We went to Montreal this last fall because (1) Canada is one of our favorite places and (2) why not? We weren’t disappointed; it is a great city. Our timing with the fall color was not the best, but you can’t have everything.
For first timers like us, Montreal’s layout is confusing. Mount Royal is a biggish hill overlooking the city which mostly lays in the flat plain of the St. Lawrence River. Its volcanic geology is complicated, but it is west of the city with the river running mostly north, even though it appears to be south. Leonard Cohen, Montreal’s favorite songwriter, looks up at you from below.
We stayed a few doors away from the Square Saint-Louis (Carré St.-Louis) with these fantastic Victorian town houses lining the square. There is a wonderful kiosk in the center of the park, where coffee is served for those heading to the nearby Metro. And the whole area was once planned to be underwater! After scrapping the original plan for the area to be a reservoir, it was developed as an urban square beginning in 1876. The Project for Public Spaces includes it as a “great public space.”
The remarkably tranquil and pleasant La Fontaine Park (Parc La Fontaine) is just a short walk from Square St-Louis. The park is named after Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine who is “considered the father of responsible Government in Canada.”
Graffiti may be a plague in some places, but Montreal has some particularly interesting examples – more public art than graffiti.
The Bonsecours Market is next to the river. It was the city’s main market in the 1800s and once held a session of the Canadian Parliament. It is full of mostly tourist gift shops now.
My wife, who is something of an connoisseur of fruit and vegetable markets, declares the Jean-Talon Market to be the best ever.
The Redpath Museum at McGill University reminded me of the Stovall Museum at the University of Oklahoma where I spent many happy hours as a kid growing up in Norman, Oklahoma. The exhibits including shrunken heads from the Jivaro were beyond amazing to a 10-year old boy. It so happened that the father of one of my friends was a professor at the university and allowed me into to some of preparation rooms. I will never forget seeing trays upon trays of horse teeth from the Pleistocene. But, I digress. The Redpath Museum has some wonderful exhibits both of general interest and specific to Canada and Quebec. You should go!
The Basilica is – colorful. European cathedrals are severe and gray by comparison. If the daytime lighting and decoration are not enough for you, you can see a light show there at night. We passed.
Montreal was a major banking center in the 1800s. There was even a Molson Bank; yes, the beer company. Several streets are lined with very ornate façades dating to this period.
The Royal Bank of Canada tower is am amazing neo-classical tower with art deco flourishes on Saint-Jacques Street. Once the tallest structure in Canada, the Royal Bank has since mostly moved out. The teller’s cage area has been transformed into the coolest co-working site that I have seen; I couldn’t bring myself to intrude on people working there by photographing them.
I didn’t make it to Expo in 1967, although I remember wanting to go. But some of it is still there, including Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome. It is now a museum devoted to the environment (Montreal Biosphere). The artificial island it is located on offers an excellent view of the city across the St. Lawrence River.