:51 AM on May 3, 2006

I've lived in Montreal for the last ten years. My experience is that the region you're talking about is still very anglophone. In addition, most of downtown is bilingual. It's hard to find a shop between Atwater and St. Denis and south of Mont Royal where people don't speak English. Things are also a lot less tense these days than they seem to have been a couple of decades ago from the stories I hear.

Your experience looking for work will depend greatly on what sector you work in. Unless you work in a job that requires a lot of interaction with customers, getting work will be a matter of your skill level and not of your ability in French. On the other hand, don't expect to be able to get a service job here as a unilingual anglophone, except perhaps in the West Island or Westmount; even in those regions someone who is bilingual would generally be preferred, I would guess.

In terms of a place to live, the whole west island is very anglophone-friendly. I hope you choose to move here - it's a great place and there's no reason to let your lack of French scare you away. (But the more you learn, the better you'll be able to appreciate the city - it's worth the effort!)

Lastly, demographics for Montreal. It's a lot less than 99% francophone - about 2/3, as a matter of fact. Furthermore, my experience, no exaggeration, is that about 3/4 of the francophones I encounter speak English very well, so it certainly doesn't feel like in general I can't communicate with the people I encounter.
posted by louigi at 8:51 AM on May 3, 2006

My job skills are pretty specific.

I work on an engine that does translation and routing of medical messages (HL7 if anyone else knows the industry) for the regional health authority here in Winnipeg.

Basically, it's a programming job, but I know the languages I need to know: TCL, a little java, and *nix shell scripting.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:56 AM on May 3, 2006

WinnipegDragon is right in a "general overview" way: the Western side of Montreal is traditionally more Anglo and the Eastern part more Franco. But it is more and more mixed.
About "English friendly": most of Montreal is English friendly. I live on the East side (Plateau Mont-Royal), a traditional French neighbourhood, and about a fourth of people are Anglos. And all business enterprises and stores are at least bilingual (citywide).

Montreal is a pretty cool city and there is no (or not anymore) stigma attached to speaking only one of the two majority languages. (The owners of the convenience store down the corner are two young Chinese engineers who barely speak English or French: nobody cares).

I would advise you to search first for a neighbourhood you like (downtown or suburbs etc.) and second only along languages lines. To have an idea of the real estate market, here are three free classified ads sites: kijiji, Ifind, acam. Use them in conjunction with Google maps and you are set. If you can, try to find something nearby a metro station: it will change hour life. And on the South-Western side, it's cool to be at walking distance from the Atwater Market.

If you choose any part of the West-Island, proximity of the St-Lawrence river is great (Lachine).
Welcome and good luck.

On preview: I am surprised by (and sorry about) what Goodjob! writes. I suppose that you can find assholes anywhere about anything. But this is not representative of life in Montreal and I can link you with a few of my Anglo friends if need be.
posted by bru at 8:56 AM on May 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

GoodJob!, you're wrong. Montreal is 13.8 per cent anglophone according to Wikipedia; on the island proper it's 18 per cent.

I'm an anglophone Quebecker, but I live rural west Quebec (west of Ottawa) rather than in Montreal, so I have little to add except to second what other people say: it's possible on the Island of Montreal to get by in English, less so in the surrounding suburbs, which are more francophone. I can't say how possible, though, since I do speak French, and I use it in Montreal. The more French you have, the better, obviously. Bilingualism is of course, rampant, more so than anywhere else in Canada, but there are still more than a million people in the metropolitan area that speak only French (stats, via the Wikipedia article).

On the other hand, there are a quarter-million unilingual anglophones, and they must get by somehow.
posted by mcwetboy at 9:02 AM on May 3, 2006

The Montreal area is as a guess 99% francophone

This, folks, is why you shouldn't guess on Ask Metafilter.

The Montreal metro area is 68% francophone, 12% anglophone, and 18% neither. On the island of Montreal itself, that drops to 52% francophone, 21% anglophone and 36% neither. Even then, of Francophones in all of Quebec, 34% speak English, and that 36% will be concentrated in Montreal. (On the other hand, 37% of Anglophones in Quebec don't speak French!) There are a bunch more language statistics, based on Statistics Canada research, nicely summarized in this Wikipedia article.

Numbers aside, GoodJob's impression doesn't ring true. I lived at the base of the Plateau (near St Lawrence and Pine) from 1994 to 2001, right through the referendum, and am barely functional in French, and never had any problems. I can't remember a single incident outside of the politics of the referendum itself that my language choice got someone angry at me. Montreal is simply very Anglophone -- that's why one of Canada's leading English universities is there, with room left over for a second major university and a number of prominent English colleges and private schools. The Westmount neighbourhood is the centre of Anglophone wealth in Quebec -- that's the "money" that Parizeau blamed in his favorite "money and the ethnic vote" speech after losing the referendum -- and is the only place in Quebec where the signs say "STOP" and not "ARRET".

