07 2017 | TIME OUT

 11 Some of the skyscrapers in Centre-Ville date back to the 20s and 30s. © Shutterstock

The Magic of Montréal

If you want to experience a little of Europe’s charm on the American continent, Montréal is the place to visit. But it’s not the past that pushes its economy; it is the city’s reputation as a financial center that is among the top ten in North America.

Did we really fly ten hours to get here? People from Europe visiting Montréal are more than vaguely reminded of the old continent’s ­architecture and city design when they are finally standing on cobblestoned Rue St. Paul. Here in Vieux Montréal right on the shore of the massive ­St. Lawrence River, they are surrounded by many of the 49 national historic sites built from grey limestone in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. There’s the Sulpician Seminary adjacent to Notre Dame Basilica for example that dates back to 1687 or the former governor’s ­residence Château Ramezay, which was built in 1705. The colonial architecture in the city’s old town hints at a ­somewhat turbulent past. It was French ­seafarer ­Jacques Cartier that first discovered this ­privileged ­place at the confluence of the Saint ­Lawrence and ­Ottawa Rivers in the southwest of the Canadian pro­vince of Québec in 1535. But Great Britain also ruled over Montréal after the Seven Year War in 1760. ­

Today more than 18.6% of the roughly two ­million city ­dwellers have English-speak­ing parents. But passing storefronts and listening to the chatter in the many ­cafes in this vibrant and open city you soon ­ realize that more than half of its inhabitants have French as their mother tongue. The French influence is everywhere: bars look more like brasseries, chip shops offer hand-cut frites and the patisseries rival Paris. But there are also many things that create a very unique ambiance: fine dining restaurants with tattooed ­waiters, micro­brewed beer that trumps appellation controlée wine, gastronomy that is experimental and fresh. And that’s what makes Montréal special. Differences generate new ideas.

Architecture & Design

This becomes very apparent when taking a short walk from the Old City to Centre-Ville, where modern skyscrapers dominate the scenery against the backdrop of Mont Royal, a 233-meter high hill, which gave the city its name. The bustle in Rue Sainte Catherine, which is the main shopping street for Montréalers is a strong metaphor for the city's present ­prosperity and ­energy. Montréal has the ­second-largest ­economy of ­Canadian cities ­based on GDP and the largest in Québec. In 2014, Metro­politan ­Montréal was responsible for C$118.7 billion of Québec's C$340.7 billion GDP. Its industr­ies include aero­space, electronic goods, and pharmaceuticals and it has one of the largest inland ports in the ­world. But it's the ­finance industry that plays a top role. The sector employs approximately 100,000 people in the Greater Montréal Area. As of March 2016, it is ranked in the 21st position in the ­Global ­Financial Centres Index, a rank­ing of the competitiveness of ­financial centres around the ­world. Watching the ­people on Rue Sainte Catherine that economic pro­­sp­erity and purchasing power shows. ­There are a ­myriad of hip shops and restaurants ­where ­people spend their earnings on products ranging from the ­newest IT toys to bags and shoes. Many of them pay with ­debit cards. Spending cash seems to be ­reserved only for smaller food places like Patati ­Patata on ­Boulevard Saint-­Laurent, where the locals eat Québec's unofficial ­favorite food poutine. Cheesy chips and gravy don't sound too special, but these here are somehow infinitely more delicious. As drops of gravy hit shirts and suits, the ­hipsters with their laptops and iPhones are spend­ing some time off online.

Paysafecard Perspective

»The city has tremendous energy.«

Danny ChazonoffPaysafe COO


Paysafe’s COO Danny Chazonoff shares some insights on the special economic situation in his hometown and explains why a visit to the city wouldn’t be complete without visiting an ice hockey game at the Bell Centre.

You have been successful in the payments industry since the 90s. Can you tell us, why Montréal developed such a strong financial services sector?
With the arrival of the commercial internet in the 1990s, many entrepreneurs started looking at the internet to try and find ways to monetize their businesses. Over the ­years, Montréal became a leader in areas such as technology, multimedia, video gaming, live entertainment, and much more. Montréal, having a strong financial centre ­attracted many firms and institutions to expand their operations here.

Joel Leonoff and you both went to McGill University. How important are the four universities in town?

In addition to the city’s energy, it has a lot of excellent universities and colleges that help to feed our local ­businesses with great talent in technology, innovation and online marketing and strategy. Some of these exceptional individuals come to work at Paysafe.

