I was sat at Montreal airport, flicking through all my photos from the last seven days and wondering where the time had gone. How could a week have flown by so quickly? It felt like only yesterday that I had touched down in the Canadian city, tired and a tad jet lagged. Sitting there ready to start the mammoth journey (made a little more expensive due to a Eurostar ticket cock-up on my part) back to Paris, then London, then Reading, I started thinking about the memories I’d be taking back with me.
My travel buddy Jessika and I had had an awesome time together exploring Montreal (well, not really exploring on Jessika’s part, as she’d lived in Montreal before for five years – but it’d been a while since she’d been back). And if you’d watched my Instagram stories, you’d have noticed there were two things that featured a lot: the Canadian food and the street art. A post on the former will be coming soon, but for now, here are just a handful of the hundreds of snaps I took of street while roaming the Rues, Avenues and Streets of Montreal.
Where is the best street art in Montreal?
Little did I know before arriving in Canada, but Montreal’s a massive player in the street art world. So if you’re a street art hunter like me, you don’t need to search down hidden alleys or high of rooftops to find what you’re looking for. Buildings across the city are adorned with gigantic works of art, giving it a vibrant and colourful personality. But why are there so many artistic murals all over the place? Well, the city has actively promoted street art for nearly 60 years; since 1961, the Quebec government has required public building projects to devote 1% of their budget to initiatives in art. This policy has resulted in around 3,500 public art works being produced so far
Montreal even has two festivals dedicated to the art form. The first is Under Pressure, an annual graffiti festival that has been going for over 20 years (making it the longest running event of its kind in North America).
The second is Mural Festival. Though Mural Festival only began in 2012, it has grown at a rapid rate, and is now one of the biggest street art festivals in the world. Every year millions of people visit Montreal to take in the epic event, which to date has spawned over 80 murals and installations from artists from all over the globe. Taking place in the heart of Plateau Mont Royal, the Festival runs for 10 days in the summer and offers free concerts, guided tours (free using the festival app) and the ability to see all the murals being created. The date for this year’s festival isn’t confirmed yet, so if you’re planning a trip to Canada in the summer, be sure to check the festival website for more details.
But even when the festival isn’t on, there’s still plenty of street art to see. One of my favourites (despite my resting bitch face in the pic below) was this giant Authenticité mural by English artist Ben Eine. I’m 5ft1, to give you an idea of it’s size:
Spotting street art on Rue Saint-Laurent.
Montreal’s busiest street, Rue Saint-Laurent, is where you’ll find the majority of the city’s graffiti and murals. Affectionately known as “La Main”, Saint-Laurent is a long street (nearly 7 miles!) that runs north to south across the city, and its surrounding areas.
Simply stroll down one side of the street and back up the other, and you’ll see some real gems. The boulevard is full of vintage shops, little boutiques and local eateries (including the infamous Schwartz’s, which serves the tastiest smoked meat, a Montreal signature dish) – so you can spend a whole day exploring this area. Here are just a few of the many murals you’ll find…
This first piece was financed as part of an agreement on the cultural development of Montreal in 2018, between the city of Montreal and the Ministry of Culture and Communications. It’s a collaboration between well-known artists Tremblay and Poni. Canadian Cyrielle Tremblay builds dreamlike worlds where she tells stories of inner gardens, memories, poetry, humour and absurdity. Hilda Palafox (AKA Poni) is a Mexican artist, who like Tremblay, balances fluidity, simplicity and winds a visual poetry into her work.
