07 2017 | TIME OUT
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.
QUÉBEC'S STRONGEST ECONOMY
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$340.7 billion GDP. Its industries include aerospace, electronic goods, and pharmaceuticals and it has one of the largest inland ports in the world. But it's the finance industry that plays a top role. The sector employs approximately 100,000 people in the Greater Montréal Area. As of March 2016, it is ranked in the 21st position in the Global Financial Centres Index, a ranking of the competitiveness of financial centres around the world. Watching the people on Rue Sainte Catherine that economic prosperity and purchasing power shows. There are a myriad of hip shops and restaurants where people spend their earnings on products ranging from the newest IT toys to bags and shoes. Many of them pay with debit cards. Spending cash seems to be reserved only for smaller food places like Patati Patata on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, where the locals eat Québec's unofficial favorite food poutine. Cheesy chips and gravy don't sound too special, but these here are somehow infinitely more delicious. As drops of gravy hit shirts and suits, the hipsters with their laptops and iPhones are spending some time off online.
E-COMMERCE SET TO GROW
Internet penetration in Canada is very high. It shows in the numbers for digital payments. US-$ 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.
A LOT OF POTENTIAL FOR PREPAID
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.