the city takes some of its cues from cosmopolitan Europe, it stands
on its own as a place of great charm and style.
parts of France, add another part of Great Britain, and let it simmer
for a couple of centuries. Then toss in a hundred or so nationalities
from Peru to Pakistan. Mix them all together and you're ready to dish
up one of North America's most chic, cosmopolitan, and engaging cities.
Some people say that Montreal is the Paris of North America, but this
is no mere European wannabe. Montreal is a city all its own, a captivating
combination of the Old World and the New, as vibrant and sexy as a Ferrari,
with an irrepressible joie de vivre that is on daily display, from restaurants
and bistros to jazz clubs and sidewalk cafés.
great cities, Montreal is a place of contrastssoaring cathedrals
and some of the hippest nightclubs this side of Berlin, caleches on
cobblestone streetsa few miles away from an aerospace company
producing some of the world's most popular regional jets, bakeries that
still use wood-fired ovens, and high-tech industries housed in renovated
hundred-year-old foundries. Spend a few days here and you'll just scratch
the surface. Spend a lifetime and you'll never stop being entertained.
place to begin getting acquainted with Montreal is where the city itself
startedthe Old Port, or Vieux-Port. This is where Paul de Chomedy,
Sieur de Maisonneuve, landed in 1642 and christened his new settlement
Ville-Marie, more than a century after fellow French explorer Jacques
Cartier became the first European to set eyes on this island in the
St. Lawrence River. Ships still land at this spotMontreal remains
an important inland port and a popular summertime cruise destinationbut
today the Old Port is best known to Montrealers for its mile-long promenade
that runs the length of the waterfront. Stand here on a warm summer
day and watch bicyclists, pedestrians, and in-line skaters passing by,
framed against the backdrop of the 19th century warehouses on nearby
Rue de la Commune and the imposing Bonsecours Market. The tin-domed
building includes 15 boutiques that showcase work by some of Quebec's
opened iSci Centre at the King-Edward Pier includes interactive science
displays for the whole family and an IMAX theater. Across the street
on de la Commune, energetic visitors can rent a bicycle at Velo Adventure
and head west on the Lachine Canal bike path, which leads for miles
along the historic canal to Lac St. Louis. The more adventurous can
board a jet boat at the Clock Pier at the eastern end of the Old Port
and brace themselves for a rollicking ride through the Lachine rapids.
June is an ideal month to be outdoors in Montreal. The temperature normally
ranges from a low of 56 degrees to a high of 73 degrees.
Port stands at the southern end of Old Montreal, a 95-acre collection
of cobblestone streets and venerable limestone buildings that help make
this perhaps the best-preserved, most coherent historic quarter in North
America. (Small wonder Hollywood film makers flock here when they want
a stand-in for everything from 19th century London to the New York of
the 1920s.) At its heart stands Place d'Armes, where founding father
Maisonneuve fought a pitched battle with the Iroquois in 1644. Today,
Place d'Armes is best known for Notre-Dame Basilica, a neo-Gothic masterpiece
with two soaring towers and an opulent interior that features elaborate
woodwork and a row of stained-glass windows crafted in Limoges, France.
This is where Celine Dion got married and where Luciano Pavarotti taped
his oft-watched Christmas special. Across the street stands the domed
Bank of Montreal building, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis
stored his papers after the Civil War when he lived briefly in Montreal.
There is usually a line of caleches parked in front of the Basilica
ready to take the foot-weary on a serpentine route through the area
and along streets like Rue Ste-Paul, with its 20-plus art galleries
and numerous boutiques.
Jacques-Cartier, a few hundred yards to the east of Place d'Armes, is
one of the city's most popular tourist attractionssome would say
too popular. It's still worth a quick peak for its outdoor cafés
and restaurants with terraces, not to mention the street musicians,
jugglers, and artisans who ply their trade on warm summer nights. A
tourist information center near the northwest corner of the cobblestone
square is a good place to stop to pick up travel literature on Montreal,
including a free guide booklet that includes a self-guided walking tour
of the area.
this history has made you a little nostalgic for 21st century life,
head uptown to Rue Ste-Catherine. It's only a 15-minute walk away but
it seems light-years distant. This is the main shopping street in downtown
Montreal, a bustling strip that pulses with energy pretty well around
the clock. Here, starting at Rue Atwater and working your way east,
you'll find department stores like the Bay and Simons, plus lots of
specialty shops selling everything from secondhand books (Westcott and
Argo bookstores) to authentic Basque berets (Henri-Henri). If you're
passing by Ogilvy building at the corner of Rue de la Montagne at noon,
step inside and be serenaded by the bagpiper bedecked in a kilt. Ste-Catherine
offers a curious combination of the sacred and the profane: One of the
city's most beloved churches, the neo-Gothic Christ Church Cathedral,
stands almost directly opposite the best-known strip joint in town,
the Super Sexe, which figures in at least one story by Hunter S. Thompson.
