Commentary, Opinion

McGill students don’t hate Montreal, just the McGill bubble

Tripadvisor’s Travellers Choice Award 2024 ranked Montreal 13th on the “Best of the Best” list for sustainable travel, crowning the city the “cultural capital of Canada.” Alongside this, Time Out ranked Montreal in 12th for “World’s Best Cities for Culture.” While this didn’t surprise me, I was shocked to find out that this is a very unpopular opinion among my peers. I recall a friend in first year who detested Montreal. As someone whose dream was to come to the city, I took this as a personal challenge: I made it my goal to make him love the city as much as I did. I realized that he, like many other McGill students, did not really hate Montreal; he hated feeling trapped between St. Laurent and Sherbrooke street. He hated the “McGill bubble.”

We spent weeks exploring the island—walking through Westmount and ranking the extravagant Christmas decorations of the gorgeous mansions, hiking up Mont Royal and taking pictures of the skyline, and exploring the Plateau’s many diverse restaurants. As time went on, my friend grew to like the island—even missing it when he went back home. This made it clear to me that in order to resist the trap of becoming bitter students who only see the city as a place to suffer from late night library sessions and failed midterms, McGill students must return to the mindset of newcomers. 

It’s easy for students to initially overlook Montreal’s charm, much like my friend did. With academic stress on top of the brutal winters, it’s no surprise that McGillians spend the majority of their time between campus and home, possibly with the occasional visit to Café Campus. It can be hard to truly appreciate the city and discover the hidden gems that lie beyond downtown Montreal. Through exploration and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone, students can discover a world of cultural richness and diversity. The city’s vibrant arts scene, iconic landmarks, and unique culinary landscape make it so there truly is something for everyone here. Montreal’s earning these esteemed awards crucially reminds McGill students to branch out of the “McGill bubble” and discover—or rediscover—the magical city that we have the privilege of living in and that so many people have come to love. 

For many students, their time at McGill represents a chapter in their lives where they experience a new degree of freedom and independence. While it might seem like a waste of time to cosplay as tourists when there are readings, assignments, and exams to worry about, it’s critical to think of these things as, in a way, part of the McGill education. Not only can students learn about the city and its rich history in over 50 museums and exhibits across the city, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the beautiful Botanical Garden, and Quebec’s sole Holocaust museum, they get the chance to learn about themselves. Whether it’s discovering new music at Piknic Electronik and Igloofest or swapping dining hall food for one of the city’s 5000 restaurants, bursting the bubble can be an exercise of self-growth that shapes the way students view the world for years to come. And the city makes it easy to explore all these attractions by foot, bike, or metro, with a reduced-fare Opus card. McGillians can create the kinds of memories they will actually want to look back on, that make the often stressful academic experience at McGill worth it. This is not to say that Montreal is by any means a perfect city. Everywhere has its problems, and this city is certainly no exception. This island’s settler colonialism, its racist policing, and its inequalities also reveals something deeply embedded in Montreal culture: A long history of activism and community mobilization, with students often at the forefront. Whether it’s protesting against the province’s proposed tuition hikes for anglophone universities or rallying for McGill to divest from companies arming the Israeli state, students should continue to fight for improvements in the city. Regardless, this does not come at the expense of experiencing the beautiful things that the city has to offer. We owe it to ourselves to make the most out of our time on this island and to treat it with the curiosity and enthusiasm of newcomers.

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