Montreal is an island in the middle of a river that’s brackish and almost ocean-like. The city is impressive and different, largely because of the English and French culture blend. The four seasons are prominent, and it’s magical skating after dinner in the park. In winter there’s cross-country skiing right outside your door.

Although Montreal is where I grew up, my relationship with it has always been a little from an outsider’s perspective. Throughout the decades I’ve spent various periods in New York, but would always return to my mother [singer, Kate McGarrigle] and the mystery and romance of this sprawling city.

The mural on Le Germain hotel
The mural on Le Germain hotel

I live in Outremont, meaning “other side of the mountain”, referring to Mount Royal, which gave the city its name. Following my mother’s passing in 2010, I moved back to our family home. I was stepping into her life in many ways – saying goodbye while holding on to her as much as possible; she left us too early. Montreal was the perfect place to grow up, which is largely why I brought my kids, Francis, nine, and Arcangelo, 14, back from New York. They play freely on the streets and go to all the neighbour’s houses within a four-block radius, returning in time for dinner.

There’s a huge Hasidic Jewish community here; Montreal is famous for its kosher bakeries. Boulangerie Cheskie is busy on Fridays, when everyone gets their challah, and the rugelach and rye bread are particularly good. People flock from all over the world for the bagels at Fairmount Bagel, which opened in 1919. I eat them hot and freshly baked. 

Wainwright at Leméac restaurant in Montreal
Wainwright at Leméac restaurant in Montreal © Alexi Hobbs

I opened Ursa, a music venue and café, nearly five years ago, when I was coming out of a difficult divorce. I had an image of Sophia Loren stirring soup with a wooden spoon, then getting up to sing. We support local artists and bands who are starting out – Anaïs Constantin and Bon Enfant have both played here – and put on a festival last summer. I made all the food, including my special bean tacos and pork smoked out the back, which I’m not sure is legal. 

The Théâtre Outremont, a favourite venue
The Théâtre Outremont, a favourite venue © Alexi Hobbs

Ursa doesn’t make any money, which means I have to start writing songs again and tour to support it. I tell my brother Rufus that we need to do a fundraiser every time he’s in town. When we do our annual family charity show, the artists stay at Le Germain, a nice hotel downtown.

The problem with owning a bar is that you end up drinking there because you’ve already paid for it. But there are other great music venues with good bars, including Bar Le Ritz PDB. A fantastic spot for tapas and music is La Sala Rossa, and I eat lots of the tasty free popcorn at Taverne du Pélican. I’ve played at a lot of these places over the years: another favourite is Théâtre Outremont, a gorgeous old movie theatre that brings musicians over from France.

Wainwright outside Leméac, “a classic French restaurant that’s been here forever”
Wainwright outside Leméac, “a classic French restaurant that’s been here forever” © Alexi Hobbs
The bar at Leméac restaurant
The bar at Leméac restaurant © Alexi Hobbs

When I haven’t had time to cook, I take the kids to Nouveau Palais for burgers and frites. Rufus and I were wild teenagers, and this was the after-hours diner we’d come to for beer and latkes at 3am. Not far away is Larrys – my go-to dishes are the tartare and the mackerel spaghetti – and I also like Leméac, a classic French restaurant that’s been here forever. I often sit at the bar post-show with a glass of Quebec wine – Les Pervenches – eating steak tartare or confit de canard. 

PHI Centre is a cutting-edge cultural space founded by the philanthropist Phoebe Greenberg. Summertime means festivals, and Pop Montreal brings musical artists from around the world to PHI and other venues across the city. They also stage pop-ups in semi-derelict spaces, like old train tracks.

Wainwright with her dog, Zorro, at Parc Outremont
Wainwright with her dog, Zorro, at Parc Outremont © Alexi Hobbs

People use the parks here intensely. The main one, Mount Royal Park, is hundreds of acres of fields and forests. There’s a huge cemetery on the mountain and recently I took a micro-dose [of LSD], put a hat on so no one would recognise me, and went on a five-hour walk up there. When going up the mountain from my side, you have to climb an interminable amount of stairs. At the top, there’s a beautiful old building with a café and stunning views of downtown and the river. You can see all the way to the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondacks of New York State; you can also count the Leonard Cohen murals.

I’ve always had a battle with Montreal; I’m having one now. I wonder if I should go back to New York, where there are more work opportunities. But when I realise I’m putting my kids first being here, I’m absolutely happy with my decision. 

Stories I Might Regret Telling You by Martha Wainwright is published by Simon & Schuster at £9.99

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