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Our Home in Montreal

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The most difficult part of our travel project is the search for a suitable temporary home. 91 days is a strange amount of time, neither short- nor long-term, and it’s always scary to book an apartment in a city we’ve never visited. So, when we luck out with a place as nice as our home in Montreal, we feel like we should share.

Our studio apartment was found in the very heart of Old Montreal, literally around the corner from the Basilica de Notre-Dame. Despite its prime location in a zone so inundated with tourists, the apartment manages to be quiet, because it’s on a side street without much traffic.

And the building is itself a part of Montreal’s rich history. It was constructed in 1900 for the Canadian Pacific railroad company as their telegraph building. The top floors were used as offices for receiving and sending messages, while the lower floors were designed as apartments. The foyer is a thing of beauty, and the building is today a historic landmark that appears on walking tours of the Old Town. It’s kind of cool to return home to a building that a group of tourists are taking pictures of.

The apartment itself is a large studio, with a wall separating the bedroom from the living room, and a fully-equipped kitchen. It’s not gigantic, but large enough for two people to live comfortably. There’s stable, high-speed internet, a television with dozens of channels, an iron, coffee machine and all the other types of amenities you might expect. And crucially, the apartments stays toasty in the winter. Additionally, there’s a community rooftop terrace, with incredible views of the old town.

We loved our stay in the Canadian Pacific Telegraph Building. It was really convenient for us to be in the center of Old Montreal, close to so many touristic sights. And the nearest subway station is just a five-minute walk, so we could easily zip around the city. The apartment’s owner, Mauricio, is a great guy; responsive, friendly, and easy to communicate with. If you’re interested in a historic place to stay while in Montreal, check out his Airbnb page, and get in touch!

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July 17, 2016 at 4:14 pm Comment (1)

The View from Place Ville-Marie

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Built in 1962, the Place Ville-Marie was Montreal’s first skyscraper, and signaled the start of the city’s vertical construction boom. Its unique cruciform shape made an immediate architectural splash, and the building is just as impressive today. We visited its 46th-floor observation deck, shortly after it had re-opened to the public, following a period of renovation.

Place Ville-Marie Observatory

If downtown Montreal could be said to have a heart, it would almost certainly be the Place Ville-Marie, the city’s most distinctive architectural landmark. Seen from above, its cruciform shape even resembles a big “X” marking Montreal on the map. The building is right in the center of the main business district and borders the massive downtown cathedral: Mary, Queen of the World.

At the time of its construction, the Place Ville-Marie was one of the tallest buildings in the world, and helped cement Montreal’s status as the metropolis of Canada. It has been the headquarters for major companies like Air Canada and the Royal Bank, and around 10,000 people work there today. The building’s height is 188 meters, making it slightly smaller than Mont Royal; a city ordinance prohibits buildings from surpassing the mountain in height.

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We visited the Place Ville-Marie’s brand new, 46th-floor observation deck, just after it opened. From the top of this tower, one of the highest and most central buildings in Montreal, the view was predictably incredible. We were able to spot many of the parks and sights we’d spent time at over the course of our 91 days in the city, and Mont Royal looked especially impressive from here. And the full-sized glass windows provide incredible panoramas of Montreal from every direction.

An interactive exhibition on the 45th floor introduces some aspects of Montreal’s culture and heritage, from its hockey obsession to its famous nightlife, and a restaurant on the 44th floor serves up dinner with a view. But it’s the observatory where you’re likely to spend the most time; from up here, Montreal is absolutely stunning.

Location on our Map
Place Ville-Marie – Website

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June 26, 2016 at 11:49 pm Comments (0)

The Old Port of Montreal

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In 1976, the same year as it would be hosting the Summer Olympics, Montreal moved its port a few kilometers downstream, opening up a significant section of prime riverside land in the historic center. The Old Port was redeveloped in the 1990s and has since become one of Montreal’s favorite hangout zones, with parks, museums, activities, cafes and even a beach.

Old Port Montreal

Over six million people visit the Old Port of Montreal every year. It didn’t surprise me to learn that, because during the day we spent walking around, I counted at least half that many. Of course, we were there on the first truly warm day of the year, which was also a Saturday. It had been a long and cold spring, and with the long-anticipated arrival of good weather, everyone in Montreal grabbed their picnic baskets, bikes and kids, and ran straight toward the water.

We started our exploration of the port district at the Montreal Clock Tower, which was built in 1919 and dedicated to the Canadian casualties of World War I. The tower marks the easternmost end of the park, and you can climb its stairs for a view of the area.

