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The Marché Bonsecours

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Constructed in 1844, the Bonsecours Market borders the old port of Montreal and the Notre Dame de Bon Secours church for which it’s named. For most of its life, Marché Bonsecours was the city’s main produce market. Today, you’ll find clothing stores, restaurants and craft shops inside, as well as a textile museum.

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A regal building inspired by the Custom House in Dublin, the Marché Bonsecours looks more like a place for governing than for shopping. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that’s exactly what it was built for. Bonsecours served for one year as the seat of Canada’s legislature, and later as Montreal’s city hall. But after 1878, it became a farmer’s market and remained so for nearly a century, until being marked for demolition in the 1960s.

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Luckily, the Bonsecours Market was saved from the wrecking ball and, in 1984, it was declared a national heritage site. Today, it’s found new life as an upscale shopping hall. There are about a dozen shops inside, including fashionable clothing stores, along with those selling souvenirs like maple syrup and Eskimo statues. On the bottom floor, there’s the small Museum of Costume and Textile of Quebec.

Unless you’re in the mood to shop, or fascinated by the history of textiles, you’re probably not going to spend a lot of time inside the Marché Bonsecours. It’s such an impressive building when seen from the outside, the interior comes as something of a disappointment.

Location on our Map
Marché Bonsecours – Website

Buy Quebec Maple Syrup Online

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May 5, 2016 at 2:51 pm Comments (0)

Boulevard Saint Laurent, aka “The Main”

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Cutting straight across the Island of Montreal, Boulevard Saint Laurent is considered to be the dividing line between the city’s French-speaking half on the east, and the English half to the west. Known colloquially as “The Main,” the neighborhoods which line themselves along the boulevard, from north to south, are home to various populations of immigrants.

Boulevard Saint Laurent

The Main’s total length is over ten kilometers, and walking the entire distance would take most of a day, so we decided to check out about half of it, starting at Rosemont Avenue and heading south.

The neighborhoods on the western side of Saint Laurent have historically been English, while those to the east have been French-speaking. Given the strife between the city’s two factions, Saint Laurent has taken on significant symbolic meaning as the “line” which divides them. And in the middle of all this drama have been the immigrants, waves of whom have settled along the Main… Jewish, Chinese, Portuguese, Greek, and more.

Not only does Saint Laurent serve as a handy metaphor for Montreal’s bipolar nature, it’s also the literal dividing line between east and west. From here, the building numbers start at zero, and street names are appended with “East” or “West.” This means that, in Montreal, it’s not sufficient to say “2100 Rue Ste-Catherine,” because 2100 Rue Ste-Catherine Oest is on the opposite side of the city from 2100 Rue Ste-Catherine Est.

Boulevard Saint Laurent

During our walk down Saint Laurent Boulevard, we came to appreciate the extent of Montreal’s street art scene. We almost couldn’t find a wall that hadn’t been beautified with some grand-scale painting. At the Gallery Espace Go, an entire passageway has been converted into a single black-and-white work. Most of the paintings were of high quality, and look like they were commissioned. In fact, there’s a summer festival during which artists from around the world are invited to paint on St. Laurent’s walls.

From graffiti to more traditional forms of art, Montreal’s commitment to culture is evident on the boulevard. We passed a ton of galleries, and even the regular shops seemed somehow more artsy than normal. Whether you’re selling furniture, clothes or books, I guess you need some artistic sensibility to fit in here. Even the butcher shop, the Boucherie Lawrence, was the hippest butcher shop we’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t feel remotely cool enough to buy meat there. They’d be able to sense that I was planning on making something pedestrian, like hamburgers. “Out, you clean-shaven yuppie! Our beef is not for the likes of you!”

Boulevard Saint Laurent

But even more than the shopping, we appreciated the variety of food available on Saint Laurent, which truly reflects the boulevard’s diversity. Bagel shops and delis, fine Portuguese and Spanish restaurants, Irish pubs, Caribbean grills, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Greek and more. And I’m pretty sure all of them were serving some sort of twist on poutine.

By the time we had passed through Chinatown and reached the old port, we had been walking for hours, and felt like we’d seen the perfect cross-section of Montreal. And we had restricted ourselves to a single street! But of course, Boulevard Saint Laurent isn’t just a street like any other… few in the world have as much character and history.

Location of the Start of our Walk
Blvd St. Laurent – Website

Another City With Great Street Art: VALENCIA

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May 4, 2016 at 4:30 pm Comments (2)

A Stroll Down Crescent Street

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Downtown Montreal’s Rue Crescent extends for just three blocks, from René Levesque in the south to Sherbrooke Avenue in the north, but a lot is packed into its small area. Bars, clubs, restaurants, and a line-up of quaint Victorian houses make Crescent one of the city’s most attractive streets. We took an initial tour on one of the first sunny afternoons of spring, and couldn’t believe the number of other people who’d had the same idea.

Crescent Street Montreal

Rue Crescent is a study in contrasts. If you start at the bottom of the street, at René Levesque, you’ll wonder what the big deal is. At this end, the buildings are ugly and modern, while the only establishments are sketchy-looking bars and the types of massage parlors which advertise themselves with three X’s.

The middle third of Crescent beings to improve, with a number of popular restaurants. And I do mean “popular”: we showed up on an early Thursday afternoon, at 3pm, and every single outdoor table was taken. Les 3 Brasseurs, Thursday’s, Sir Winston Churchill Pub, Brewtopia… “Mike, what’s that you’re writing in your notebook?” Oh nothing! Certainly not a list of bars I plan on later dragging you to!

