One of the things about travel that is amazing to me is seeing how differently cities and countries develop. No two cities are ever the same – London, Paris, New York, Tokyo are all big cities, but no one could mistake one for the other.
Cities may even be in the same country, have a similar population number, school system, government, laws, climate and many other factors in common, but have a totally different 'public persona' even lifestyle and when you come to a new city anywhere in the world, you quickly pick up on this persona. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Canada.
Montréal is a very different to Toronto and Vancouver, the other two biggest cities in Canada, and is perhaps even more fascinating given its French heritage and the culture that has evolved. It's a city with great history. The Street names are in French, menus are in French, there's French style food and coffee, the people mostly speak French, and in particularly in the old part of the City, you could be mistaken for thinking that you are in an old French city, even though nearby there is a Chinatown and another city section called 'Little Italy' nearby. In many ways this is a very stylish and fashion conscious city. Even the high rise buildings in Montréal appear to reflect this interest in style and design.
In Montréal there is a Metro system, but it doesn't extend to the Pierre Trudeau International Airport (20 kilometres from Downtown), but there are Hotel Shuttles and also the 747 Bus that travels to downtown, and of course Taxis. It will take up to an hour to get to downtown depending on traffic. In the City itself the Metro Train has lines marked by colour (Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange) and you can buy a 1 or 3 day pass, or get an OPUS card for a week of travel.
If you read the History of Canada section on this website, you will see that the French Explorer, Jacques Cartier (1491-1557) sailed up the St Lawrence Estuary and St Lawrence River in 1535 meeting with Iroquois, Cree and Mohawk and other First Nation groups that already lived here. Cartier made three voyages to explore this part of the world, in what he called 'New France'.
Attempts were made to establish a French settlement here in 1541, but within a year this settlement was abandoned while other attempts were made in 1598, 1599 and 1604.
The settlement was located just below the Lachine Rapids that stopped boat travel heading further up-river, and this was the case until 1825 when the Canal de Lachine was built. The canal operated as a canal for shipping until 1970 when the St Lawrence Seaway and canal system came into operation. Head to Lac St Louis if you want to see the old canal area.
It was not until 1608 that another French Explorer, Samuel de Champlain (1574-1635) managed to establish a settlement where Québec City is located and in 1642 Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve (1574-1635) (Sieur de Maisonneuve) founded a new colony settlement as the leader of a group called the "Société de Notre-Dame de Montréal" their purpose being to convert those First Nations people that found to convert to Christianity.
What brought the French to the St Lawrence River, beside their desire to convert those they found to Christianity, was trade, principally in Fur and Beaver Pelts. Under French King IV, in the early 1600's, favoured companies of traders were given 'fur trading monopoly rights' in 'New France', on the basis that they also established settlements too. The most successful of these was one set up by Cardinal Richelieu in 1627, the 'Compagnie de la Nouvelle France', which became known as the 'Compagnie des Cent-Associés' (Company of 100 Associates), and while it succeeded for a number of years, it too failed in1663. The Company had however given its permission concession to the 'Sociéte de Notre Dame de Montréal' in 1642 to establish the 'Ville Marie' settlement in what became Montréal. The 'Société de Notre Dame de Montréal' missionary group, relinquished its role in favour of another Parisian Church Society, this being the Jesuit 'Société de Saint-Sulpice'. If you are in Paris, France both Notre Dame Cathedral and also the St Sulpice Church are both famous landmarks – the St Sulpice Church becoming famous in Dan Brown's book – 'The Da Vinci Code'.
Here in Montréal, the Saint Sulpice Seminary (built 1684-1687) is located at 16 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, near to Notre-Dame Basilica at 110 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest. This grand Basilica with its twin towers is a landmark in Montréal with a stunning exterior and also interior too. Initially a chapel was built on this site between 1672 and 1683, then in 1824-1829 the Basilica was built, with the twin towers added in 1843 and then between 1870 and 1900 the interiors were designed based on another famous Paris Church, Sainte-Chapelle. (See Paris, France section of this website). They also have a light show at night, which highlights the incredible detail and beauty of the interior and also exterior of the Basilica. The stained glass windows are themselves alone worth seeing.