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During summer weekends, there’s almost always some sort of event at the Old Port. While we were visiting, a multimedia exhibit called Chromatic had occupied one of the old storehouses. Inside, we found interactive installations, sculptures and weird art. We spent probably fifteen minutes watching Guillaume Marmin’s project Hara: in a dark room filled with smoke, a geometric set of lasers burn intricate patterns into the air. Randomly discovering such a cool festival felt like a very Montreal type of experience.

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We continued walking around outside. Above our heads, people were zip-lining over the port. There were kids playing soccer, mountain climbers scaling an old tower, frustrated sunbathers lamenting that the Clock Tower beach hadn’t yet opened for the year, couples renting paddleboats, friends drinking at various beer gardens, and families heading into the cool of the IMAX theater and Science Museum.

Although these activities looked fun, we were content just to slowly walk south along the river, and take it all in. Elements of the Old Port’s former life as a shipping center were all around, from the store houses to docks, lending a authentic charm to the area. It’s nice to see that a formerly industrial zone like this can find such a great new purpose.

Location on our Map: Old Clock Tower
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June 14, 2016 at 12:49 pm Comment (1)

Cité Mémoire – Projections of Montreal’s History

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Montreal was founded in 1642, which means that in 2017, the city is celebrating its 375th birthday. That’s a long stretch of history, and people can’t be expected to remember everything that’s happened. To help jog our memories, Montreal has created a multimedia exhibition called Cité Memoire (Memory City), transforming the old town into a living tribute to the past.

Cite Memoire Projections

Eighteen spots around Old Montreal have been selected for Cité Mémoire. At each one, there’s a projection, or “tableaux,” which brings a significant moment from Montreal’s history to life. In order to understand each clip, you have to download a free app that allows you to listen to the audio. And the projections don’t just play on a loop. Using the app, you’re the one who starts them.

Cite Memoire Projections

If it were just short movies projected against the sides of buildings, Cité Mémoire would be cool, but not all that memorable. However, each of the eighteen tableaux has been produced with the utmost artistry. They’re the work of some of Quebec’s most renowned multidisciplinary artists. The projections are poetic, haunting and beautiful, and each one makes perfect use of its individual location.

For example, the tableaux about the 1849 burning of the Parliament is found at the old firehouse in the Place d’Youville. The projection uses a walled-up window on the building to create the illusion of a concerned couple peering outside. You watch along with them as protesters gather in front of the building across the street, which has been illuminated to resemble the Parliament. As it burns, the effect is stunning.

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“Foundlings Quay,” located in a narrow alley off the Rue Saint Paul, is an artful tribute to the Grey Nuns who cared for so many of Montreal’s orphans. A series of babies in swaddling appear on the ground, while the nuns step out of the shadows on the side of the alley and against the far wall. Perhaps the most photographed tableaux is the “Face of Montreal”: a series of faces reciting poems, displayed across the trees at the old port.

The coolest facet of this project is the level of interaction required by the viewer. You could just show up and watch the pictures, but to get much out of Cité Mémoire, you must become a participant by downloading the app and wearing headphones. And when you’re the one to press “play” and set one of these tremendous projections into motion, you feel somehow more invested in it.

Cité Mémoire runs every evening after dusk, and for the next few years will be a permanent fixture in the Old Town. It’s rare that such a cool idea meets with such perfect execution.

Cité Mémoire – Website

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May 28, 2016 at 8:24 pm Comments (2)

The Château Ramezay

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Constructed in 1705 as a private residence for the Governor of Montreal, the Château de Ramezay has withstood the previous three centuries in an excellent state of preservation. Today, it’s the oldest private museum in Quebec, offering visitors a glimpse into Montreal’s earliest days.

Chateau Ramezay

Born in Burgundy, Claude de Ramezay came to Canada as an army lieutenant when he was 26 years old. An ambitious man, he rose quickly through the ranks, and was named Governor of Montreal in 1704. A year later, he ordered the construction of a grand residence for himself and his family. The fledgling city didn’t have funds for such enterprises, so Ramezay paid for the construction himself… and wound up bankrupt, as a result.

The Château has changed hands a number of times in its long history. Ramezay’s family eventually sold it to a fur-trading company, and it also served as the Faculty of Medicine for the University of Montreal. At the end of the 19th century, the building was slated to be demolished, but it was saved by the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal, who converted it into a museum in 1894.

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Perhaps the most curious occupants of the Château Ramezay were a contingent of American diplomats, who included Benjamin Franklin and Benedict Arnold. In 1775, Montreal was captured by the United States’ Continental Army, during a short-lived invasion of Canada. Before their assault on Quebec City, the US diplomats based themselves in this chateau, from where they organized efforts aimed at persuading the city’s French population to join their rebellion against the British.