of blocks to the north, running parallel to Ste-Catherine, is Montreal's
most elegant thoroughfare, Rue Sherbrooke. A few nondescript high-rises
are a modern day blight, but Montreal's version of Fifth Avenue still
boasts an impressive array of stately churches (Mark Twain once said
you couldn't toss a brick in Montreal without breaking a church window),
old gray stone buildings, and charming apartment buildings, like the
pre-World War I Linton Apartments. In a dozen or so blocks between Guy
and Université you'll pass the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Canada's
oldest art museum; the stately Ritz-Carlton hotel, where Liz Taylor
and Richard Burton tied the knot (for the first time) back in 1964;
two of the city's top art galleries, Galerie Claude Lafitte and Walter
Klinkhoff; McGill University; and the McCord Museum of Canadian History.
Stop at one of the ever-present Van Houtte cafés, pick up a cappuccino
and a croissant, and listen to the patter of conversations around you.
The majority of Montreal's 3 million residents are French-speaking,
but many of them are bilingual.
subway, the Métro, is a great way to get around. It's clean,
efficient, and safe. The rubber-wheeled cars can whisk you to more than
60 stations throughout the city. If you're looking for a good day's
entertainment, take the green line toward Honoré-Beaugrand and
get off at Viau. Follow the signs to the Biodôme. This is one
of Canada's most popular natural science museumsand with good
reason. The Biodôme offers a fascinating re-creation of four ecosystems
found in the Americas, from a tropical rain forest to a polar region
complete with four species of penguins. The Biodôme is a baseball-toss
away from the Olympic Stadium, an immense clamshell-shaped building.
Sure, it cost close to $2 billion to build (Montrealers have dubbed
it the Big Owe), but it still ranks as the most distinctive-looking
sports facility in North America, utterly different from the usual box-like
domed stadiums. If you're a baseball fan, the Expos are in town on June
15, 16, 18, and 19. For a bird's eye view of the stadium, take the cable
car that rides to the top of the 556-foot-high inclined tower adjoining
the building. Across Sherbrooke from the stadium, accessible by a pedestrian
path, you'll find the Botanical Gardens, which has 21,000 species of
flora on display. The 182-acre site also includes the Insectarium, a
museum with thousands of creepy-crawlies on display, everything from
colorful butterflies to giant walking stick insects, including several
least some time during your visit to Montreal to wander around the Plateau
Mont-Royal, or the Plateau for short. Throughout the 20th Century, this
is the place where many immigrants raised their families before moving
on to the suburbs. In the last 10 years or so it has emerged as the
hippest place in town, with many of the city's most sought-after restaurants,
bars, and night spots (see sidebar on page C7). Boulevard St-Laurent
(also known as the Main) is the busiest commercial street, but this
is also a neighborhood where many people liveprofessionals, artists,
students, immigrants, and everyone in between. Rue Laval from Avenue
des Pins to Sherbrooke is a particularly fine stretch with 19th Century
limestone buildings that line the wide sidewalks. The outdoor staircases
that lead to the second floors of many of these buildings serve as a
reminder that this is more a city of apartment renters than homeowners.
The street intersects with a favorite summertime hangout of localsCarré
St. Louis (or St. Louis Square). The park-like square is surrounded
by imposing French Second Empire homes that once housed some of Montreal's
looking for more respite from the hurly-burly of city life, head up
to Mont-Royal Park. This 500-acre oasis of greenery was designed by
Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect also responsible for
New York's Central Park. Here you can share tree-lined paths with bicyclists,
bird-watchers, and walkers out for a stroll. The lookout in front of
the Mont Royal Chalet provides a panorama of the city laid out below,
with the St. Lawrence River in the background and the Monteregian Hills
stretching toward Vermont 60 miles away. Stand here for a few minutes
and wonder what this vista first looked like to Jacques Cartier when
he climbed to the top of Mont Royal almost 500 years ago and gazed out
on what was then a vast, unexplored, uncharted land.
what your taste, be it for Old World charm or modern cosmopolitan vibrance,
Montreal offers something for everyone.
Pierre Home-Douglas is a freelance writer based in Montreal. He can
be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.