Friday, February 6, 2009

French word of the day: livraison (liv-ray-SOHN); delivery

I've held off until now, but here it is, unjust as it is inevitable: an apples-to-oranges comparison of Montreal to Calgary. Forgive me, but this is probably the first of many. Prompted by my weekly delight at paying $3.75 to have my groceries delivered to my door in Montreal. I go to the IGA, I load up my cart with groceries, I go to the till to pay for them, then I leave. I saunter away empty handed, and someone else has to muscle the bags into a vehicle and drive them home, then unload them. All I have to do is bring them from the front door to the kitchen. Of course this exists in Calgary, but I'm pretty sure it's not so cheap or so easy to do.

Dave and I have often felt that Calgary, a supposedly rich city, doesn't feel rich to live in, because the public services fall so short of what they could be. A random list of examples: it costs $12 for a library card, and you have to pay that fee every year; said library system isn't bad (and the librarians are excellent!!!), but the library buildings themselves, including the central branch, are pretty mediocre and sometimes downright ratty; you have to pay a private company to pick up your recycling (apparently that's changing in March, but you'll still have to pay a designated fee for the City to pick it up); it costs over $30 to take a family of four to one of the nicer leisure centre swimming pools; and the public transit just sucks. There are some cool festivals in Calgary, like the Fringe fest and the Folk fest, but they cost a fair bit, limiting participation, and public art events that are free are pretty rare. There's no freestanding public art gallery. Not even a lousy one. I could go on, but I'm starting to depress myself.

Montreal, on the other hand, makes me feel rich. There's the grocery delivery, but there's so much more. Our local branch library, for the few times when Montreal's library system has books that the provincial archives and HUGE library does not, is a gorgeous public space. The Pere Ambroise branch is on the third floor of a public services building. Sunlight floods in the windows, illuminating the warm colours of the building's interior. The place looks like a freakin' Ikea showroom. Plants everywhere, brand new computers, a kids area with bean bags, puzzles, and toys, including baby toys to amuse the pre-literate while their older sibs peruse the shelves. I asked for a card, the librarian asked to see a proof of residence, I signed the card, and full borrowing access for every branch in the city was mine, for free.

There's the transit. Daily urban commuters take their trains for granted, but what can compare with the sheer speed, ease, and efficiency of a subway to take you from one end of a city to another?

My local leisure centre in Montreal is the YMCA. I joined for less than a hundred bucks. My monthly fee is $47, and I can go to any Y centre in the city, take fitness classes for free, and get free individual fitness coaching. I can bring a guest for free six times a month, every month. Mine is not even one of the fancier ones, and it has hot tubs, saunas, indoor running track, full gyms, lap pool, and a full array of yoga, aerobics, you name it.

And we haven't even hit the festival season yet. Maybe this is still the honeymoon phase of our time in Montreal, maybe the blemishes haven't yet been revealed to me, but part of my euphoria has to do with the generosity of the city itself. In Montreal, you can really feel yourself to be a citizen, in the original sense of the word: someone who is of, and for, the city; a participant in its common life, a beneficiary of its common wealth.

How can you tell I just figured out how to italicize . . .sheesh.


  1. Great Post. I can't find it yet but I read and an interesting article arguing that public services in Canada are usually tied with equalization payments. The gist being that the jurisdictions in Canada with excellent public services also tend to get the most in equalization payments. Not sure if I believe it but interesting.


  2. That is interesting. If it's true, LONG LIVE EQUALIZATION PAYMENTS! And let's all move to Ontario; things will be getting good there soon. Or, if the recent news is any indication, we should just stay in Alberta and the prairie skies will start raining public works.