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Why Montréal Rocks, According to One of Its Coolest Locals

André Bathalon, communication director of art marketing agency Lndmrk and founder of Montréal’s MURAL festival

Have you heard? We’re traveling to Montréal this June for one of our epic Experiences trips (you should come). We’ve managed to get an insanely cool itinerary together, featuring Montréalers who are a part of the city’s undeniable swagger. And we want you to get to know the city through their eyes. In the months leading up to the trip, we’ll be introducing you to some of these people, and picking their brains about the city we love so much. We’re kicking it off with André Bathalon, partner and communication director at art marketing agency Lndmrk and co-founder of Montréal’s stunning MURAL festival that takes over St. Laurent boulevard every summer.

What dazzles you about living in Montréal?

André Bathalon: Montréalers are really creative and innovative. We’re really good craftsmen. That’s what I like about Montréal—the fact that art is integrated into everything. There’s always something creative happening. It’s not forced; it’s in Montréalers’ natures. Not only are they creative, but they appreciate creation. Cirque du Soleil, the company brought that innovation and exposed our creativity around the world. I have a huge love for street art. I enjoy Montréal for that.

How do you feel about the graffiti that’s all over the city?

AB: Some say there’s lots of graffiti. Most of the time, though, it’s artistic intervention. Art is everywhere, and that’s what I like. You could be in the subway, on an elevator, in an alley, on the street. Somebody has always left his or her trace. Once you get that, Montréal becomes a huge playground. A treasure hunt. There’s so much around you, new and old. Every subway stop has two or three pieces of art—and beautiful architecture!

Have you always lived in Montréal?

AB: Growing up, Montréal was a special trip. It was like Disneyland. I was born on the south shore of Montréal, and I’d go into the city with friends once a month to shop—we didn’t have much in my village, nothing I wanted to see and visit. I moved here when I was 20 years old for my first real job as a supervisor in a cartoon studio. I love it unconditionally. It’s like a relationship: Even the not-so-good things are charming in a way.

Where’s your favorite place to take an out-of-towner?

AB: I try to show them a bit of everything. The Old Port is a starter—it’s the first place that tourists go because in a few seconds, it shows you how European Montréal really is. It shows you a chapter of America’s growth. You feel like the people who came here centuries ago. It also transports you to France. There are horses in the cobblestone streets, the architecture hasn’t been touched. But my favorite part? It’s full of galleries. You’ll see native soapstone sculptures, landscapes, portraits. It’s a nice gateway to our folk art, which is what I like about it.

Of course, I’d also bring them to the main Saint-Laurent Boulevard, my playground for the past two years. Montréalers call it “The Main,” so you know it’s important. It’s a boulevard that divides Montréal in two, the west from the east. It used to separate the anglophone and the francophone speakers a long time ago. Back in the day, the west of Montréal was a lot richer, and people spoke English. What I like about The Main, though, is that Portuguese and Italian immigrants found their homes on the main. It was a border between the language and cultural feud. It quickly became a melting pot of small communities. You can feel it. There’s also a really strong Jewish community there. There’s lots of people living their life on the same commercial artery. It has a strong historical background.

So The Main is the place to be?

AB: Things have changed in Montréal. The Main took a few nasty blows, like gentrification. Tenants and merchants were leaving because of the prices going up. Stores were empty, and it kind of got into people’s heads that it’s not a good place to go anymore. That’s why we chose it for the MURAL festival. Our mission was to beautify The Main and to attract people back to it—change it from ghost town to a place for art and creators with gigantic, beautiful murals. The murals are there all year, so you can make a circuit depending on the guest’s taste and physical abilities.

Any other places you’d take a visitor?

AB: Mile End. A long time ago, property there was mostly owned by textile companies. Then, all of a sudden, those companies moved away to be closer to the railroad. The first people who moved back there were artists—for the cheap rent and the availability of studios in those vacant factories. That created a huge core of creative minds in one place. They created an awesome neighborhood where everyone’s really relaxed and artsy, and you can feel it. Plus, people say that the best bagels in the world are in Mile End. There’s St. Viateur and there’s Fairmount. I’ve seen bagel shops in New York buying from these shops—they’re that good, and they’re open 24 hours a day. So when you’re coming out of the bar at 3 AM and you’re hungry, you just stop by to grab warm bagels to eat on the way home. Just talking about it makes me want to go buy some.

What’s your favorite season in Montréal?

AB: My favorite season is the spring. Every year, I swear at winter. I always think, how can we survive? Winters are so brutal. I have no interest in cold and snow. But the winter makes spring so much better. As soon as the snow melts and the temperature rises, it’s like everyone comes to life. The artists, most of all. As soon as they are able to go out and paint outside without fearing that their fingers will freeze, it’s an orgy of creativity. You can feel everyone smiling. It’s like a secret happiness festival.

Want to explore Montréal and meet André Bathalon? 
Sign up for our Montreal AFAR Experiences trip, June 25-29!