How far is a Montreal mile?

In her first blog, CBC/QWF 2017 writer-in-residence Sarah Lolley weighs in on the way the perception of distance bends and shifts in Montreal — just depending.

CBC/QWF 2017 writer-in-residence Sarah Lolley on the way distance bends in Montreal, depending on the day

Sarah Lolley and her son Rowan stroll through Jean-Talon Market. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

Back when my husband was still my boyfriend, I used to joke that we lived 13 subway stops and a good book away.

His apartment was close to the Jane Street subway station in Toronto. Mine was beside the Mont-Royal Metro station on the Plateau.

The actual distance was more than 500 kilometres. But with the STM, VIA Rail, a Dick Francis mystery novel and giddy anticipation propelling me forward, the miles disappeared.

My accountant, on the other hand, was just a 20-minute walk away in Mile End, but making the dreaded trip to his office at tax time could take days. Even weeks.

When I wasn't seeing him (my boyfriend, not my accountant; although both, really), I was typically hanging out with my friends Melanie and Nat, whose apartment two kilometres east of mine was either just around the corner or an insurmountable distance away, depending on the weather.

On frigid days, the journey was impossibly far. But if it was sunny and warm, the wind nothing more than a whisper, the Heel-Toe Express had me there in no time.
With a sense of humour, even a stuffy Metro ride can fly by. (Sarah Lolley)

That's the thing about distance in Montreal: it's always shifting.

It can change over the course of a single day.

Construction crews or a clear street, a cold snap or a break in the rain, a protest, a street festival or a Bixi station without a single docking station free: you never know what will cause a Montreal mile to shrink or to expand.

Teleported by Metro

Back in those days, public transit was a key warping agent for me.

Jean-Talon Market was three times further than my local Provigo.

But since the market and I were both on the Orange line, reaching the smelly cheese heaven of Qui Lait Cru and laying my hands on a shrink-wrapped brick of mozzarella from Aisle 13 took the same amount of time.

Sarah Lolley will go the extra mile for just the right cheese, especially if the Metro gets her there with little effort. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

Unfortunately, perception of distance cuts both ways.
The Plateau-Mont-Royal’s one-way streets are so notorious, they were used in this Dos Equis advertising campaign. (Sarah Lolley)

The maze of one-way streets and residential sticker-only parking in my part of the Plateau meant that people who drove were reluctant to visit.

"Come over for dinner!" I'd beg my friends from - well, anywhere, really. There would be a short pause.

"Or you could come here?" they'd suggest.

Wilderness beckons

Ironically, something that was never far away when I lived in the heart of the city was the feeling of being far away from the heart of a city.

Just a mile west was Mount Royal Park, where I could, in a matter of minutes, trade asphalt and concrete for gravel paths and leaves.

In winter, when the falling snow sang a siren song to my cross-country skis, I could even sneak out for an extended lunch hour of reverential gliding.

On Mount Royal, miles of freshly tracked snow beckon. (Sarah Lolley)

One memorable afternoon, I nodded amicably to another skier, then experienced a flash of recognition.

The mile separating me from my desk vanished.

The skier was one of the clients whose work was waiting for me back at home.
In some Montreal neighbourhoods, detours are unavoidable. (Libby Fainsilber/Facebook)

Everyone's mile is different

What is the longest mile you've ever travelled in Montreal?

What is the shortest?

The Montreal mile of a warm summer's night after a raucous dinner party, the streets calm and leafy, the only sound a "tick tick" from the spokes of your Bixi bike?

The Montreal mile of a snow-choked weekday morning, flakes coming fast and furious, and you sweating into your parka as you fight to open the frozen car door?

The mile you can't even start because of the orange detour signs in your path?

The mile you don't even notice aboard a swooshing Metro car?

Or the Montreal mile you stroll on a misty spring morning, raindrops pattering on your umbrella, puddles rippling around your boots, and all your worries miles and miles away?

A Montreal snowfall can paralyze some forms of traffic and mobilize others - especially if you're Montreal snowboarder Sébastien Toutant, a.k.a. Seb Toots. (Sébastien Toutant/Facebook)

This is the first in a series of blog posts by the 2017 CBC and Quebec Writers' Federation writer-in-residence, Sarah Lolley.

We'd love to hear about your Montreal mile. Comment below, or share your story on the CBC Montreal Facebook page


Sarah Lolley

2017 CBC/QWF writer-in-residence

Sarah Lolley is a medical writer and essayist who also writes fiction. Her yoga-themed children's picture book, Emily and the Mighty Om, was published in 2014. She has a master's degree in experimental medicine specializing in biomedical ethics from McGill University. Lolley has a passion for cryptic crosswords, and she's a mother of two young children.