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Moms Around the World: Montreal, Canada
Tips for planning visits with young children from a local mom in the know
Characterized by cobblestones, decidedly European architecture and shop signs written in French, Montreal feels to many like a far-flung French province. In fact, Montreal is the second-largest city of native French speakers in the world after Paris, France. Unlike Paris, however, Montreal sees extreme winter weather with some 84 inches of snowfall each year. Nevertheless, the city maintains a year round vibrancy with thriving film, aerospace and game industries, not to mention world class cultural claims to fame as home to Cirque du Soleil and the Montreal Jazz Festival.
Nadine Lerner, a native of Montreal and mother to a 2-month-old baby girl named Tess, lives in Old Montreal, where she has grown her own business over the past ten years. You may have seen some of her Blue Dogz Design gift tags and boxes featured in any of several magazines or in boutiques across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Japan. Nadine shared her interesting story with me on how, after leading many lives, she returned to the city of her birth more in love with it than ever.
Q: Nadine, can you tell us briefly how you first came to leave Montreal—and how you came back?
Nadine: I was born in Montreal and grew up on the island of Montreal—a lot of people don't realize Montreal is an island. At fourteen, I moved away from home to attend professional ballet school in Toronto at The National Ballet School and a year later moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, to finish my ballet training at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. By twenty, I was working as a professional dancer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and moved overseas to Basel Switzerland, Basel Ballet, to work with new dancers and choreographers. I thought I would stay in Switzerland a year or so, but stayed for ten, the last two of which were spent working with Maurice Bejart and Bejart Ballet in Lausanne, the highlight of my dance career.
In my late twenties, after touring the world and having been in dance since I was very young, I decided to retire. I stayed in Switzerland another five years, got my university BA and worked in design, taught English, and worked with an autistic little boy for several years. In 1999, at a cross roads, I decided to come back to Montreal to visit my family for the summer and take some time to see what I wanted to do. Having travelled extensively, I can honestly say that Montreal is one of the most beautiful cities I know, especially in North America. Fast forward ten years and here I am living in a wonderful loft in Old Montreal, steps from both the St. Laurence Seaway and the heart of downtown Montreal.
Q: So do you still dance in your spare time?
Nadine: In my spare time I play roller derby with the Montreal Roller Derby League.
Q: I beg your pardon?
Nadine: After yrs of working towards perfection in ballet, the rock and roll and rumble of roller derby is amazingly liberating—and painful at times! My moniker is Ashley Thudd, #22. It has changed my life in more ways than I can describe, but I will say that I am continually awed by the amazing women that I play with. We are all there for one another and take care of each other both on and off the derby track.
Q: Very cool. So tell us where are some of your favorite places to go with your baby in Montreal, and which places do you recommend to visitors with children?
Nadine: Tess is only two months old, so we have not yet figured out all of our favorite baby spots yet but for now, living in Old Montreal, it's been great to just put her in the carrier or stroller and walk around, going down to the "Old Port" which is just steps from our loft and simply walking by the water, or even through the small streets. Even living in this area, everyday we discover a new amazing building or view and it is like a little gift. I can tell you that I do avoid certain cobblestoned streets in my neighborhood as Tess is not too happy with the bumpy ride!
For older kids, take a horse and carriage ride, visit the Science Museum and other museums and galleries in Old Montreal. In other areas of Montreal, go to our Mont Royal, the "Mountain" as it is known, right in the center of our city. Mont Royal has great walks and on Sundays there is a flea market and the famous Tam Tam drums being played outside. There is also "La Ronde" our amusement park in Montreal, or Parc Jean Drapeau, built on Ile St Helene for Expo 67' and home to our Formula 1, Grand Prix Circuit.
Q: Do you think that raising children in Montreal has changed very much since you were a child?
Nadine: Having grown up in the suburbs of Montreal primarily, I can't really say if raising small children has changed too much, but I can tell you that I look forward to bringing up Tess in a city. In my opinion the suburbs are great for lots of things, but there is a richness in a city that you just can't get in the suburbs. The diversity of the people, the beauty of the architecture, the history and even just the sounds of life—I can't wait to introduce her to all the favorite things of my Montreal.
Q: Are mothers in Montreal allowed a “maternity leave” by the government or private businesses? And how are you adapting to life as an entrepreneur—with a new baby?
Nadine: Maternity leave is actually one year here in Quebec if you meet the requirements and work for a company. There is even paternity leave for Dads. As an independent, though, I do not have maternity leave. But since most of my work can be done from home—all our warehousing and shipping is done from Emeryville California, I am doing fine for now. When my phone needs to be turned off, it is. I figure that there is no such thing as a "gift emergency!"
Q: Is it common to see mothers breastfeeding around Montreal, and do you have advice for nursing mothers who will be visiting your area?
