When Christian Faure moved to Montreal last summer, the renowned chef saw a chance to start fresh in a new city, freed from the constraints of his native France.
Faure opened a pastry shop and cooking school in a renovated 300-year-old greystone on a busy street in Old Montreal.
“It would be totally impossible to open a similar patisserie in a historic quarter in Paris and Lyon,” said Faure, who had a stint as director of the Cordon Bleu chef school in Ottawa before moving to the city. “In Montreal, it’s still possible. It’s a city of arts and theatre, and it encourages young people.”
Faure isn’t alone. Faced with a slumping economy and high unemployment rate back home, the number of French citizens in Montreal has soared in recent years, particularly among the 25-40 age demographic.
These days, the unmistakable accent of the Old Country echoes through the bars and cafés of the city’s trendy Plateau district. Specialty stores offering made-in-France delicacies and pubs that televise French rugby and soccer matches have also recently popped up.
By 2013, nearly 55,000 French citizens were registered at the French consulate in Montreal, up by about 45 per cent from 2005, according to the consulate.
In reality, that number is likely much higher.
A consulate spokesman estimates only about half of the French in Canada register, putting the estimated number of French citizens in Montreal at about 110,000. Toronto and Quebec City are the next most popular destinations, each home to about 10,000 registered French citizens.
The growing French presence in Montreal has even stirred up hints of resentment.
A satirical song called Y’a trop de Français sur le Plateau, which takes jabs at the perceived snobbiness of the French and their love of cigarettes, has been viewed 143,000 times on YouTube. The tune was written by Fred Fresh, a musician who himself hails from France.
Still, many view Montreal as a place of opportunity.
Laure Juilliard moved from Paris seven years ago. Only 22 at the time, she completed a one-year technical program, found a job three weeks later and has lived here ever since.
“There was a sense of freedom – from family, and from France, which is much more traditional and hierarchical,” said Juilliard, now a freelance writer who runs the popular lifestyle blog Une Parisienne à Montréal.
“I felt you could be much more yourself here than in France, and not feel the judgment of others, and even if there is judgment, it’s not necessarily negative.”
It’s unclear how many of these new arrivals will stay for the long haul.
Over the past decade, 30,000 immigrants from France have gained permanent resident status in Quebec, according to the consulate, far below the total number here on temporary student and work-travel visas. But it’s still among the top immigrant countries of origin in Quebec, alongside Algeria, Morocco, China and Haiti.