As noted in my last blog post, I am in Montreal for a few weeks. Most of my time is being spent with family. On occasion they actually let me go out on my own. Thus, I have had the opportunity to stroll the city’s streets. I love Montreal despite Quebec’s political ups and downs over the years. Unfortunately, an attempt to preserve French identity has sometimes translated into xenophobia and extreme pettiness that has led to some very restrictive language-related laws. Nonetheless, Montreal is still a wonderful city that I adore.
Winters here are harsh, frozen, snowy, and often bleak. Summers are typically hot and steamy. They are always full of traffic, bicycles, and people; the city sidewalks, parks, etc. teem with life. Luckily, during my two weeks here this most wonderful of cities has been blessed with splendid, near-perfect temperatures and many cloudless days.
Montreal is a city of festivals. I suspect that there are more festivals held here than anywhere else in the world. There is something for everyone – whether you are into music, comedy, contemporary art, film, dance, food, beer or something else entirely. I just missed the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal but the Just for Laughs Festival (Juste pour Rire) is currently going on and the Fantasia International Film Festival has begun too.
The breadth of culture in Montreal is astonishing. There are a number of excellent museums, many contemporary art galleries for emerging and established, world-class Montreal, Quebecois, and Canadian visual artists. Superlative contemporary dance companies thrive, and music in the city is everywhere. There are also hundreds of creative and skilled local fashion, furniture, and jewellery designers. I could go on waxing poetic on the arts, alone.
There are a myriad of excellent restos for those with smaller budgets – anything from diners to hipster bars. There are also elegant establishments and chique bistros. One can laze for hours in the cafes – many of which are not part of a franchise (a rare thing in North America). For the first time, ever, there are now food trucks on the streets! From what I have observed these trucks serve food that is far from mediocre. Montreal’s year-round public markets are a pleasure to the senses. And of course there is smoked meat, excellent locally made beer, Montreal bagels, and poutine!
I love Montreal for its French/English bilingualism and diversity. It is an international city with many dynamic ethnic communities: Jewish, Haitian, Italian, Greek, Southeast Asian, Philippine, British, Arab, and many, many more. One feels a pulse of joie de vivre and excitement here. It is an open and tolerant and cosmopolitan city where people can be themselves without feeling judged. Downtown flourishes because of the successful mix of housing and commerce. The city is walkable, has terrific public transportation and has an extended bike path system with designated lanes, nearly everywhere on the island. There is something going on in Montreal every day, at every hour. It’s a place where one can just lay back and relax or devour all that it has to offer.
Below are some tips of things to do, eat, and see:
- Downtown: Walk along Ste-Catherine and Sherbrooke Streets between Atwater and St. Denis or further east. You may want to walk on the bottom of the Mountain through the McGill area (up Stanley or another side street, along Dr. Penfield, etc.) or even go up Peel and then walk up the path to the mountain. There are some nice look-outs from there. Department stores: The Bay, Ogilvy, Holt Renfrew, SImons
- McGill Ghetto
- Mount Royal in Westmount: Easiest accessed by car. At the top of Westmount there is a look-out where you can see the south of the city and beyond to the mountains of Vermont.
- Mont Royal: Walk up via Peel St. behind McGill University or get to it from Ave. du Parc and Mont Royal., along Cote-Sainte-Catherine or Cote des Neiges
- Le Plateau and Mile End: Allow for A full day for walking up and down and in between St. Hubert St. (St. Denis has lots of chique bars, restaurants, stores), St. Laurent (lots of students and very multi-ethnic, once the old Jewish neighbourhood, now the home of all sorts of new, groovy, chique restaurants, bars, artist-run galleries, diverse shops as well as some old commercial establishments that are the last remnants of the first European immigrants), Ave. du Parc (where there many Greek restos) and even further west when you’re north of rue Mont Royal. Start from around Ste-Catherine and go up as far as Bernard Ave. and stroll as far west as Park Lafontaine or even beyond.
- Latin Quarter: Around UQAM / St. Denis / Berri Streets and in-between
- Little Italy: Dante Street; Jean Talon Market (7070 Henri Julien St. @ Jean Talon metro station)
- Old Montreal: For a true “European” feel, wander around this neighbourhood. It abuts the port area which the city has built up quite nicely.
- Atwater Market / St. Henri / Griffintown
- Lachine Canal: A good place to enter is by the Atwater Market – cycle east or west – another good place to enter is via the Port area in Old Montreal. There are kayak and canoe rentals if you want to explore the canal directly on the water.
- Sherbrooke St.: This street goes on for miles and miles (19.88 more or less). You can start at either end, from NDG to Montreal East or the other way around or anywhere in between.
- Walk through the Cote des Neiges area by the University of Montreal (on the other side of Outremont and Mont Royal). This is a very multi-cultural neighbourhood.
- Outremont: This neighbourhood is inhabited mainly by Francophones although 25 percent of Outremont’s population is made up of Hasidic Jews. There are many shops, restos, cafes along Laurier Avenue, Park Avenue, Van Horne, St. Laurent, and Bernard. The architecture/housing between all of these streets and Cote-Sainte-Catherine is varied and worth seeing.
- Schwartz’s: Order their medium smoked meat, french fries, and cherry coke (this place is a must not miss).
- Beauty’s: Particularly great for breakfast
- Moishe’s: Steak, steak and more steak – with all you can eat pickles and coleslaw
- Wilensky’s – Cheap, cheap, and excellent! Limited hours
- Le Petite Ardoise
- Cafe Local
- Au bistro Gourmet
- Bistro L’entrepont
- Le Vin Papillon
- Tuck Shop
- Les Deux Singes de Montarvie
- Les Heritiers
- Patati Patata
- Le Richmond
- Creperie Tye Briez
- Greek Food
- St. Viateur Bagels
- Poutine: a Quebecois concoction comprised of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds
- Mamie Clafoutis
- Le Petit Alep
- Club Español de Québec
- La Binerie Mont Royal
- Le Gros Jamobon Diner
- Triple Crown Dinette
- Depanneur Le Pick Up
Museums and Galleries, Etc :
- Musee des Beaux Arts
- Musee d’Art Contemporaine
- McCord Museum
- Canadian Centre for Architecture
- Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History
- The Biodome
- The Olympic Stadium
- The Botanical Garden
- The Insectarium
- The Planetarium
For more on things to do and see take a look at the online cultural magazine: cultmontreal.com