The West Island itself is the Anglophone suburb. There you do see some of the effects of the "401 blues", the exodus of Anglophones to Toronto during the referendum instability -- but only in absolutes. Before then, it was a strong Anglo majority, where a Francophone family would feel a bit out of place; now it's probably half and half, with a good number of other languages mixed in.

Getting by in English downtown or in the West Island is easy; customer service people are expected to be bilingual, and while some will be frustrated that they have to speak English to you, you'd be frustrated trying to speak French! People tend to read politics into language discomfort a lot more than is necessary. Employment is a different story, but still manageable, especially in higher-level positions. If you're in a profession and are going to open a practice, you're set -- you'll just build an Anglophone clientele. If you're a professional or technical employee, it'll be tougher, but far from impossible -- it just limits your opportunities a bit, less so if you demonstrate a strong desire to learn French. That said, if you're looking for entry-level customer-facing positions it'll be a problem.

Will you occasionally find people who are annoyed that you speak English? Sure, just like you'd find people who annoyed that you're not a Democrat or that you're not pro-life, except that you wear your language on your sleeve. Shrug it off, don't act like you're entitled to be isolated from French, and away you go.
posted by mendel at 9:14 AM on May 3, 2006

Woops. Where I wrote

Even then, of Francophones in all of Quebec, 34% speak English, and that 36% will be concentrated in Montreal.

I meant "and that 34% will be".
posted by mendel at 9:21 AM on May 3, 2006

I worked in Montreal for several companies, both English-speaking, and I have a friend whose worked in several more. There's a bit of a division between the anglo companies (some of which are branch offices of companies from English-speaking areas, but not always) and franco companies, so, at least in the IT and web industries in which I worked, there are two parallel working worlds.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 9:25 AM on May 3, 2006

WinnipegDragon, knowing what your specialty is now, it strikes me that you should be able to find something in Montreal without too much trouble. Montreal (and particularly the West Island) is a center for the pharma industry in Canada. Pfizer, Novartis, and Merck are both near where your wife's job will be, and Schering is out there as well. Sanofi-Aventis is a bit further away in Laval, but reachable. There's also IMS and McKesson which might be good targets, and a significant industry made up of smaller companies that feed into pharma, medicine and healthcare research.
posted by mikel at 10:31 AM on May 3, 2006

Goodjob! is from Quebec and Ontario ( later) so Goodjob! knows the score. And no, elkerette, as anyone who knows me would agree- I do not have a loud speaking voice. The long and short of it is the francophones didn't want to hear any english language on Quebec soil, no matter the volume.
posted by GoodJob! at 1:04 PM on May 3, 2006

GoodJob!, sorry but factually speaking you do NOT know the score (see above) and your fearmongering and hate are a derail to this thread and an insult to both the anglo and franco quebeckers who are here trying to help the OP. Furthermore, francophones in general do NOT have a problem with "hearing the english language on Quebec soil." That is nothing more than a fear-inspired conclusion jumped to by someone who has a chip on her shoulder.

That said, to all, if you assume bad will you are sure to find it, as GoodJob! has clearly demonstrated.

Move to Montreal with good will in the heart and you'll have a wonderful time. It's one of the greatest cities in North America both to live in or to visit.
posted by mikel at 1:28 PM on May 3, 2006

GoodJob, I'm not interested in your social bigotry, thanks.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:50 PM on May 3, 2006

Oh, and from recent visits to Montreal: start dressing better. Like, a lot better. That should help you fit in. Damn, Montrealers always look good.
posted by GuyZero at 2:39 PM on May 3, 2006

yes, I do know the score-- I'm not derailing-- I answered the question as posed. Either u live in reality or u don't.
I'm guessing you didn't live in Quebec during the height of Levesque's power. Or u don't recall the FLQ crisis? Perhaps u weren't even born or u never opened a book on Quebec's modern history? Innocent people were getting murdered and stuffed into trunks of cars for the cause.
They may have put away the guns ( though that's debatable since we noticed bullet holes in an english library window in Roxboro) and now they just continue to call it "the revenge of the cradle" Get a clue or at least a history book.
posted by GoodJob! at 4:54 PM on May 3, 2006

'u' are a loon.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 6:31 PM on May 3, 2006

WinnipegDragon-- u should be reported for namecalling, as I've heard it's against Mefi policies. U ask a question on AskMeta and u get answers. Some of the answers u may not like, but that's the risk u take when u pose questions thru the vastness of the internet or in this case askmeta.
Why don't u take the job in yul and then get back to all of us in a yr or 2 and let us know how it's going?
posted by GoodJob! at 6:44 PM on May 3, 2006

My older relatives (boomer generation, Anglophones in Montreal) do report getting a fair bit of anti-Anglophone hostility during the sixties and seventies. But now? I lived downtown for three years between 2000 and 2004, and...I speak decent French, so I may not be a representative sample, but no one would ever mistake me for a Francophone. I've gotten everything from minor annoyance to guys thinking my accent is cute, but never anything approaching genuine hostility. (And no, I didn't keep to the student ghetto).
posted by Jeanne at 6:58 PM on May 3, 2006

Let's talk about namecalling, GoodJob! Who's the "they" in your second posting? Because, if I'm not mistaken, you are implying that ALL franco Quebecers are guilty by association for the acts of a few marxist dimwits. Of course, like all of my race, I am (if I get your drift) a closet blood thirsty uncouth barbarian just waiting to pounce and dismember the first anglo I get my hands on. At least I had the decency to learn to speak and write "white", as you can see, so maybe my soul can be saved.

