Sherbrooke (pop. 201,890) may be the fourth largest metropolitan area in Quebec, but don’t get your hopes up. You drive through some of the ugliest sprawl in Quebec (King street) to get downtown, and there isn’t much going on when you get there. The two universities in Sherbrooke should give the city a youthful vibe, but the campuses are out in the boonies and, judging by the tumbleweeds and boarded-up facades downtown, students don’t spend much time outside their dorm rooms. Because it was settled by Brits and Loyalists, people hype up Sherbrooke as a slice of New England in Quebec, which is true if you’re thinking of a grim post-industrial New England milltown (i.e. Manchester, NH; Lowell, MA) rather than a vibrant and quaint New England college town you might actually want to visit (i.e. Burlington, VT; Northampton, MA). Last but not least, Sherbrooke has the unfortunate distinction of being the hometown of Jean Charest.
But Sherbrooke isn’t all bad. There are a few nice buildings around and a handful of interesting shops and restaurants in the dreary downtown. The city is more ethno-linguistically diverse than most other cities in the province. And it’s right on the edge of Quebec’s poutine heartland, giving it access to lots of good squeaky cheese suppliers. In the words of a friend who was exiled here for a few years: “It’s boring as hell, but they make damn good poutine.”