The Basilica is right beside the Place D'Armes square with a statue of Sieur Maisonneuve in the Centre. Here you are right in the heart of the Old City with its cobblestone streets, and surrounded by the old buildings of the City.
Also look for the Notre-Dame de Bon Secours Chapel at Rue 400 Saint-Paul E. It is much smaller but equally impressive.
Rue Saint-Paul is the oldest Street in Montréal and a good street to just wander and look at some of the architecture around you. At 350 Rue Saint-Paul Est. there is the Bonsecours Market, the magnificent building with the dome cupola roof on top. This was built in 1847 as the City Hall, but was only used as the City Hall until 1878. Today it is a place for food, fashion and design. See www.marchbonsecours.qc.ca
The actual City Hall is at 275 Rue Notre Dame E. built between 1872 and 1878. It too is a very impressive building with its entrance and portico balcony above it. You can take tours of this building and also nearby is the Chateau Ramezay built in 1705 at 280 Rue Notre-Dame E. – the Governor's Mansion and now a museum of early Montréal life. The Tourist Office is located at 174 Rue Notre-Dame Est.
Also at 458 Rue Notre-Dame is the Sir George Etienne Cartier National Historic Site, a house museum with furnishing and décor related to the early Montréal life and times.
From the time of the first French settlement in Ville-Marie (Montréal) in 1642, the city grew, but in 1763, 121 years later Britain took control of Canada from the French under the Treaty of Paris, following on from the 7 years of war between the two countries. Under the terms of the 1763 Treaty, signed by France and Britain the French Canadians were allowed to maintain their Catholic religion and their French culture and language.
Within a few years another test was to come in 1775 when American Revolutionary forces took control over Montréal for a short period and tried to entice the French Canadians to rise up against the British and join their cause and add to their 13 colonies. In 1812 another battle test would follow too, and again the Americans were repulsed and the Canadians continued to side with Britain.
Here in Montréal, the best place to see and learn about Montréal's history and the changes that have taken place is to visit the Centre d'Histoire de Montréal at 335 Place d'Youville. Here too you can learn about the 'roaring twenties' – (1920's and 1930's) when prohibition in the USA, led people there to head north to Montréal for a good time, where gambling, clubs and bars were open and legal.
The desire to have fun and enjoy life continues today, and one of the best places to see this is in Place Jacques Cartier where in summer there are lots of activities, and cafes, bars and restaurants all nearby.
THINGS TO SEE IN MONTREAL –
- Old Port of Montréal – stretches along the St Lawrence River with its wharves, boats, ships and walkways. See www.oldportofmontreal.com 333 Rue de la Commune E (Est/East) This is a good place to people-watch, cycle, walk, catch a cruise or ferry or see the Centre des Sciences de Montréal , or IMAX Theatre both located on Quai King Edward. Cirque du Soleil is located on Quai Jacques Cartier and towards the end of Quai de L'Horloge, there is a Clock Tower that dates back to 1922, built to honour Canadian Sailors who died in World War 1.
- Cruise Terminal – The Iberville Cruise Terminal is located on Alexandra Quay.
- Musée de Beaux-Arts de Montréal ( Museum of Fine Arts) – 1380 Rue Sherbrooke O (Ouest/West). See www.mbam.qc.ca This is a magnificent museum with International, Contemporary, Canadian, Québec, Design and Photographic images to see in the 4 Pavilions that are here.
- Musée d'Archéologie et d'Histoire – 350 Place Royale. See www.pacmuseum.qc.ca It was near here at Pointe-à-Callière (on Place d'Youville) where Montréal was first established. They built a walled city here, but in the walls were pulled down in the early 1800's so that the city could expand. Here in the museum you can see some of the original foundations of the city and get an insight into early life in Montréal.