Because Claude de Ramezay had the foresight to build his house in stone, it survived the fires which claimed almost all of Montreal’s earliest buildings. It’s a straight-forward home, a two-story structure divided neatly into about a dozen rooms. The museum which today occupies the house is nicely arranged, leading visitors on a tour through the history of the city, its relations with the First Nations, the fur trade, and strife between Montreal’s British and French residents.

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Audio clips in each room introduce a “character” from the history of the chateau, including the stonemason who built the house, Ramezay himself, the servant who brushed his wigs, and Benjamin Franklin. On the bottom floor is the kitchen. Here, next to the fireplace, was a contraption I’d never seen before: an elevated running-wheel for a dog, which would turn the roasting spit for the pig.

A visit to the Château Ramezay can be rather quick; it’s neither as large nor as time-consuming as the nearby Pointe-à-Calliére Museum. Once you’re done inside the chateau, don’t forget to check out the restored French-style garden around the back.

Location on our Map
Château Ramezay – Website

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May 22, 2016 at 2:56 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.

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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

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

The Notre Dame de Bon Secours

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Known as the “Sailors’ Church,” the Notre Dame de Bon Secours is one of the oldest churches in Montreal, originally built in 1771. Its founder was Marguerite Bourgeoy, a woman of deep faith whose life story is celebrated within a museum attached to the church.

Notre Dame de Bon Secours

Because of its location on the port, the Notre Dame de Bon Secours has long been a place of pilgrimage for sailors passing through Montreal. After having survived a particularly dangerous journey, many of these sailors would return with votive offerings in the form of model ships, twelve of which are now hanging from the church’s ceiling, suspended a few meters above the floor.

The church was the brainchild of St. Marguerite Bourgeoy, a deeply spiritual woman who had arrived in Montreal along with the first settlers. She’s known for founding one of the Catholicism’s first communities of uncloistered nuns. It was controversial at the time, but Marguerite reasoned that she and her sisters could better help their vulnerable settlement by actively engaging with it, instead of sequestering themselves away. She took it upon herself to educate both settlers and native children, and established the fledgling town’s first schools.

Notre Dame de Bon Secours

In honor of her remarkable life, she was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1983, becoming Canada’s first female saint. Her tomb can be found within the church, and it’s worth touring the small museum dedicated to her. In one room, Marguerite’s life has been reconstructed in a comic-book-fashion, with nearly a hundred small panoramas that detail everything from her birth in Troyes, France, to her transatlantic journey, her works in Canada, and her death, at peace among her followers and loved ones.

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Even if you’re not interested in Marguerite Bourgeoy, there are other reasons to visit the museum. Not only can you see the crypt underneath the church, but a ticket also allows you up into the tower, from where there’s an outstanding view over the Old Port of Montreal. Also included in the ticket price is an audio guide, which brings certain details of the church to vivid life.

Location on our Map
Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours – Website

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April 26, 2016 at 1:55 pm Comments (0)

The Montreal Science Centre

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A huge complex located within the Old Port, the Montreal Science Centre introduces children to the worlds of science and technology with hands-on workshops, experiments and games. The focus of this center is almost entirely on kids, but we were drawn by a temporary exhibit called “Animal Inside Out.”

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Adults aren’t going to get much out of the Montreal Science Centre’s permanent exhibits, but kids will have a blast. The museum’s main attraction is called “Human,” and explores the human body with a wide-range of activities that exercise all of the senses. Another permanent exhibit is the “Creative Factory,” which is basically the high-tech playground of every child’s dreams, although it’s questionable whether any scientific knowledge seeps into their brains as they spin themselves around on a disc, play with derby cars, or forge two-meter whirlwinds in a chamber.

Luckily, the Montreal Science Centre also has awesome temporary exhibits, and “Animal Inside Out” is probably one that should carry an NC-17 rating. If I’d seen this as a kid, I’d have nightmares for a week! The title was accurate: it features real animals (including humans) displayed from the inside out. They’ve been peeled back layer-by-layer, revealing the muscles which lay under the flesh, the capillary systems, the internal organs and the bones.

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It’s the work of German scientist Gunther von Hagen, who sparked controversy years ago with his famous Body Works exhibit, which used the same embalming technique (called “plastination”) on humans. We never had the chance to see Body Works, but “Animal Inside Out” was fascinating. You don’t realize just how similar humans are to other species until you start stripping back the layers.

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The Science Centre also has an excellent IMAX theater, which shows both nature documentaries and mainstream hits like Star Wars. And nearby, there’s another outdoor attraction that kids will love. Voiles en Voiles is a pirate-themed aerial adventure park where children can harness up to climb ropes, crawl across logs and speed down ziplines. It looks like a blast; if I were twelve again, I would try to spend every day here.

