Letters from Montreal: Tales of an Exceptional City, edited by Madi Haslam

Letters from Montreal: Tales of an Exceptional City, edited by Madi Haslam, and published by Vehicule Press, is an anthology. At almost wallet-sized and just over 200 pages, this book packs a big punch. It is compiled from “more than a decade’s worth of letters published in Maisonneuve”, a magazine with a column titled by the same name, Letters from Montreal. Here’s a bit from the book’s introduction, “(the column would be) an intimate section that would capture the city’s spirit on a single page. … The column would allow local writers to document the unique joys, eccentricities, and mundanities of living here.”

“What a romp through the streets of this iconic city!”

And fulfill this mandate, it does. What a romp through the streets of this iconic city! With each story being only a few pages long, I was at once immersed in the telling. Letters from Montreal is incredibly varied in topics and voices, and the writing is top-notch. As I meandered with each author up and down the streets of the many colourful districts, I met a parade of people, exotic and ordinary, but all captivating. They were standouts for a variety of reasons. From circus performers to part-time workers, to newly arrived and recently departed, I met all descriptions of interesting people.  There were also the ones who just wouldn’t leave, whether they were the four-legged ‘best neighbours’ or the lingering ghostly ones. There was food – including poutine and Schwartz’s. Often served with a cultural twist, the dishes were made from ingredients gathered from any diverse corner store or enjoyed in another part of the world, always hoping for a taste of home. Make no mistake, within these tales, there lies an interlacing of devotion to the hometown.

               The tales take Montreal by the horns and flip her onto her underbelly. I was gleefully entertained in my ring-side seat. These tiny tidbits were greedily devoured, one after the other. Letters from Montreal transported me to the diversity of the queer scene at Plaza St-Hubert (‘the plaz’), to the Rialto Theatre for the ever-charming fake orgasm choir, to the community of the great Leonard Cohen, and to that of lesser-knowns, hopefully waiting for a big break. I went skateboarding in Chinatown and Old Port, and running up “the mountain”, Mount Royal, during the isolation mandated by the pandemic. As I read, I discovered the secret to an old pickle recipe and some history on the Rialto Theatre (fashioned after the Paris Opera House) located in the Mile End, on Avenue du Parc.  By becoming a welcome addition on a small balcony near McGill University, I was privy to great life lessons, learned in retrospect by the once-student. These stories capture the essence of Montreal with a robust, chaotic, and motley stew of wonderful characters. All were brought to life by their talented authors, set within the biggest and most encompassing character of all – Montreal.  

               Pick up a copy of this compact pocket-sized book. It’s jammed with sharp writing, giant stories, witty humour, adventure and misadventure. You’ll be happy you took some time to travel the busy streets, the dank alleyways and the old cobblestone walkways. Hang out in the parks and the cultural districts. Mostly take the time, as I did, to feast on the savoury tales presented at this bountiful table of Montreal. Regardless of where you live, Letters from Montreal: Tales of an Exceptional City is not to be missed.

Madi Haslam is the Editor-in-Chief of Maisonneuve magazine. Her reporting has appeared in This magazine, The WalrusBriarpatchPolicy Options and GUTS Magazine. She has received two Canadian Online Publishing Awards and a CAJ nomination, and she holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of King’s College. She lives in Montreal.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Vehicule Press (Sept. 21 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 180 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550656082
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550656084

Managing Editor

TMR’s Managing Editor Carrie Stanton has a BA in Political Science from the University of Calgary. She is the author of The Jewel and Beast Bot, and picture books, Emmie and the Fierce Dragon and The Gardener. Carrie loves to write stories that grow wings and transport readers everywhere.  She reads and enjoys stories from every genre.