- Botanical Gardens – 4101 Rue Sherbrooke E. See www.espacepourlavie.ca The Gardens occupy some 75 hectares of ground and here you can see many styles of gardens including a Chinese Garden, Japanese Garden, Garden of light and many others. Also here is the Insectarium at 4581 Rue Sherbrooke E. and the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium at the same address. Also look for the Biodôme – an amazing building with the 165 metre high Montréal Tower leaning at 45⁰ that stretches to the sky above the Biodôme, located at 4777 Avenue Pierre de-Coubertin. You can take a glass Funicular elevator to the top of the Montréal Tower for great views. Inside the Biodôme you will find some 4500 different animals to see and learn about their habitats – everything from fish, to birds, mammals and other animals in their different habitats.
- Guilde Canadienne des Métiers d'Art – 1460 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest. See www.canadianguildofcrafts.com Here you will find some of the best Canadian craft work.
- Musée McCord – 690 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest. See www.mccord-museum.qc.ca This museum has a great collection of clothing, toys, letters, photos and everyday items as used by people living here in Québec over the centuries.
- Chateau du Fresne Museum – 4040 Rue Sherbrooke. See www.chateaudufresne.com If you like to see a grand house and furnished rooms and décor, this is the Chateau to see.
- Centre Canadien d'Architecture – 1920 Rue Baile. See www.cca.qc.ca Here you can see historic Shaughnessy House as well as lots of information and displays about buildings and architecture.
- Musée d'Art Contemporain – 185 Rue Ste-Catherine Ouest. See www.macm.org This is the Art Museum where you can see contemporary work by Canadian and Québec Artists.
- Musée Stewart – 20 Chemin du Tour de I'isle. See www.stewart-museum.org This museum on the Island in an old British Fort has a vast collection of cultural, military and household items that tell the story of Québec and its history.
- Parc du Mont Royal – this is great green space in the city covering an area of 200 hectares of grounds with pathways, trees and greenery in the summer and in winter people come here to do cross country skiing. Beaver Lake (Lac des Castors) is here too. In summer you can find paddle boats while in winter when the lake freezes over, people skate here. Look also to see the Georges Étienne Cartier Monument and also the statue of the Huron chief, Belvédère Kondiaronk. At the top of the hilltop (Mountain) there is also the Chalet du Mont Royal, where there are a number of activities in the summer months. This is the large stone building with the cupola shape roofline. It makes for a great photo.
- La Ville Souterraine – RÉSO While in summer there is lots of activities above ground, winters can be extremely cold, and so people go underground to La Ville Souterraine (the Underground city) where there is 32 kilometres (20 Miles) of pedestrian walkways with some 120 access points to the city above. This labyrinth of tunnels and walkways connects shops, restaurants, boutiques, hotels, office buildings, Metro train stations, museums and the world above to the world below where thousands of people use these tunnels to commute to their workplaces, catch the Metro, stay warm, eat or meet up for a coffee, breakfast, lunch or dinner. This underground system of tunnels lined with shops is the biggest underground system of its type in the world.
- Metro Train system – Montréal also has a Metro system much like Paris with stations located throughout the city. This makes it easy to commute to different parts of the city, but does not go to the Trudeau International Airport. Get an OPUS card for a week of travel, or a 1 or 3 day pass with unlimited use for that duration. See www.stm.info
- Casino de Montréal - 1 Avenue du Casino. See www.casinosduquebec.com/montreal The Casino is located in a stunning building which is lit up at night to highlights its shape. There are all the gaming, restaurants, bars and shows here.
- Montréal Islands – Just offshore in the St Lawrence River there is Île St Hélène and Île Notre-Dame, this island built using the excavated material from the Tunnels used for the Metro. Both islands are part of the Parc Jean-Drapeau and easy to get to by Ferry or bike. The Metro also has stations – stop at Jean-Drapeau.On Île St Hélène you will find walkways, La Ronde Theme Park (see www.laronde.com ), the Musée Stewart and the Biosphère (see www.biosphere.ec.gc.ca ) a massive glass sphere that dominates the skyline. On Île Notre-Dame there is the Casino and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve Formula One Racetrack that is also used in summer for cyclists and in-line skaters when there are no races on. Here on the island there is also the Beach area (Plage des Îles) next to the River.