As part of the Mural Festival in 2018, this mesmerising optical illusion was painted by Spanish artist Demsky. His iconic and recognisable style captures the essence of arcade games and sci-fi films; in Demsky’s universe, we could watch time fold, creating loops of code and doors to other dimensions:
Texan-born artist Michael Reeder did this next piece, entitled “As real as my shadow”, as part of Mural Festival in 2018:
While this next piece isn’t the famous Leonard Cohen mural located in downtown Montreal (which can be seen from the top of Mount Royal), it is still a noteworthy artistic tribute to the late Canadian singer. Located at the corner of Prince Arthur and Saint-Laurent, it was created by Kevin Ledo and took 24 days to finish. At the time it was the biggest mural in Montreal:
This next piece was part of the 2016 Mural Festival, done by artist Scribe. His work is mostly visible in the streets and alleys of Montreal as a graffiti writer, but he is also a great figurative artist who does canvas work and has a few murals on his résumé, including this massive artwork that was illuminated by the setting sun as we walked down Rue Saint-Laurent one evening for dinner:
Full of colour and creativity, the piece below is a tribute to Major League Baseball’s first black player, Jackie Robinson, by Fluke, the founder of the A’SHOP crew. Prior to breaking the Major League’s colour barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1947 season, Robinson spent the 1946 season playing for the Dodgers’ Minor League affiliate team, the Montreal Royals (where he was also the first black ballplayer to play for a minor league team). Seventy years later, Fluke paid tribute to courageous Robinson with a larger-than-life portrait on The Main, with a very realistic Robinson in his Montreal Royals jersey and cap:
I also found this huge piece by Phlegm – though I wasn’t 100% sure it was actually him when I first saw it. I had doubts as the location is a little iffy (it’s above a tombstone makers!). But a quick message to fellow street art enthusiast Steve from Artofthestate.co.uk confirmed that I had recognised Phlegm’s distinctive, dark style correctly. Previously I’d only ever seen his work in Oslo (which has an unbelievable street art scene), so it was great to find something else by the Sheffield born artist:
There were plenty of other pieces, but I’m not sure of the artists – so if you know of any of them, please do leave a comment below and I’ll credit the artist’s work.
A parallel street to Saint-Laurent, Rue Saint-Dominique, has countless pieces of graffiti as well. I suggest going up Saint-Laurent and then down Saint-Dominique, if you are planning to do a full loop.
Street art on Saint-Catherine Street, Montreal.
A street brimming with history, culture and commerce: Montreal’s legendary Sainte-Catherine Street has as many stories as it does street numbers. From west to east, Sainte-Catherine Street stretches 9 miles across the city, and it’s Montreal’s main commercial artery (and one of North America’s longest and liveliest).
From Saint-Laurent Boulevard, going west, the street is home to major department stores, an array of boutiques, restaurants and several shopping centres. Out the other way is a mix of boutiques, nightlife hotspots, cafés, theatre venues and some really cool pieces of street art:
A colourful piece on Rue St-Cuthbert.
Jessika and I stumbled upon this piece by Montreal artist Five Eight on Rue Saint-Cuthbert after we’d stuffed our faces at Schwartz’s (before slowly, slowly climbing Mont Royal). I loved it instantly; Five Eight’s art is characterised by the realisation of geometric murals, his black line contrasts with bright colours, his lettering is intentionally abstract. The neon glow of the word “Free” seems so life-like:
Murals in downtown Montreal on Sherbrooke Street.
Another one of my favourites was this huge mural by Curiot, Favio Martinez. Located on the corner of Sherbrooke St. and Jeanne Mance St, the Mexico City-based artist brings mythical creatures to life in an approachable way, with pops of green, blue and purple.
Perhaps one of the reasons I loved it so much was because we passed it so often, as our Airbnb was on the next street along.
Spotting street art on Saint-Denis Street in Montreal.
If you’re heading to Montreal, don’t just stop at Saint-Laurent; St-Denis is also worth exploring, as it leads to Université du Québec à Montréal and has some of the city’s most popular bars and clubs, as well as some funky works of art:
Roa street art in Montreal.
Like Indiana Jones finally finding the Holy Grail, in my penultimate day in Montreal I found what I didn’t even know I was looking for: an humongous mural by my favourite street artist, Roa.
I’ve had a mini obsession with the Belgian artist since first finding a piece of his early work in an abandoned building in Ghent. His style has changed a lot since that early piece, he’s now easily identifiable as the artist who creates murals of animals native to the country he is in, using white and black spray paint, finishing the final details with a marker pen. Coming across this piece on Clark Street had my little street art loving heart beating wildly, I was so excited:
Street art in Ottawa.
As a bonus, we took a bus to Ottawa for the day, where we roamed the Canadian capital spotting street art and chilling in a rare moment of sunshine. The pieces weren’t as bright and colourful as some of those in Montreal, and there definitely wasn’t as many – but then we only really explored the main street and downtown areas…
Montreal is definitely the place to come if you like graffiti, murals and street art. There are the silly pieces, the funny and visual jokes. There are the subversive, bizarre or weird pieces, forcing us to think and re-think our views and stands. Many are visual social statements and commentary. And then there are those of pure beauty, sometimes blurring lines between figurative and abstract (or even absurd art).
As a reward for its devotion to the arts, the Montreal was named in 2006 a UNESCO City of Design. Before coming to Montreal, Brussels was my top city for seeing street art, but now I’m not so sure…