The Plateau-Mont Royal Split: Which One Is For You?

Ruby Akhtar

The Plateau-Mont Royal is, as far as I am concerned, the beat that keeps the heart of the city contracting.  The infamous Montreal borough is sectioned by two of the more popular neighborhoods, "the Plateau" and Mile-End, and hosts the city's densest student population.  Two nooks of the same borough differing in language and lifestyle offer Montreal students the option to choose the area that best suits them.

The map below illustrates the Plateau-Mont Royal location as a central organ of the city.

Image source: Flickr

Map source: Wikipedia

The Plateau and Mile-End harbor their own distinctive flare, but oftentimes are divided by the fact that the former has a greater Anglophone driven community and the latter a greater Francophone one.  The eastern part of The Plateau-Mont Royal is coined "the Plateau", and is for the most part a French speaking area.  I found that out for myself a few years ago in my first apartment, nestled between Rachel and Duluth.  A massive Francophone populous surrounded me.  The vast majority of people I met during that time were French-speaking students.  Even while apartment hunting for a place to share with roommates, I came across a slew of exchange students from France.  I wound up rooming with Sebastien and Alesandese; both exchange students from France studying at the Universite de Montreal; both of whom spoke very little to no English.  Such is the case of the Plateau in general; with the mélange of French Montrealers and French exchange students, knowing French is not only helpful, but essential.  This can play a major deciding factor for a student, local or international, based on how socially comfortable you are in a predominately Francophone environment.


Not only can you expect the Plateau to be made up of Francophones, but you also can expect that jobs in the area require a student to be bilingual.  This was the case when I was a barista at the always busy Cafe Depot on the corner of St. Laurent and Prince Arthur, and also at the artsy Cafe Pi on Rachel; nearby to my apartment.  Though it was helpful to be bilingual, I was for the most part fine tuning my French.  You'd never imagine someone asking for a soy milk latte with absolutely no sign of foam- to go- and not to forget the cup holder so they don't burn their hand- could possibly freeze your brain and leave you looking like a dear in headlights... unless of course that person speaks so fluid in French that everything they say rolls off their tongue in what seems like one continuous word.  But I digress.  As a student, it makes life a whole lot easier to work in the area you live in.  With the abundance of cafes, restaurants, and bars throughout the Plateau area, finding a part-time or full-time job is no feat if you can fill the language requirement.  And then some.


On the other hand, there's the lovely little neighborhood nest of Mile-End.  Leaving the Plateau to live in Mile-End, between Bernard and St. Viateur, I can say the experience was a complete 180.  Where I was surrounded by a predominately French speaking part of the borough in the Plateau, in Mile-End not only was I in an English speaking area, but a culturally diverse one.  The thing the Plateau misses that Mile-End establishes itself upon is a thriving eccentricity by way of a diversified cultural pot full of students, artists, and old settlers.  It's a testament to the area in general as the old and the new both make their place comfortably.  Eastern European Jews first inhabited Mile-End way back when and still have a strong presence within the community.  Adding to the diversity throughout the neighborhood is the great amount of artists that live and work in the area.  It seemed as though every new person I met was a musician or filmmaker or a painter or photographer.  And something about the area, in the air, in the people, is a sense of youth, a sense of creativity.  That appealed to me as a writer.  There is this romantic notion about the area that draws you in; that through your art you are contributing something of importance to this community.  It's hard not to dig the vibe of the neighborhood when your neighbors are sitting out on the sidewalk with their handmade instruments, strumming and singing songs throughout the summer.


Mile-End is inviting for an artist, unlike the rigid social rules that can sometimes be felt in the Plateau.  In Mile-End, meeting new people is effortless.  You sit out on the pavement with the sidewalk musicians and end up making plans to meet at Figaro for Croque Monsieur's the next day; that's Mile-End.  The area exudes cozy and warm, especially when St. Viateur bagel bakery is the only thing open at 2 AM on a Thursday after the bar.  The Plateau misses that charm. 


The Plateau does not miss when it comes to local hangouts.  Coined as "The Main", the Plateau has something for everyone.  From high-end hangouts like Buona Notte to casual hangouts like Korova, there is never a loss of spots to check out.  If you're like me, you embrace your neighborhood and spend time held up in the cafes, bars, bookstores, and shops.  My apartment back then was sandwiched between St. Laurent and St. Denis, and kept the variety of places I could explore much more open.  There was always a new bar to meet my friends at or a cafe to hang out at on a Sunday afternoon.  The constant rotation of hot spots represents the Plateau well.  Between locals and tourists, and the ever-evolving number of restaurants and bars, the face of the neighborhood has no defining features.  But the opposite is true of Mile-End.  The small area and the students who live there grow to rely on the long ago established businesses like the old ABC bike shop on Parc Avenue that has been around since our grandparents were born.  As I have always compared them, I still believe it's true, that living in the Plateau is similar to living in New York City, and living in Mile-End is similar to living in Brooklyn. 


For the most part, choosing to live in the Plateau area or the Mile-End area depends upon language restrictions and personal lifestyle options.  You are also choosing between riding your bike versus walking to the grocery store.  You are choosing between seedy and hip versus artsy and homey.  Though the differences are notable, one similarity remains constant - both neighborhoods continue to attract a body of students.  The thing is to find your place within that borough.  Where you live can be as influential as the material in your textbooks during your academic years.  


When I think back to the time I spent living in the Plateau, it brings to mind the non-stop city living: bar hopping, cafe loitering, concert seeing, event drop-ins, street walking, kicking it like its Saturday night seven days a week.  Then I think of those Sunday's I spent in a nondescript Mile-End apartment with my art collective friends: drinking warm things, coming to the table with our latest songs, stories, poems, paintings, and design projects, talking up ways to help one another get seen, heard, and read.  While the Plateau played right into the cosmo girl in me, Mile-End inspired the writer in me that needed to be a part of a creative community.  I found the neighborhood that best fit me, and that helped shape and define me. 


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