Crescent Street Montreal

The final stretch is Rue Crescent’s most beautiful, with an uninterrupted run of Victorian-style houses on both sides of the street. Most of these have today become eateries or boutique shops. But although these buildings would make splendid homes, I’m guessing not a lot of people want to actually live on Crescent Street, because it’s known as one of Montreal’s premiere party zones. That’s particularly true in the summer, and particularly when Rue Crescent hosts its huge Grand Prix party, which unofficially kicks off the city’s festival season.

Location on our Map
Rue Crescent – Website

Framed Montreal Photos

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May 2, 2016 at 10:56 pm Comments (0)

Montreal’s Chinatown

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Centered around the Rue de la Gauchetière, Montreal’s isn’t the biggest Chinatown you’ll find in North America, but it’s among the most historic. Chinese families began immigrating to this area in the 1860s, and today the neighborhood is a vibrant mix of Asian restaurants, shops and culture.

Chinatown Montreal

Montreal’s Chinatown doesn’t take much time to walk through; it extends just a couple of blocks in each direction. But there’s a lot packed into the small area, and a thorough exploration might take hours… especially if you’re hungry.

I like Asian food, but Jürgen loves it. So when I realized how close our apartment was to Chinatown, I knew I was in trouble. Indeed, every time… every single time I asked what he wanted to do for lunch, his face would light up with glee. To his credit, he did give me a choice: “Korean, Ramen, Dumplings or Mongolian Hot Pot?”

Chinatown Montreal

It might be called Chinatown, and Chinese shops are definitely in the majority here, but this neighborhood is home to a wide variety of people and restaurants. You’ll find Korean bibimbap, Japanese shabu-shabu, Chinese noodles and Vietnamese Pho, almost all of it is reasonably priced. Chinatown is regarded as one of the best areas in Montreal for good cheap eats.

Montreal’s Chinatown Has Cheap Eats

You’ll know you’ve entered the neighborhood after passing through one of the four paifang, or ceremonial gates, which mark its borders. You’ll find old tea shops, stores selling paper lanterns and decorations, cheap barbers, and confectionery shops. We stopped in at one that was advertising “Dragon Beard Candy,” a treat once made for the emperors of China. Stretched out into fine, white hair-like threads, it actually does resemble an old Chinese man’s beard. Luckily, it doesn’t taste like one.

The Rue de la Gauchetière is a pedestrian zone, and develops a festival-like atmosphere on summer weekends, when many events are held out on the street. The party doesn’t stop once the sun goes down; in fact, because Chinatown has been named a special “tourist” zone of Montreal, its bars and clubs are permitted to stay open later than normal.

Location on our Map

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April 30, 2016 at 2:02 pm Comments (0)

A Tour through Old Montreal

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As its name suggests, Vieux Montréal is the oldest section of the city, occupying roughly the location of the original 17th-century settlement of Ville-Marie. With many of Montreal’s most historic buildings tightly packed in close proximity to one another, it’s a rewarding place to take a self-guided walking tour.

Old Montrel

We started our tour in the southwestern quadrant of Old Montreal, among the towering edifices which line St. Jacques, also known as the Wall Street of Montreal. Most of the buildings on this street date from the nineteenth century, and each is a work of art, with emblems and statues adorning the cornices and Roman columns protecting the entryways. The epicenter of this architectural grandeur is at the corner of St. Jacques and St. James, where five banks were once headquartered.

Turning to the south, we walked down the small Rue de les Récollets. The Récollets were a religious order who had served the French Army. But with the arrival of the British, the order was dispersed and their convent replaced with greystone Victorian residences. At least their name lives on.

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Continuing south, we reached the Place d’Youville, named for Marguerite d’Youville, who founded Canada’s famous Grey Nuns in 1738. Some of the sisters still live in the massive old convent, although that might not be the case for long. Concordia University recently bought the building, although the nuns will be allowed to stay until 2022. Nearby the Place d’Youville is one Montreal’s most popular streets, St. Paul, which runs parallel to the old port and transforms into a major tourism thoroughfare on summer weekends.

We walked up to the Place des Armes, found between the Notre-Dame Basilica and the old headquarters of the Bank of Montreal: Canada’s first bank. You can find a small, one-room museum inside. Continuing east, we soon found ourselves at the Champs de Mars, a small park behind the City Hall, where remains of Montreal’s former fortifications can be seen. Our tour then continued down the wide, sloping Boulevard St. Laurent, lined with souvenir shops and cafes spilling out onto the sidewalk.

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It would require a heroic undertaking to catalog all the individual shops, sights and highlights of Old Montreal. There are quaint delicatessens, fancy French restaurants such as the gorgeous Les Filles de Roy, parks, plazas, lovely old banks, monumental office buildings, churches and museums galore. Every step seems to reveal some fascinating new historical tidbit. At the corner of Rue Sainte-Hélène and Récollets is the building in which North America’s first YMCA was founded, for example. Just north of Place Jacques Cartier on Saint-Paul is the former Rasco Hotel, where Charles Dickens once stayed. And next to the Notre-Dame is the Old Sulpician Seminary, which dates from 1684 and is the oldest standing building in the city.

The official website of Old Montreal provides an excellent self-guided walking tour, which introduces the highlights of the neighborhood and some of its history. You can either follow the tour exactly, or wander randomly about at your whim. It almost doesn’t matter where your journey in Old Montreal takes you; every street is interesting, and any time spent here is going to be worth your while.

Locations on our Map: Place d’Armes | Former Convent of the Grey Nuns | Champ de Mars | Place Jacque Cartier

List of Montreal hotels

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April 27, 2016 at 11:00 pm Comments (0)

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The March Bonsecours Constructed in 1844, the Bonsecours Market borders the old port of Montreal and the Notre Dame de Bon Secours church for which it's named. For most of its life, Marché Bonsecours was the city's main produce market. Today, you'll find clothing stores, restaurants and craft shops inside, as well as a textile museum.
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