Canada’s cultural capital

Where creativity and collaboration come to play

Twenty four hours was all the time Madison MacGregor (BA’20) needed to fall in love with Montreal.

On a brief layover during her senior year of high school, the Berkeley, Calif. native was determined to soak up everything she could as she speed-walked her way through the bustling city.

Less than a year later, equipped with only a handful of hazy but happy memories, she chose McGill over 15 other schools in cities across Canada and the U.S. to pursue her music degree.

“Honestly, I got here and said, ‘this is everything a college city should be,’” MacGregor, now a soprano in McGill’s Schulich Singers choir, recalls. “I had visited a bunch of schools on the East Coast but Montreal was such an amazing mix of urban life. There were murals everywhere, there was so much music going on. I thought the energy was super cool and still do.”

Leonard Cohen mural

A unique and infectious energy

That Montreal energy is hard to put your finger on, but you can feel it from the moment you come here. From the giant murals of locally grown troubadour and legend Leonard Cohen to the circus acrobats you can find practicing their acts in the park, this is a city that’s unapologetically different—bursting with its own unique and infectious brand of creativity .

Aptly dubbed the “City of Festivals,” Montreal plays host to more than 100 eclectic festivals every year, including Just for Laughs (comedy), Festival International de Jazz), Mural Festival (street art) and Osheaga (indie music), to name just a few.

Even in winter, the action doesn’t slow down, with crowds of Montrealers braving the cold to party all night at Nuit Blanche or the now-iconic Igloofest—proudly billed as the coldest electronic music festival in the world.

Always something new to discover

The city is also home to countless museums, galleries, theatres, music venues, multimedia spaces and creative studios, cementing its reputation as a global cultural hub. Any day of the week, and no matter what you may be into, there’s always something new and surprising to discover.

“Montreal is dedicated to the arts in pretty much every form,” says MacGregor. “From the murals you see on buildings, to the interactive art installations at Place des Arts, to the museum collections at Musée des Beaux Arts. There’s always so much going on, it feels like I don’t even see a fraction of what’s happening.”

Francis Lehoux playing the piano

A breeding ground for creativity

As much as Montreal is a world-class destination for consumers of culture and art, it’s also the ideal home base for creators. Open, multicultural and constantly evolving, the city attracts top talent from every artistic discipline and from all around the globe.

For neo-classical pianist Francis Lehoux (BMus’16), one of the things that makes Montreal so special for artists is the “plurality of cultures and the plurality of influences. We have the mixing of anglophone and francophone cultures, the European and North American cultures, so it’s a great meeting point of influences.”

Raised in Thetford Mines, a small town two hours shy of Quebec City, Lehoux is an active member of the Montreal music scene and recently dropped his debut EP The F Line. He enrolled at McGill when he was 19, hoping to cast off the limitations of his hometown and pursue his artistic passion. What he found in Montreal’s cultural scene—and the city as a whole—was a “spontaneous, liberal and open-minded” community that gave him a sense of creative freedom.

After graduating from McGill, Lehoux spent time in Brooklyn and Toronto fine-tuning his craft as a pianist. He moved back to Montreal in part, he says, because of the city’s collaborative and supportive culture. “There’s a great sense of community in Montreal in the arts. There are people from all walks of life working together as artists, and it’s a great place for creating arts of all kinds.”

While he notes that Brooklyn and New York also have large and creative artistic communities, there is a pressure to succeed there that simply doesn’t exist in Montreal.

“It’s easier to be more honest and authentic with your art here, because you don’t have that pressure to be excellent all the time. You can try things out and develop your own language without caring too much about pleasing the New York critics.”

Whether you’re an artist looking to develop your craft or someone who’s passionate about all things art and culture, spend just a day in Montreal and you’ll see there’s a world of inspiration for everyone.