Well that’s what the Canadian real estate industry just did, and man-o-man did people screw up. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the

Why do more people prefer to live in Toronto than in Montreal?

I do not believe it is a matter of preference. It is a matter of circumstance and certainly a matter of language.

Each city offers its advantages and disadvantages depending on what your focus is. However, let’s be very clear, it is also very much a matter of language and culture. Let’s tackle the language issue first. It is much easier to move from an English speaking place to Toronto than it is moving to Montreal where you must ultimately understand and interact in French. For many, that is simply not an option and thus Montreal is not an option regardless of all the advantages it offers.

The fact is, as historical, as exciting and as vibrant as Montreal is, living there means you must be able to live in French or atleast know a decent amount of French. That is simply not feasible for many for a variety of reasons (there are short term business, your spouse needs to move there or your spouse does not speak french, etc). The fact is that Montreal, although 60% french and 40% English is in Quebec where it is 80% French and 20% English. The official language of the province of Quebec, and therefore Montreal (government transactions, etc) is French. Like Quebec, if one moves to Belgium or France or French Switzerland then you must use French as a means to live. So if you move to Montreal, a language barrier exists unlike any other city in North America.

Another barrier for those that do not speak or understand French is if you are new to Quebec and if you have elementary school aged kids, then your kids MUST go to French school if you want them to attend public schools. This can be a big challenge for many families. However, if you pay for and send your kids to private school you can choose any language you want. As such, language is a major consideration for those wanting to make the move.

Montreal with a population of about 3.8 million in the urban area is one of the largest and most diverse urban cities in all of North America. However, for those who have lived in Montreal before, the city is really 2 smaller cities in one….with 3 types of people. Those who live in French experience one part of Montreal others do not. Those who live in English experience different parts of Montreal and those that are truly bilingual get to live in both worlds and get to experience both English and French cultures…they get to experience the best of what Montreal has to offer. However, the fact that the city operates in these two languages means that the city’s services and business life is also divided and quite inefficient, thus making it operate like 2 smaller cities in one. Toronto on the other hand has about 5.9 million people in its greater urban area…all of which (with some exceptions) speak, live and do business in English.

The job market, career opportunities and startup opportunities in Toronto far exceeds those from any other city in Canada. Toronto is also one of the business hubs of all North America, rivaling some American cities. Ignoring language, if the focus is on the corporate world or business, then Toronto has, hands down, far more opportunity than Montreal. Toronto is Canada’s business hub….period! If the focus is Academic…either city will do. Both cities have world class universities. McGill and University of Montreal for Montreal and University of Toronto in Toronto. In fact Montreal is 2nd only to Boston in the amount of students in a post secondary education.

If the focus is on cost of living, then hands down Montreal wins on this one, not even a close race. Toronto is one of the most expensive cities in the world when it comes to living arrangements, real estate has become absolutely absurd and quite unattainable for most, especially if you have a family and require a detached house. Detached housing in Toronto is close to average $2 million for a detached house for goodness sakes…and about $1.5 million in the Greater Toronto Area. That is simply not a feasible city to live in for families with 3 or more kids. If you are single or a couple or just have one child then you will have no choice but to live a condo life in Toronto, just like Manhattan. (unless you have the means to afford a detached house) How about Montreal? Well, you can still find plenty of detached homes on the island of Montreal in the $300k range. Condos in Montreal, you can find studio apartments in the $100ks and $200ks. In Toronto budget for over $450k and many in popular areas are $800k and above. Student life, however is still affordable in Toronto especially since you are forced to have roomates to make ends meet. Student life is quite cheap in Montreal in comparison. You can find apartments anywhere from $650 per month to $1500.. It is a rare thing to find apartments for rent in Montreal above $2500 per month. In Toronto, that is the norm. Bottom line, if you earning a modest salary or even a decent one, then Toronto is a very very expensive place to live. People also tend to live with their parents a lot longer in Toronto than in Montreal due to the unaffordability factor.

In terms of Joie de Vivre, entertainment, way of life…. well, Toronto certainly has tons of entertainment options, but given its European flare, its more liberal culture and pulse, Montreal has a big edge in this area as well. Medical & health facilities…. This is easy.. Toronto wins by a long way here. Montreal certainly has its world class facilities, but for those living in Montreal, you realize that the city is divided into two when it comes to medical and health benefits for the population. There is a budget that goes to the French hospitals and services and then there is a smaller budget that goes to the English hospitals and services. Many services, research, facilities are doubled up both in the French sector and English sectors of the city.. this is very much unique in North America and is a complete and utter waste of money and resources. But such is life in the political world of Quebec. In Toronto, by contrast, the entire budget is focused on one language and services are more abundant, especially for those with a need for specialized care or special needs.

Price of a car…..fairly equal in both cities, although there is far more inventory in Toronto. Car insurance… Montreal is about 40% cheaper than Toronto given that Quebec follows a no-fault insurance law. Ontario does not. Gasoline? Montreal is about 10% more expensive than Toronto, but that extra cost washes out when insurance comes into play. Income taxes and sales taxes…. Well, Quebec is the most taxed place in NOrth America. Both income taxes and sales taxes are slightly higher in Quebec than in Ontario. However that, again, is a wash considering how much more one has to pay for Real Estate in Toronto compared to Montreal. Assuming you can look after speaking and understanding French, then living in Montreal will provide a far cheaper cost of living (real estate, insurance, food, entertainment, retail, parking, education). Real Estate is, no joke, in many cases 50% to 80% less expensive in Montreal than in Toronto where Real Estate prices have gone crazy. Especially for detached housing.