Nadine: As a nursing mother, I can tell you that the climate so far in my experience is very supportive. Prior to giving birth and in prenatal class we were all strongly encouraged to breast feed our babies. Furthermore, if we wanted, we were assigned a "breast feeding fairy godmother" through our CLSC governmental health care office. As soon as Tess was born, my "godmother" called me and visited the next day to help me out with any problems, worries or concerns I had with breastfeeding. The care has been amazing! Quebec has really pushed to educate the public and mothers to be on the benefits of breastfeeding and in my opinion, I have felt that it is accepted and supported in my few weeks of experience. As I mentioned, Montreal is a very European city and the attitudes in certain ways are very similar.
Q: I know that Quebec’s car seat laws are a lot like ours here in California, with kids in safety seats and boosters until at least age 6 (update: now 8 years). For us, the child must also weigh 60 lbs, but can you tell us how Quebec determines a child can transition to the seatbelt alone?
Nadine: Boosters must be used until the child reaches 63 centimeters in sitting height, measured from the seat to the top of the head. You can read more about the requirements here:
Q: Is Montreal’s public transportation a good option for parents with babies and young children?
Nadine: Montreal has a wonderful public transportation system. We have the Metro, our subway system, and you can get most places in central Montreal on it or with the Metro and buses. Another amazing thing in Montreal if you are visiting in the winter—be sure this is what you want because it's COLD—or even just on a rainy day is that you can walk or push a stroller for miles, twenty actually, in our "underground city." Here is a great link describing some of the highlights: http://www.rainydaytraveler.com/RainyDayTraveler/Montreal/UndergroundCity.htm
Q: Are taxis practical or reasonable in Montreal? Or do you recommend renting a car?
Nadine: Parking is expensive and at times very hard to find, so I would avoid car rentals if you are staying centrally, it just won't be necessary. Depending on where you are staying in Montreal and the time of year, in my opinion, if central, walking and public transport are definitely great options and so are taxis—you can hail them in the streets.
Q: What kinds of restaurants and other places to eat do you recommend parents visit—or avoid—with babies and young children? Is it common to see children in restaurants?
Nadine: Montreal is famous for a lot of things, but if visiting, be prepared to eat because our food is fabulous! We have great fine dining but I like our simpler things. Without a doubt, try our bagels, especially St Viateur or Fairmount Bagel, in the Mile End district. We also have fantastic junk food. Our hot dogs and French fries at the numerous greasy spoons around town are delicious. Our "deli" is also famous, with Montreal smoked meat, the most famous place being Schwartz's on St Laurent Blvd. You will see a line outside no matter what time it is!
Montreal is a late night city, so my suggestion is that if you want to really dine at some of the finer restaurants with children, plan on going earlier in the evening or for a late lunch. Otherwise many can become "scenes" later and probably not too suitable for little ones. Or better yet, call ahead and ask. You will always find great places in Old Montreal, like neighborhood bistros and smaller family owned cafes and bakeries, or walking in the Mile End District on Park Avenue, Bernard Street or up in Little Italy.
There is also Mount Royal Ave., where you can find lots of cafes and little “restos” as we call them that will be family friendly and delicious. On St Laurent Blvd., at the corner of Rachel, I have a favorite little—and I mean little!—resto, “Patati Patata.” Or for a very Paris experience, go to L'express on St Denis street, but make a reservation. Here are some particularly kid-friendly restaurants in Montrea (she points to this link).
Q: My stomach just growled. I assume babies enjoy eating in Montreal, too? Where should parents look to find baby supplies like baby food and diapers in the city? And are there any special words that would help them find what they need?
Nadine: Most pharmacies in Montreal will carry anything you need. The largest ones are Pharmaprix—pronounced PREE at the end not PRICKS. You might want to remember this! Also, Jean Coutu or Uniprix, again PREE at the end. Supermarkets will also carry baby needs and will likely have a small pharmacy section.
Q: What other advice would you give to parents visiting Montreal?
Nadine: My personal advice, and it really is personal because many would disagree, would be to not come in the Winter—unless you have to, or you really like the cold and dark and snow and want to skate or ski in the bitter cold! I say go south in the winter, and come to Montreal sometime between early May and October. Our International Jazz Festival and our world famous Comedy Festival are great summer options, with lots of fun stuff for families even if you don't attend the big galas and events. You will find fun stuff on St Laurent and St Denis streets during these festivals. And don't forget Montreal Roller Derby! Our season runs from April through September and we are all a little crazy, but definitely family and kid friendly!
Thanks so much Nadine for sharing your tips and photos and tips with us!
Copyright (c) 2009 - 2015 Shelly Rivoli, author of Travels with Baby. All rights reserved.
Adapted from an earlier article by Shelly Rivoli that appeared in the national edition of Examiner.com.