Montreal·Essay

Thoughtful Little Things

QWF/CBC Montreal writer in residence Emira Tufo has never seen the Montreal residents who sprinkle magic all over town — but they are there, like busy little bees, like Santa's helpers, working behind the scenes, breathing life and wonder into the cityscape.

A little bit of Montreal magic goes a long way in combating the chilly springtime weather

A warmly dressed bicycle waits for its owner on a chilly day. (Submitted by Grégory Terrien)

This is the fourth in a series of essays by the 2019 CBC Montreal/Quebec Writers' Federation writer-in-residence, Emira Tufo.


A tattered spring is finally upon us. I was afraid that by the time I got down to writing this piece, the weather might have improved, leaving me without a topic.

But no: with the exception of a couple of shockingly warm, sunny days, it remains true to its awful self straight into the month of May.

Each Montreal season has its unique charm: the summer has its festivities and fever, the fall, its magnificent colors, the winter, its record-breaking temperatures and snowfalls — and seasonal affective disorder.

Spring, in turn, sees large numbers of toilet bowls blooming on the sidewalks like 'shrooms and last fall's litter emerging from underneath the melting snow with soggy determination. 

Toilets on the sidewalk are an early sign of spring in Montreal. (Submitted by Grégory Terrien)

It is in the dreary springtime and not during its polar winter that this city shows what it's really made of, for it is in the spring — and especially this one — that fragile hopes of warmth and sunshine are routinely dashed.

This is when the residents of Montreal take matters into their own hands, march to the dollar store and purchase plastic plants. They stick them into outdoor flower pots and yards, and so, where nature has failed to deliver, Montreal will have its spring, one way or another.

All those winter months of knitting now also prove their worth, for when there are no more children and animals to clothe, objects, too, receive some insulation from the cold.

A signpost on Drolet Street proudly wears this hand-knit sweater. (Emira Tufo/CBC)

Some bicycles and sign poles thus sport sweaters in the chilly months of March and April, and I always wonder whether the sign pole's attire is buttoned-on or if the knitter spent hours on the sidewalk, wielding her large needles and a hank of wool until the pole was snug.

Weather or not, better than Florida

People do these things in Montreal. They do them all year round, in fact, driven by who knows what — a sense of humour, a sense of beauty, a taste for magic, a love of Peter Pan?

It is what gives the city its staying power and makes it preferable to Florida, even in January, after the holiday mirth has worn off, and the rest of winter and a horrible spring still lie ahead.

They are thoughtful little things.

Rubber duckies take a springtime swim in a puddle at Jean-Talon Market. (Emira Tufo)

Rubber duckies sit in a row in a large puddle between stalls at Marché Jean-Talon after a big rain. Did someone just happen to have them in their pocket, or did they run out to get them when they saw the potential?

An old bathtub bursting with flowers adorns a Plateau backyard. Perhaps it was discarded with the toilets in springtime and then found a second life.

An old bathtub gets reinvented as a flowerpot in a Plateau backyard. (Emira Tufo/CBC)

An enormous polyester dog lounges on a front porch in Verdun, enjoying the fragile sunshine and keeping a close watch.

Beware of the polyester dog watching over this Verdun home. (Emira Tufo/CBC)

A beautiful origami heart hangs high up in a tree in a park by the St. Lawrence River. Who bothered to climb that tree in order to share the love?

Smiley-face stickers twinkle from the asphalt on a downtown sidewalk. Someone bent down to put them there, and now the city smiles whenever one looks down.

This sunny smile shines up from the cool asphalt on a downtown Montreal street. (Emira Tufo/CBC)

A small Santa Claus sits in the basket of a parked bicycle on a hot Hochelaga night, building up his reserves of warmth for the winter.

Two puzzled-looking pink flamingos survey the street from their perch on an iron staircase in Old Montreal — a nod, perhaps, to more exotic lands and clement climates.

Surprised-looking but dignified, this pair of pink flamingos survey a street in Old Montreal. (Emira Tufo/CBC)

Plastic figurines of cats and bears and horses nod their little heads from windowsills, perched beneath lace curtains.

(Emira Tufo/CBC)

A framed picture of a bird is hung on a hydro pole one evening.

(Emira Tufo/CBC)

Nondescript ruelles suddenly acquire pastel colours and polka dots and swirls, so that those walking through them feel like Hansel and Gretel — and like cupcakes.

The back alley off Milton Street looks almost edible. (Emira Tufo/CBC)

Not too long ago, after Leonard Cohen died, someone took out a very tall ladder (I presume) and added two little signs above and below the street name "Marianne." "So Long," read the top sign, and the bottom one, "And Leonard."

So Long, Marianne And Leonard.

I've never seen the city residents who sprinkle this magic all over town, never caught them in the act, but they are there, like busy little bees, like Santa's helpers, working behind the scenes, breathing life and wonder into the quotidien.

Sometimes, however, I imagine that the sign pole got up one morning and decided to wear something for a change, which then inspired the bicycle to do the same.

… that the rubber ducks just returned from their sojourn down south and decided to take a break in a little Jean-Talon lake after the long flight. That a tree sprouted a heart. That the alleyways turned into cookies and cake, because this city is more or less a fairy tale.


Check out Emira Tufo's other pieces about Montreal:

About the Author

Emira Tufo

2019 CBC/QWF writer-in-residence

Emira Tufo is the 2019 CBC/Quebec Writers' Federation writer-in-residence. A lawyer and a writer, Tufo has written for The Globe and Mail, performed at Montreal's Confabulation, and is the co-author of Montreal Murmurs, a blog about the curious, the funny and the furious aspects of life in Canada's most mischievous city. She has been featured on CBC's Homerun and All in a Weekend.

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