There is one quirky thing to which any newcomer to Montréal will eventually be exposed: The idea of living on or off the Island of Montréal. Those that live on either side of the river always bemoan the idea of travelling to the other shore as if it were a massive undertaking even if they were literally going just to the opposite bank of the Saint Lawrence river – nearly less than 10 minutes by car! The islanders would prefer to travel the entire length of the island than just cross the river. And the off-islanders avoid going to the island at all cost.
To an outsider, it might appear odd but there are several valid reasons for this that we will list here.
The islander’s point-of-view
Crossing any of the bridges that give access on or off the island can present a challenge. The bridges can be blocked for any number of reasons, accident, roadwork, or congestion. Then, the 10-minute drive could become a 1- or worse a 2-hour drive depending on the severity of the problem. No islander wants to be stuck trying to get back to the city. Too often the choices of which bridge to take (or of taking the 1 tunnel) to take to avoid being stuck is limiting given the area’s population density.
Montrealers like to stay on the island because everything they like and desire can be found on the island. To the downtown dwellers, everything is accessible by walking or biking. All the entertainment available can be found on the island.
The off-islander point-of-view
Crossing the river is equally daunting for an off-islander for the same reasons noted above. In addition, there are the following different rationales. Most off-islanders I’ve met are primarily upset with the idea of dealing with Montreal traffic jams and parking fees. To the off-islander, everything is accessible by short car ride and free parking. The roads off the Island of Montreal are better maintained and there are not as many one-way streets that can be confusing if you don’t know your way around. Not to mention that open space and open air are valuable assets to the off-islander, as is easier access to cottage country or ski hills. Off-islanders also like the fact that the roads are smooth and devoid of pot-holes, unlike the island of Montreal.
So if you are visiting Montreal or are moving to Montreal choose carefully where your social and professional circles are most likely to be located because soon enough you will find yourself in full Montrealer mode, and groaning at the thought of crossing the bridge for whatever reason. Even if you live near the river on either side, you will still come to understand why it is hard to get together with someone who lives on the other side of the river.