Any stories you want to share about your time at McGill?
Joel and I attended McGill University together. We were both in the facility of management. Joel studied ­accounting while I studied computer science. My years at McGill provided me with many exciting opportunities, some of which included teaching Organizational Behavior and tutoring classes in Introductory Programming. Many who have attended McGill will tell you that the ­university does an excellent job at providing its students with a good balance of education and student/campus life.

A student of McGill seemingly had a hand in inventing ice hockey in 1875, too. Do you watch your home team’s games often? 
It’s no secret that Canadians like hockey and consider it to be “our” sport, a sport that we excel at. Almost every young ­Canadian child, whether boy or a girl, plays ice hockey at some point in their lives. The National Hockey League (NHL) is ­populated by approximately half or more Canadian-born athletes. In ­Montréal particularly, we are big fans of our local hockey team called the ­Montréal Canadiens. On a personal note, I love ­playing and watching hockey. I watch my son play city hockey and for his high school team, as well as watch the Montréal ­Canadiens from time-to-time live at our hockey arena/entertainment venue, Bell Centre.

Food & Leisure

Internet penetration in Canada is very high. It shows in the numbers for digital payments. US-$ 48 billion were spent in digital payments in 2016, most of them in E-Commerce (US-$ 44 billion). And these numbers will grow as experts forecast a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11% until 2021. All these statistics fit the picture at Patati Patata today, with young people staring at their laptops and smartphones. Somehow this feels more like Brooklyn or Seattle than Montreál. That has a reason, explains Chief Operating Officer (COO) Danny Chazonoff, in ­Paysafe’s office on the far end of rue St. Catherine. ­Montréal now has the world’s second-highest proportion of people employed in creat­ive industries (after London), we ­learn. The National Film Board of Canada has become a world leader in virtual reality and interactive films, and Montréal is also the third-largest centre in the world for video game production. “The establish­ment of game develop­­ers has had a massive ­influence on the city as it’s provided young technology or creative media graduates with an ­opportunity to work in the same city in which they studied,” Chazonoff explains and adds: “These firms provide a very fun and engaging culture. In many ways, we have tried to emulate a similar ­spirit and environment in our Montréal and Gatineau ­offices so that we too can and have been successful in ­attracting great talent,” he ­explains.

Art & Music

A big games scene usually has a very positive effect on the usage of ­paysafecard. Is it the same way in ­Canada? While credit card penetration levels are very high with 80%, Chazonoff still sees a lot of potential for prepaid cards, even beyond the 20% who do not use credit cards: “Research has shown that Canadians carry on average between $ 50 and $ 80 of cash in their wallets. This tells me that, despite all of the digital forms like credit cards, debit cards or mobile wallets, Canadians find value in carrying and using cash. This represents an interest­ing growth ­opportunity for ­paysafecard in Canada.” Even more so as students and underagers are the ones who use ­paysafecard ­above average, as be­comes apparent at McGill ­computer ­store, one of approximately 11,000 points of sale for ­paysafecard in Canada. It is located right next to renowned McGill University, one of four big ­universities that make Montréal a very young ­metropolis and a hub for new talent. Here it ­becomes very visible, who is one of the key audiences for ­paysafecard’s service in ­Canada.

The many students are not only a reason for Montréal’s economic growth and innovative ­businesses, though. They make for a very exciting recreational and ­cultural atmosphere, too. They can be seen taking a stroll ­through huge Parc du Mont-Royal during summer for example, which is one of the city’s many green spaces. They make up a part of the audience at the centre of cultural life at newly built Quartier des Spectacles or at the many concerts at La Sala Rossa or the Fairmount Theatre. Of course there are also dozens of interesting museums and art spaces like Musée des beaux-arts or the Center des sciences. But who wants to experience the real life­style of ­Montréal has to visit one of its many excellent ­restaurants or have a new cocktail ­creation at one of its bars in ­Quartier Latin. En Cachette for ­example, which is a 1920s-style speakeasy that evokes the time when Montréal was dubbed “Sin City” ­during prohibition, because of its laissez-faire attitude to gambling and alcohol. Even today Montréal can still boast about having the largest Casino on Notre Dame Island, and Canada’s longest opening hours for bars and clubs. Casino de Montréal is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for example. But ­online gambling is big, too, as much of paysafecard’s transaction volume in Canada stems from this vertical. So for people in the ga­mes and gambling indus­tries, Montréal sure is an interesting place to visit and do business.

But especially during the summer months, they should spare some time for ­leisure and culture, too. The festival season begins at the end of June and includes one of the biggest international Jazz Festivals, Pop Montréal, the Just for Laughs Festival and the Osheaga Music Festival. And whoever has the opportunity of spending a day off in this ­amazing town, will soon realize that it was well worth the ten-hour flight.