A university degree in Montreal, if you are a resident of Quebec, will set you back only $3500 to $4500 depending on your area of study (imagine getting a medical degree or a law degree from a world class university such as McGill university for only $4000 per year!! ) On the other hand in Toronto, university is anywhere from $8000 to $15,000 per year and increasing. (still far cheaper than comparable universities in the USA). Please note, however, that these prices are more local residence. If you are a foreigner, then these prices are easily doubled or tripled. Regardless, attending a world class university like McGill or University of Toronto is still less expensive for foreigners than attending a university in the States.

In terms of Cultural differences; well these are enormous. Although Montreal is certainly a multicultural city, it is still predominantly Caucasian and French speaking. Toronto is one of, if not the second (after New York) most multicultural cities in North America. It may surprise people to know that Toronto is no longer predominantly Caucasian, more than 55% of the population of the Greater Toronto area was not born in Canada making Toronto an extremely diverse place to live. The majority of the visible minorities originate from Asia (the Orient & India) and the Middle East. This diversity, however, does bring about many cultural differences between Toronto and Montreal. For one, Toronto is a far more conservative place to live as compared to a more European mindset place like Montreal.

As mentioned, if you are seeking business ventures, advancement in the financial world, corporate world or perhaps English entertainment…then Toronto is by far a better choice. Toronto has far more options. Can you live in Montreal without the use of French at all? Sure…..if your life and work and education revolve around English and you live in English neighborhoods, then you will not have to struggle with French all that much unless you deal with government services. I personally have many friends who have grown up only speaking English. However, it is their loss. They are missing out. Why would you even consider moving to Montreal without learning some French? That is like moving to Paris without learning French or moving from a French city to Toronto without learning English. Montreal is what it is because it is infused with both English and French cultures and nuances. The one commonality in Montreal is that people speak French and are infused with French/European culture. That’s what makes it unique in North America. In Toronto, the commonality is diversity. There is popular saying about Montreal and Toronto… “Montrealers work to live and Torontonians live to work”. For anyone that has experienced both cities, this is absolutely true. Montreal is infused with European culture, is far more liberal and focuses on enjoyment of life. The affordability of the city helps in ensuring people focus on their Joie de Vivre. Although living in Montreal has a more laid back way of life, it is the style of life that attracts people. In Toronto, it is a far more expensive city to live well in and far more conservative city given its historical and cultural background. The population and rhythm of the city is one where the population works long and hard, sometimes at the detriment of their enjoyment of life. Toronto, however, has far more government services, more services for families, more ambition, more aggressiveness, and more career opportunities than being in Montreal. This difference in Montreal is evident in the way people think, their entertainment, how late people eat out, party, how late restaurants or clubs are open, how local spend their money, etc..

The Winter: Both cities are in eastern Canada and that mean ccccold winters. Montreal is a bit colder and has a lot more snow fall than in Toronto. However, Toronto has far more wind. either way…its cold. But here is a BIG difference. Montrealers hang out and play outside in the winter far more than people from Toronto. Why? I will guesstimate that it has to do with a lot more snow, meaning more sledding, more ice for longer periods means more outside ice hockey and this is a big one, more mountains closer to the city which means far more skiing. Montreal is one of North America’s best cities to live if you want to ski or snowboard. Within 35 minutes to 90 minutes drive of the city you will find dozens and dozens of ski hills to enjoy. In the winter Montrealers are on the ski hill skiing, snow boarding or tubing. Plus, for the most part, its affordable. This is one big downfall in Toronto where you have to drive almost 2 hours just to reach 2 or 3 ski hills, that’s it, all of which are average in quality and quite expensive. This does not encourage the population to get out in the winter as readily as it does in Montreal. One more thing on this, remember the cultural difference in both cities, well, this is evident in the winter as well. Over 55% of Torontonians were NOT born in Canada. Many of which are not used to the ccccold winters and snow in Canada. As such, they stay indoors, or go to malls and shop in Toronto. (Torontonians shop a heck of lot more than Montrealers). This is quite a contrast to anyone who has lived in both cities.

One last note, Montreal is an undervalued city. It’s Real Estate is undervalued, it’s university costs are undervalued, the amount of people graduating from university every year is undervalued and the fact that the work force essentially does business in two languages is quite undervalued. The only reason for this undervaluing is the fact that one must speak another language if they are to move to that city. That is not a trivial detail. Those around the world that move to Canada, be it from the US, Asia, Middle East, etc find it far easier to simply move to an English city in Canada than the effort it takes to move to a city like Montreal wherever one must learn yet another language. So although Montreal is an undervalued city compared to its peers around the world, it will certainly not continue to be so. It’s costs (especially Real Estate) will continue to rise. Perhaps not to nonsense levels that have plagued Vancouver or Toronto, but make no mistake, they will rise going forward.

As you can see, it is not really a matter of preference as to whether people prefer one city over the other, both have wonderful opportunities. Both are world class. It is more a matter of circumstance and absolutely a matter of language. Either way, two of North America’s great cities.