Je me souviens – I remember. It’s an appropriate motto for a place that lingers in your mind long after you’ve finished your last boréal blanche on Montréal’s Main. The magic of Québec affects all those who visit, and the French Canadian spell is not one that’s easily lifted.

The Québécois culture has always been an anomaly: where much of the continent is obsessed with the superficial, Québec offers a breath of cultured air. From whatever corner of the globe you’re coming, you’ll find the province has a certain je ne sais quoi.

From the big cities to the tiniest of towns, French Canadians represent a glorious mix of both Gallic ardour and Canadian candour. Here, though, the French language reigns supreme, with some 81% of Québécois Francophones. We’re not talking European French here, either – even a Parisian can be confused by a Québécois accent and turn of phrase. But as much as the French-speakers define the province, it is often the Anglo- and Allophone minorities, and the resulting bilingualism, which makes Montréal Québéc’s most fascinating city.

Historically Montréal, the second largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris, was quite literally split into two halves by its language differences. The western half of the island was mainly English-speaking and the eastern half French. These days, it’s more mixed up (young Montréalers slip in and out of each language during conversation), and you can usually get away with speaking either tongue.

But the differences go way beyond language – from music and movies to buildings and food, the very fabric of Québécois daily life is unique to this corner of North America. It all started with the so-called Quiet Revolution of the ’60s as the influence of the Catholic Church began to decline and the distinctive artistry of the people began to shine.

The great tradition of Celtic-influenced Québécois folk music was reinvigorated and has produced a new generation of Francophone singers who mix traditional folk with rock and pop to produce something eminently more listenable than most of what comes out of France. While the language factor is a barrier to multinational stardom, many Québécois have found success internationally in France and Belgium, or, as is the case with the interminably annoying Montréaler Celine Dion, have simply switched to singing in English. The Montréal music scene has also been a breeding ground for such luminaries as Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright and Diana Krall.

Jazz also has a rich history in Québec, with the Montréal International Jazz Festival packing the crowds in each July. From comedy (Just For Laughs) to fireworks (Montréal International Fireworks Competition), film (World Film Festival, Fantasia), dance (Montréal International Tango Festival), gay pride (Divers/Cité), gardening (International Garden Festival) and the fringe (International Fringe Festival), just about every creative, cultural or personal pursuit out there is celebrated in Montréal each year.

While it’s the French who traditionally laid claim to the seat at the top of the foreign-language filmmaking tree, in America Québécois cinema is stepping out of that gigantic shadow, with more and more Québec-grown flicks picking up awards – 2003’s Les Invasions Barbares picked up a couple of awards at Cannes, was nominated for the Palme d’Or and went on to win Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. But Québec’s most visible contributions to the arts world has been in the realm of circus, with Cirque de Soleil pioneering a new genre some 21 years ago and inspiring similar circus troupes in Cirque Eloize and Cirque EOS.

In gastronomy, too, Québec leads the nation. Montréal is home to the greatest concentration of restaurants in Canada, with three-meat tourtière, blueberry pie of the Lac St Jean region and the smoked meat and bagels of Montréal’s Jewish quarter all favourites. Top of local menus, though, is the famed Québécois ‘delicacy’ poutine – a pile of fries topped with chunks of cheese curd and lashings of gravy (you can even get it at McDonald’s). Then, of course, there is maple syrup, with 75% of the world’s supply coming from Québec.

But what stands out most about the down-to-earth Québécois is their pride in their province, the pinnacle of which is St-Jean-Baptiste, the Québec national day (June 24), which is marked with concerts, bonfires, parades and parties as the province catches blue-and-white fever. To borrow a phrase from Dennis Denuto in that great Australian institution, The Castle: it’s all about the vibe.