Locations on our Map: Montreal Science Centre | Voiles en Voiles
Montreal Science Centre – Website
Voiles en Voiles – Website

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April 20, 2016 at 7:18 pm Comments (0)

Le Centre d’histoire de Montréal

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If your thirst for history isn’t quenched after visiting the Archaeology and History Complex Pointe-à-Callière, then walk a few dozen meters down the Place d’Youville and into the Montreal History Center. I’m not sure we’ve visited another city which has two history museums in such close proximity to each other, let alone two as impressive as these.

Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal

The Pointe-à-Callière is the larger and more memorable of the two museums, but the History Center has a lot to recommend it as well, including the fact that it’s much cheaper. The museum occupies the old red-brick building of the Central Fire Station, which closed in 1972.

The permanent exhibition, found on the bottom floor, takes visitors on a well-organized tour through the centuries. Whereas the Pointe-à-Callière focused on the archaeology, here the emphasis is on the people of Montreal. A series of exhibits allows you to “meet” the different groups who have come to the island, from the Iroquois, English and French, to immigrants from Ireland and even a modern family from Chile.

Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal

We also liked the short videos that accompanied every epoch of Montreal’s history. Using maps and old photographs, these demonstrated in a chronological fashion how the city has grown from its earliest days behind fortified walls, to the installation of tramways and metro lines, and its eventual expansion over the entire island.

On its upper floors, the History Center hosts temporary exhibits, most of which are probably pretty good, if the one we saw is any indication. The exhibition titled “Scandal! Vice, Crime and Morality in Montreal, 1940-1960” introduced us to the city’s famously seedy side. Underground gay clubs, secret casinos, Mafia bosses gunned down in broad daylight and a notoriously corrupt police force? I want to hear more about this Montreal!

Location on our Map
Centre d’histoire de Montréal – Website

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April 17, 2016 at 10:48 pm Comment (1)

Museum of Archaeology and History Pointe-à-Callière

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Before doing anything else, newcomers to Montreal might want to check out the Archaeology and History Complex Pointe-à-Callière. Located at the site where Montreal was born, this museum takes visitors on a journey through the life of the city, from its earliest occupation into the present day.

Pointe-à-Callière Museum

The tour starts in a small auditorium overlooking a set of ruins. Pointe-à-Callière is more than just an archaeology museum; it’s also an archaeological site. Before the museum opened in 1992, scientists had spent a decade here, digging into the city’s past and revealing over six hundred years worth of artifacts. This is the spot where the first settlers came ashore about four hundred years ago, and where some of the city’s original buildings were erected.

We sat down in the theater, put headphones on, and spent the next twenty minutes watching a show which brought Montreal’s history to life, with scenes illuminated atop the exposed ruins. The story started centuries before the arrival of the Europeans, with the Iroquois and Algonquin settling the island. We learned about the founding of the French city, the struggles and successes with the native population, the switch from French to English dominion, the city’s experience during the Great Depression and the World Wars, and how Montreal has grown into the modern age.

Pointe-à-Callière Museum

Once the show had finished, we moved downstairs into the archaeological site to examine some of the ruins uncovered at the Pointe-à-Callière, including the Royal Customs House and the old Catholic Graveyard. We saw the remains of the Little Saint-Pierre River, which was swallowed up and used for sewage by the expanding city. And we learned about Montreal’s tumultuous relationship with the Iroquois, which came to an end in 1701 with the “Great Peace,” when a massive delegation of forty tribes declared a ceasefire with the settlers.

Other sections of the museum are more geared toward children, including a permanent exhibition about pirates, and sandboxes where kids can conduct their own archaeological digs. There are also wide-ranging temporary exhibits in the neighboring Mariners’ House. The show which happened to be there during our visit was dedicated to Agatha Christie. That might at first seem like an odd fit for an archaeology museum, but the exhibition concentrated on the famous author’s second marriage to Sir Max Mallowan, an archaeologist. With him, she traveled to the Middle East, and participated in excavations which had a great influence upon her writing.

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After finishing with the exhibits in the Mariners’ House, we returned to the Éperon Building and ascended to the top floor, where we enjoyed views of the Old Port and Old Montreal from the outdoor platform. And then, having fully earned a big meal, we descended to the third floor and sat down at L’Arrivage, the museum’s restaurant. A fancier place with ultra-correct waiters and a reasonably-priced lunchtime menu, this is a popular place and requires a reservation.

Location on our Map
Archaeology and History Complex Pointe-à-Callière – Website

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April 14, 2016 at 1:15 pm Comments (0)

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Our Home in Montreal The most difficult part of our travel project is the search for a suitable temporary home. 91 days is a strange amount of time, neither short- nor long-term, and it's always scary to book an apartment in a city we've never visited. So, when we luck out with a place as nice as our home in Montreal, we feel like we should share.
For 91 Days