Local Montreal and the Underground Art Scene

Montreal is full of great finds; Local Montreal is one of them. While staying at La Maison du Patriote, an über-cool tent like hostel in Old Montreal, I stumbled upon a poster for a free walking tour of the city in one of the bathrooms. (Yes, advertising in stalls clearly works!) Considering the walking tour I’d spotted at the tourist information centre cost around $20, quite pricey by my backpacker standards, Local Montreal’s free tour won out. Of course, it was so good that now I just have to write about it!

Walking Tour with 'Local Montreal'

We met up with our guide Ismael, a Norwegian calling Montreal home, and set off to explore the Latin Quarter. Our group spent the morning wandering the city’s old red light district, listening to tales of gangsters, booze and glamorous burlesque performers. We visited Les Foufounes Électriques, (which translates to ‘The Electric Buttocks’!), one of the oldest underground music venues in the city whose stage was once graced by Nirvana. We took in various art installations, visited the design faculty at UQAM, and my favourite part — got a crash course on all things graffiti.

Montreal's Street Art

So here’s Graffiti 101:
A tag is a signature and the simplest form of graffiti. A throw-up, also known as a throwie, is done in bubble letters and usually consists of two colours; one for the outline and another for the fill in. A throw-up requires more time to execute than the tag and acts as a logo for the artist. A piece (short for masterpiece) requires hours of careful execution, covers a large area, and really displays the artist’s skill. Pieces can also be commissioned.

Montreal's Street Art

Then you have heavens or giraffiti which is graffiti that will leave you thinking ‘How did they get up there?’. L’etat perdu on the brick wall would be such an example. My guess is whoever did this had to dangle from a rope. Because this form of graffiti is done in places that are difficult to reach and also pose certain dangers, they really help increase the artist’s notoriety.

Montreal's Street Art

Then you also have stickers like the ones seen on the back of this stop sign. This form of graffiti can range from ‘Hello, my name is ____’ stickers found at any business supply store, to images that have been hand drawn and transferred onto vinyl sticker paper.

Montreal's Street Art

I’ve visited Montreal several times before, but this tour uncovered a part of town I had completely overlooked. Montreal’s underground art scene is bursting with innovative ideas, and businesses across the city are beginning to take notice. Hotels and stores have even begun commissioning pieces from street artists for their upscale venues.

So there you have it! If you’re ever passing through Montreal be sure to look these guys up.

P.S. They also run a pub crawl and a brew pub tour!

Join the Conversation


  1. says: Cheri Lucas

    I’d lived in Montreal for two summers and especially loved wandering the Plateau, where I was staying, for murals and pieces. This walking tour sounds pretty cool, and your post reminds me I need to get back to Montreal soon. I miss it.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      I loved wandering this area! I had been to Montreal several times before and I can’t believe I had never made it to the Plateau. I hope you get to visit Montreal soon!

      1. I missed it too in my one-and-only visit to Montreal. Still, I grew up in San Francisco and didn’t discover a bunch of murals in the Mission District until I was in my late 20s!

  2. says: Abhijit

    Great post! I’ve always been fascinated with graffiti – but didn’t know these terms and how to interpret it. Thanks for the crash course!

  3. says: John Williams (@eurapart)

    Tags don’t do much for me but there are some fun street art pieces in your post.Did you find out the names of Montreal’s most renowned street artists?

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      Yes, I hear Melbourne is the place to be when it comes to street art. Hopefully I’ll get to check it out some day! 🙂

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