Considered the cultural capital of Canada, Montreal is a fascinating intermingling of old and new with stonewalled taverns, candlelit drinking dens and a cutting edge art and music scene showcased by the city’s infamous festivals. The dual French-English mix adds vitality to the city, as does its unique combination of European and North American culture, making it a perfect destination for an unforgettable experience.
By: Anne Henley Walker
Montreal is a part of the Canadian province Quebec, and was discovered in 1535, when Jacques Cartier first landed on the island. An Indian village, called Hochelaga existed there at the time. Cartier renamed the place Mount Royal, which is where the name Montreal is derived from, after the mountain that he found there behind the St. Lawrence River.
Throughout Montreal’s history, the French culture prevailed, but not without tensions between the French and British. The people of Quebec, surrounded by the English in North America and made to feel second-class in the heart of their own province, feared for the survival of their French culture and language. Separation of Montreal between the British and the French, while often discussed, became less of a burning issue as time went on, and enormous change without the use of violence was accomplished. Today, Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city in the world and is the heart of the Province of Quebec.
WHAT TO SEE
NOTRE DAME BASILICA
The Notre Dame Basilica is Montreal’s oldest Catholic Church and most famous landmark. It is a visually pleasing symphony of intricately designed interior, which includes gilded sculptures, beautifully carved wood and stained glass chronicling the history of the city. Built in 1879, it also sports a Casavant organ and the Gros Bourdon, said to be the biggest bell in North America.
Mount Royal is a mountain in the middle of a cosmopolitan metropolis. Referred to simply as "the mountain" by locals; this 764-foot mountain provides a breathtaking view of Montreal and is popular recreation spot. Visitors can do anything from enjoying fabulous picnics to cross-country skiing without ever having to leave the city.
Old Montreal is an absolute must see for a taste of the Old World. Stroll, bicycle or take a horse-drawn carriage through the narrow cobblestone streets of Montreal’s famous Parisian-style historic district, filled with cultural landmarks, museums, sidewalk cafes and great restaurants. From here you can visit magnificent Notre- Dame Basilica, stop for a bite to eat at Place Jacques-Cartier, and then head to the Pointe-à- Callière, a Museum of Archaeology and History built above the remains of the city’s first settlement.
MONTREAL BOTANICAL GARDEN
The Montreal Botanical Garden, one of the city’s jewels, is recognized as one of the world’s greatest botanical gardens. It offers a colorful program of events, exhibitions and activities all year long. With its collection of 22,000 plant species and cultivators, it is the perfect place to enjoy fresh air and natural beauty. Located just minutes from downtown Montreal, the Montreal Botanical Garden is a living museum of plants from all over the world.
MUSÉE DES BEAUX-ARTS
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal is a must for art lovers; the Museum of Fine Arts has accumulated several millennia worth of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, furniture, prints, drawings and photographs. Famous European artists include Rembrandt, Picasso and Monet, but the museum really shines when it comes to Canadian art. Highlights include works by Jean- Baptiste Roy-Audy and Paul Kane, landscapes by the Group of Seven and abstractions by Jean- Paul Riopelle.
WHAT TO EAT
Poutine is a classic Canadian dish and arguably Quebec’s highest gastronomic achievement. In recent years it’s experienced a renaissance, spreading across Canada and beyond. Gourmet versions have appeared in trendy gastrodiners and even the New York Times has jumped on board, celebrating poutine’s arrival in Manhattan. A savory assortment of french-fried potatoes, beef gravy, and cheese curds, poutine is the ultimate late-night snack. Montreal hosts a competitive “La Poutine Week” every year in February.
Montreal is famous for their bagels. In contrast to its New York cousin, Montreal bagels are smaller, thinner, sweeter and denser with a larger hole and always baked in a wood-fired oven. In many Montreal establishments, bagels are still produced by hand and baked in full view of the diners. There are two predominant varieties: poppy seed and sesame seed.
TIRE SUR LA NIEGE
Tire sur la Niege or maple taffy, is one of Quebec’s most distinctive offerings. The taffy is formed by pouring still hot, boiled maple sap directly onto fresh snow. The result is a soft, flexible candy that begs to be eaten immediately. The soft candy is tradition- ally served with yeast-risen donuts, sour dill pickles, and coffee. The pickles and coffee serve to counter the intense sweetness of the candy. svm