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 –
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.
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 –
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.