Let's go back to the history books, as you propose. A few dimwits (as stated above) kidnap a Quebec minister (francophone, by the way) and the British commercial representative in Montreal, motivated more by marxist revolutionnary ideas that language issues. And yes (we're dealing here with bungling dimwits), the minister is killed. Meanwhile, the Federal governement treats the whole issue as a popular uprising (which it never was) and declares martial law (something that had never been done, even during WWII), suspends civil liberties, and imprisons (without any justifications) hundreds of people (political leaders, unions leaders, simple citizens). You want to claim moral high ground on this one? OK, let's hear your arguments.

I'm sorry you came across stupid francos Quebecers (and I'll proudly claim that some of them can be as stupid as they come), but your attitude is stereotypical of this holier-than-thou, insular closedmindedness that gave West Island Anglos such a bad rep. Thankfully, some of us can see past the stereotypes.

For the record, I have studied at McGill, have had many anglo friends (many of which complained that they had trouble learning French because everybody spoke English to them); my wife is American. We live in Rosemont (a Francophone neighborhood, if there is ever one), speak frequently English in public and have never had any problems (The simple fact that I have to state this strikes me as ridiculous). Of course, she has made efforts to learn French, and although it is far from perfect, she manages pretty well (even chairing a school committee in French). On that , I have to admit she's shown more spunk than a lot of "old school" Quebec anglos who have refused to learn (let alone use) any French, as if a matter of principle (French being of course the language of these bloodthirsty low-class barbarians). Thankfully, this race is dying (or leaving) as is that of the closeminded "nationalists".

And finally, to WinnipegDragon, Montreal is a great place. Come and check it out (Heck, I'd even be happy to show you around). I'm sure you'll love it. If you plan to stick around and can afford the time, I highly recommend that you check out the French language "boot camps" offered by the Federal gov't (they do the same for English, BTW). Not only will you learn a lot, but you'll also feel much more confident about using the language (which is unfortunately what a lot of people lack at first).
posted by bluefrog at 9:09 PM on May 3, 2006

OK Bluefrog, you're entitled to your opinions and I'm entitled to mine. And I'm not interested in your brief bio. And for the record, I've not resorted to namecalling on this forum. I merely stated some experiences as an anglo in the province of Quebec. It was you who took the info I gave and put your little spin of racism upon it. In addition, I suggested WinnipegDragon actually take the job and then get back to us in the future as to their experience.
LOL- French language "boot camps" -- the name says it all, doesn't it?
posted by GoodJob! at 3:50 AM on May 4, 2006

Yeah, 'cause your experience is more interesting and objective than mine (you being of the anointed race, of course). And god knows that what went on 35 years ago is still relevant today (if you live in the past, that is). On that account, I'd tell Japanese and Italian folks never to immigrate to Canada (remember the WWII internment camp?) . If you could see past your own self-defensive posture (you still haven't explained really who are "they" that might bring out their guns again), you could see that my "bio" adresses issues that are specifically relevant to WD's question (did I point out that my wife is anglo?).

As for the language boot camps, here is the link, for those of you who might be interested. All of those I have known that have attended (to learn French OR English) told me that they are a great experience.
posted by bluefrog at 5:53 AM on May 4, 2006

Interesting BlueFROG, that only your comments contain words like anointed, Japanese, Italian, internment camps etc...
It's obvious you love the province of Quebec- so on that basis:
1. you can have it
2. why don't you work for the FCCQ and then you can even coordinate the promotional work Celine Dion does every year for her beloved Quebec? Oh wait-- I'm wrong-- Celine Dion doesn't live in Quebec anymore. Her principal address is in Florida.
posted by GoodJob! at 7:37 AM on May 4, 2006

Okay, it's time to shut the hell up. I've got plenty of good answers in this question and plenty of derails already, thanks GoodJob.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:03 AM on May 4, 2006

"moving to Montreal as an anglophone" as your tag line- take some responsibility for that WinnipegDragon. Get into a charged subject & you'll get some charged answers.
Besides- getting a job & buying real estate there has nothing to do with your native language or anyone else's.
posted by GoodJob! at 3:21 AM on May 5, 2006

I moved here to Montréal a year ago, and I've only had two people be snide with me about speaking English -- and really that was just a frown and a snort. I've gotten worse treatment in Toronto (where I lived for 10 years) where both parties are speaking English. When I got my driver's license, I spoke with broken Ontario-high-school French, but I was able to get by and the clerk didn't need to switch into English.

Something odd I did notice: if I dress better / with more style, people are more likely to start speaking to me in French. My American girlfriend has noticed the same behaviour with her (but she doesn't speak a lick of French).
posted by Mozai at 2:22 PM on May 5, 2006

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