The International Writers Magazine: Summer in Canada
MONTRÉAL EXUDES THE FLAVOUR OF EUROPE
B Vieux Montréal!", our driver beamed as we sat down
with an American couple in his horse-drawn carriage. "Listen!
He's speaking another language! It's as if we're in Europe!"
The man's wife appeared excited at hearing a foreign tongue. Seemingly
uninterested, her husband mumbled, "You know we are in French
Our fellow passengers
were a sample of the some 10 million tourists who yearly travel to Montréal,
in the main, to feel the throb of Europe without leaving the North American
shores. Here, in Old Montréal where history is encased in a modern
halo, they find it possible to enjoy the Europe of long ago in the comfort
of our times. Touring its boutiques, outdoor cafes, bistros, galleries,
souvenir shops, and countless restored buildings while moving amid an
endless stream of people, they can spend an entire day and more, engulfed
in culture, history and romance.
Old Montréal, which has been turned into a magnificent recreation
and tourist centre, was founded in 1642 by a small group of French colonists.
Thanks to its location at the junction of the St. Lawrence, Ottawa and
Richelieu rivers, it quickly became an important commercial and trading
centre. When the British took over New France in 1760, Old Montréal,
at that time a walled town of some 5,000, was the richest urban centre
in what is today Canada.
After the conquest, many industrious Scottish soldiers settled in town.
They soon controlled commerce and made the city prosper, turning it
into the economic capital of Canada. In the ensuing years Old Montréal
deteriorated and was ready to be torn down. However, in the 1960s the
Quebec government designated it as an historic district and a long process
of restoration began. The Vigour Commission was set up and under its
watchful eye and both the inside and outside of the most important structures
were renewed. Fresh life was injected into the area and soon inhabitant
and visitor rediscovered the rich cultural heritage of Canada's first
Today's Old Montréal, bordered by Rue McGill on the west, St.
Antoine on the north, Berni on the east and Rue de la Commune on the
south, contains one of North America's most remarkable collections of
17th to 19th century structures which are a medley of old and new architecture
a 40 ha (100 ac) of tourist delights.
This original Montréal corresponds closely to the area covered
by the original fortified city. Its cobbled streets, superb old public
squares, some 30 art galleries and five museums, more than a dozen boutique
hotels, renovated old homes, boutiques and other shops, sidewalk cafes
and fine restaurants, and churches are a provocative blend of commercialism
and history. Visitors come to sightsee by day and dine in the evening,
then enjoy the nightly illumination of the streets and buildings or
take part in the lively nightlife.
Visitors should begin their exploration by stopping at Infotouriste,
located on the corner of Notre-Dame and Place Jacques-Cartier, dominated
by a statue of Nelson - the heart of the old city. Here one can pick
up a pamphlet with a suggested walking tour and information about the
Some of the important sites, not to be missed, are: to the east, at
the corner of Jacques-Cartier, the Montréal City Hall from whose
balcony General Charles De Gaulle in 1969 uttered his famous Vive
le Québec libre and further on, two complete historic houses
built in 1749.
Nearby, is the home of one of the fathers of Canadian Confederation,
Sir George-Etienne Cartier, now housing a museum. Around the corner,
the 17th century Notre-Dame-De-Bonsecours Chapel, towers above Rue Bonsecours
with its lampposts and evocative paving stones - the only remaining
example in Montréal - dating from about 1700. High above in the
steeple is a chapel, overlooking the St. Lawrence, which was used to
bless ships and their crews before long and difficult journeys.
A few minutes stroll away, the rebuilt 1847 Bonsecours Market, now a
place for exhibitions, is a fine example of Neo-Classical architecture.
The most striking feature of this former farmer's market is its silver
dome, which was for years a landmark for ships entering the harbour.
the reconstructed Rosco's Hotel, once a meeting place for the local
elite, a right turn and one is on Rue de la Commune, edging attractive
waterfront parks. Beyond, is the old harbour, one of the largest
restored old ports in the world reconstructed for peoples
activities. Eating places, a flea market, movies, ship tours, theatres
and numerous other activities are to be found in and around these
Montreal is also a favourite place for honeymooners.
To the west of Jacques-Cartier
in the once financial part of Old Montréal, there are a whole
series of renovated, ornamental buildings. Around Place d'Armes are
found the city's most remarkable structures. These include Notre-Dame
Basilica, a masterpiece of Gothic Revival and, when inaugurated in 1829,
the largest religious edifice in North America; the eight storey New
York Life Building, the city's first skyscraper built in 1888; and the
23 storey AIfred Building with its stylized floral motifs.
To the west and south of Place d'Armes there are a great number of prestigious
structures, which include banks, insurance companies and other commercial
buildings. The two most interesting are the Caverhill Building with
its Renaissance Revival façade, the most exuberant structure
in Old Montréal; and the Montréal History Centre, housed
in a former fire station - erected in 1903 in Flemish style. Nearby,
a renovated former customs building housing souvenirs is connected to
the Pointe-B-Calliére, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology
and History which offers six centuries of history - from indigenous
peoples' times to the present.
There are two ways of exploring the old city - by foot or horse-drawn
carriage. To experience the flavour of history to its utmost, a leisurely
stroll of about four hours is ideal. The inhabitants, in the main, speak
both English and French and are friendly. The only drawbacks are the
noisy autos - never ending in the narrow streets.
On the other hand, a visitor can explore the old town in comfort by
hiring a horse-drawn carriage for one hour at the cost of some $60.
The driver will point out all the important sites and stop for photographs.
For those with little time to spare, this is an ideal way to see Old
Important Sights to see in Montréal:
Besides the old city, Montréal has a great number of other tourist
sites. Some of the most important are:
Casino de Montréal, the city's number one tourist attraction
- besides its 120 glittering tables and 3,000 slot machines, its cabaret
features one of the top musical shows in the world. The Casino sparkles
like a polished jewel on the citys skyline and inside it exudes
a welcoming atmosphere.
Olympic Stadium with its famous 175 m (575 ft) tower, the world's tallest
The Montréal Botanical Gardens - a maze of tropical forests,
it is one of the largest and most beautiful gardens in the world.
Mount Royal Park with its panoramic view of the city.
Biodome, an unusual environmental museum.
St. Joseph's Oratory, a world renowned pilgrimage centre.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, one of Canada's oldest museums, and one
of the best.
Montreal Planetarium, a memorable introduction to the secerts and wonders
of the universe.
See and Must Do in Montreal
1) Relish a hot and delectable smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz Delicatessen.
2) Enjoy a fresh crisp bagel at the Fairmount Bagel Shop or St. Viateur
3) Walk or jog atop Montreal*s majestic Mount Royal.
4) Dine at some of Canada*s trendiest restaurants on St. Laurent Blvd.
5) Sip a drink in some of the best nightlife pubs on Crescent Street.
6) Spend an afternoon of shopping in the amazing Montreal Underground
7) Buy a Montreal Museum Pass. It gives at very low entrance fees access
to some 30 art galleries and museums and to public transportation for
Besides the countless eating-places in Chinatown and Old Montréal,
the city's 4,500 restaurants, cafes and bistros offer a sophisticated
international cuisine. Some restaurants even allow you to bring in your
own wine. Try a dinner aboard the Cavalier Maxim, departing from Old
Montreals King Edward Pier every evening for a fine dinner while
cruising the St. Lawrence River.
For Further Information. Contact:
Montréal Tourist Bureau,174 Notre-Dame St. East, Champ-de-Mars,
Tel: 1-877-266-5687. E-Mail: email@example.com
© Habeeb Salloum July 2005
Underground: The Great Winter City
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