There is no shortage of shops in Montréal, from smaller boutiques to Shopping Malls and department stores. The best known street for shopping is Rue Ste-Catherine Ouest where you will find the Ogilvy Department store at # 1307, Tristan at #1001, Simons at #977 and Centre Eaton (and Food court) at #705 but also look for Boulevard St. Laurent, Rue St Denis where Revenge is located at # 3852, Rue Peel where Club Monaco is located at # 1455 and Avenue du Mont-Royal. Around each of these stores you will also find many other places too.
While lots of sports are played in Montréal, the biggest and most spectacular sport to see being played is Ice Hockey, and the best place to see it is at the Centre Bell Stadium – located at 1909 Avenue des Canadiens-de-Montréal. See www.centrebell.ca Tel: (514) 989 2841. The team to support is Montréal Canadiens.
- At Saputo Stadium is where Soccer games are played – see www.stadesaputo.com 4750 Rue Sherbrooke.
- Olympic Stadium is at 4141 Pierre-de-Coubertin. See www.parcolympique.qc.ca This is where big name bands and musicians play as well as Baseball and other big events during the year. Also here at the Stadium there are a number of swimming pools too, which are open in summer.
- Stade Percival-Molsen (Percival Molsen Memorial Stadium) is located at 475 Avenue des Pins. This is where the Montréal Alouettes Football team plays. See www.montrealalouettes.com
In the summer, there are lots of other sports played, and there are over 500 kilometres of Bike trails to ride on, and in winter there is ice-skating and other winter sports activities.
Skiing Resorts - just an hour and a half (130 Kilometres) north west of Montréal are the Laurentian Mountains and the Ski and Golf Resort Village of Mt Tremblant (see www.tremblant). The mountains that rise to around 875 metres are right in the centre of a great skiing area – with the Laurentians covering an area of 268 hectares (662 acres) of ski areas with 96 Ski Trails and 4 different slopes to challenge you. There are Shuttle buses that run from Trudeau International Airport in Montréal, but also Mont Tremblant International Airport. There are lots of chalets, hotels and places to stay but you also need to book early to secure the best rooms, in both summer and at the height of the ski season. Besides Mont Tremblant Village, there are also other small picturesque villages too – such as St Sauver-des-Monts, St Jérôme, Val David, St Côme and others. While the winter ski fields are the big attraction, also in summer, the area is equally attractive and if you love the great outdoors, there is a lot of places here to bike, hike and canoe.
MONTREAL DISTRICTS –
Like all big cities there are different districts or areas of the City that show the diversity of the population and their interests – these are some of them –
- Old Montréal – and the Old Port areas – this is the historic centre of the City and is where most tourists will spend their time seeing the old parts of the City.
- Downtown – is where all the high rise and business centre of the city is located.
- Chinatown – head to Rue De la Gauchetière and Boulevard St. Laurent to find Chinatown Restaurants.
- Little Italy – head to Rue St. Viateur and to restaurants along Boulevard St. Laurent. Look for places between 6000 and 7000 Boulevard St.Laurent and Rue Dante and you are bound to find a great place to eat.
- Hochelga- Maisonneuve – HoMa as it is called is a developing area which used to be full of industry and warehouses. It is now become more trendy.
- Mile End – Plateau Mont-Royal. This is a popular place for cafés, boutiques and restaurants. Head to Boulevard St.Laurent and Rue St.Denis to be in the heart of this area.
- Latin Quarter – head from Old Montréal via Rue St Denis to this area around Rue Sanguinet. Montréal has a big Gay community too and around the Rue Ste Catherine Est, Rue St Hubert and Avenue de Lorinier area you will find lots of interesting bars and shops.
There is always something happening in Montréal, and its mix of heritage and new buildings and lifestyles with the beautiful Laurentian Mountains nearby, the mighty St Lawrence River next to the City and the mix of French and British language make it a great city to visit.
Not far away is Québec City – one of my favourite Cities in the whole of North America.