City data: Key facts
- Geographical area: 499 sq. km
- Total population: 1,942,044
- GDP (PPP) million: $103,648
Montréal is the largest francophone city in the Americas, and the fourth largest in the world. Established on Indigenous territories as a French colony in 1642, the city developed as a French outpost in North America with close relationships to different Indigenous nations until 1763, when France ceded control of Québec to Britain. British, Scottish and Irish immigrants then arrived in Montréal at such a rate that the city was majority English speaking by the early 19th century. Now officially a Francophone city, Montréal has a multinational cultural heritage that makes its cultural sector particularly vibrant. Today, 13% of Montréal residents speak English as a first language and 33% are born abroad, with a diversity of first languages, including a variety of French languages. As part of the movement towards reconciliation, Montréal, like many Canadian cities, is beginning to address the removal of Indigenous cultures and highlight their part in the past, present and future of the territory. The City is seeking to become a ‘cultural mediator’, focusing upon widening and democratising access to culture for all, regardless of socioeconomic status, origins or geography.
Montréal is comparable to Paris and New York for its concentration of artists and is an acknowledged centre for creative industries including video gaming, digital arts, augmented and virtual reality, interactive and immersive installations and film and television services. There has also been significant investment in Montréal’s major cultural district, the Quartier des Spectacles. This square kilometre is home to over 80 cultural venues, with 30 performance halls and venues, 450 cultural organisations and 7,000 jobs related to culture. It includes the Place des Arts, Canada’s leading cultural complex with six different concert and theatre halls, and the Place des Festivals, a public space central to many of the city’s 100 festivals. World class programming includes the Montréal International Jazz Festival, Les FrancoFolies de Montréal (a festival of French music) and the Festival Juste pour rire (Just for Laughs), the world’s largest international comedy festival. While the International Festival Nuits d’Afrique and the Festival du Monde Arabe help to showcase the city’s ethnic diversity.
Montréal has long valued its cultural offer and has had a City Cultural Policy since the early 2000s. The latest iteration, for the period 2017–2022, places a new emphasis on recognising how the digital revolution will transform culture and the wider management of the city. The Policy seeks to embrace this development and create places for learning and experimentation across the city, placing Montréal at the global forefront in merging culture with digital technology. The plan aims to be a ‘catalyst for human encounters’, from shared learning in library-based Fab Labs to events in city squares, encouraging innovation and promoting a cohesive, connected city. Montréal is also addressing the historical absence of Indigenous peoples and cultures, by supporting Indigenous artists and making their presence more visible on platforms from festivals to gallery exhibitions. As well as this, the policy includes a re-examination and broadening of the city’s tourism offer to promote the Indigenous cultures of both First Nations and Inuits.
Montréal has faced some challenges which are unusual for a world city. The city has a lower growth rate, lower disposable income and higher unemployment than other major Canadian cities. However, this has also offered spaces for creatives to flourish, and the City remains far-sighted and ambitious in supporting this sector. Its cultural planning seeks to place it ahead of the curve of the digital revolution, while developing an informed and united citizen body.