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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.

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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)

The Chalet du Mont Royal and Kondiaronk Belvedere

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Usually, the first thing we do after arriving in a city is ascend to its highest point for a birds-eye view. But we waited a full month before heading up Mont Royal, the hill (sorry, “mountain”) which provides Montreal its name. When the weather finally cleared up enough, we found that the view was worth the wait.

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The first truly nice day of the year happened to be on a Saturday, and the Parc du Mont-Royal was packed, the paths which wind around the slopes as crowded as a city street during rush hour. But we joined the throngs of joggers, bikers and families, and made our way from the park’s eastern slope all the way up to the Chalet du Mont Royal, where there’s a large platform with one of the city’s best views.

We started our trek up the hill (mountain!) at the memorial statue to Sir George-Étienne Cartier, a Quebecois statesman who was the father of the Canadian Confederation: the 1867 union of the four colonies of Quebec, Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. From this plaza, a wide path called the Chemin Olmsted winds gently up the slopes of Mont Royal.

We reached the Chalet du Mont Royal after an easy half-hour walk. There’s a law in Montreal restricting the height of skyscrapers to 200 meters, so that they remain underneath the summit. As a result, the view from the chalet’s Kondiaronk Belvedere is outstanding. The viewpoint is named for the great Huron chief who was instrumental in forming the Great Peace of 1701, which arguably saved the city from being wiped out during the Fur Wars.

The Chalet itself is large and curiously empty. It’s a beautiful building, with wood-carved squirrels supporting the arches of the roof… and nothing inside, apart from a few chairs, bathrooms and vending machines. It seems like a wasted opportunity for there not to be a restaurant or at least a cafe inside this building. But regardless, it’s a nice spot to relax after the ascent. And with downtown Montreal laid out before you, the view couldn’t be better.

Locations on our Map: Sir George-Étienne Cartier Statue | Chalet du Mont Royal

Framed Photos Of Montreal

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May 21, 2016 at 2:37 pm Comments (0)

The Views from the Olympic Tower

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Built in 1976 for the Summer Games and attached to the Olympic Stadium, Montreal Tower’s height of 165 meters (541 feet) makes it the tallest inclined tower in the world. We took the funicular up to the top, where there’s an observatory that provides views of the Olympic Park, Mont Royal and downtown Montreal.

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With its 45-degree incline, it would be an understatement to call the Montreal Tower “slightly tilted.” For comparison, the Tower of Pisa only leans at five degrees. However, Montreal Tower doesn’t exactly seem in danger of falling over. It’s solid, with a massive underground concrete base that’s the weight of three aircraft carriers.

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The funicular climbs the tower every ten minutes, whisking you to the top for one of the Montreal’s best views. The Olympic Park is in the eastern neighborhood of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve; from here, you can see the entire downtown district in one incredible panorama. And you get a great sense for the true size of Mont Royal — it takes up nearly the same area as the downtown and is the same height than the city’s tallest skyscrapers.

Although you can’t step outside, the observatory has windows in every direction, with views of the St. Lawrence to the south, the industrial neighborhoods to the east, and the Botanic Garden to the north. And of course, right underneath, there’s the Olympic Stadium. Formerly home to the Expos, the stadium is now mostly unoccupied and is known as the “Big O” for the doughnut-shaped hole in its roof. Many Montrealers, however, think of it as the “Big Owe.” Its astronomical construction cost of $260 million was finally paid off in 2006, thirty years after the games themselves.

Location of Montreal Tower on our Map
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May 20, 2016 at 2:39 pm Comments (0)

The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium

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One of the buildings which makes up Montreal’s “Space for Life” is the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. It opened in 2013, and features two full-dome theaters which allow visitors to tour the universe.

Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium

The “Space for Life” is said to be the world’s first park dedicated to both nature and humanity. It’s based in the Olympic Park, and includes the Insectarium, the Botanic Garden and the Biodome, along with the Olympic Tower. You can buy joint tickets which will get you into any combination of the sights… but I’d recommend against seeing the Planetarium at the end of a busy day. The Powell Exhaustion Equation states: tired bodies + bean bags + total dark = expensive nap.

We settled onto our beanbags inside the Chaos Theater and got cozy, while the lights dimmed to envelope us in complete blackness. “Uh-oh,” I thought. “I’m never going to make it!” Luckily, the show was so fascinating, that staying conscious didn’t involve much of a struggle. “Dark Universe,” presented by Neil DeGrasse-Tyson, was an excellent presentation which took us on a journey through the least-known aspects of the cosmos.

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Dark Universe was the shorter of the two shows, and upon its completion, we had some time to check out the Planetarium’s exhibit on meteors and down a few shots of espresso, before heading into the Milky Way Theater for a show called “Aurorae.”

This was a more typical planetarium-type room, with seats inclined upward, and a central globe that was able to reproduce the night sky across the dome. First, we saw how the sky over Montreal would look tonight. An emcee pointed out some of the major constellations, such as the Big Dipper, Ursa Major and Leo, and taught us how to find Jupiter. And then, we embarked on a tour of the Northern Lights, during which we saw time-lapsed footage of the dancing lights and learned the scientific explanation for the phenomenon.

The Rio Tinto Planetarium offers shows in English, although less frequently than French-language shows, so make sure to check the schedule before heading over. The programs might change, but they always being with a more scientific show, such as “Dark Universe”, followed by one with a lighter touch, such as “Aurora.” It’s a good mix, and a trip here makes for a perfect rainy day excursion.

Location on our Map
Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium – Website

Get Your Very Own Telescope to Watch The Stars

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May 16, 2016 at 2:19 pm Comments (2)

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!”

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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 Beginner’s Guide to Montreal

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The day after we arrived in Montreal, a freak snowstorm hit the city, stranding us indoors. We would have rather been outside exploring, but the bad weather provided an excuse for us to sit down and read about our new home. Here are the facts and figures that jumped out at us.

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Size: With a total population of just over four million, Montreal is the largest city in Quebec, the second-largest in Canada, and just beats out Seattle as the nineteenth-largest city in North America. Although it’s not the capital of Quebec (that would be nearby Quebec City), Montreal is the undisputed center of the province’s culture and commerce.

Layout: Montreal occupies a large island roughly in the middle of Saint Lawrence River, which connects the Northern Atlantic with Lake Ontario. In the center of this island is a large hill called Mount Royal, which provides the city with its name. The Island of Montreal is the world’s most populated fresh-water island.

History: The city was founded in 1642 by French settlers, and quickly became the center of New France’s fur trade. Before the arrival of the Europeans, it had been home to various tribes of the First Nations, the indigenous people of Canada, particularly the Iroquois and Algonquin. The British took Quebec in 1760, after the Seven Years War, and Montreal became part of Canada.

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Language: Les Montréalaise parlent Français, s’il vous plâit! But that’s not the whole story. French is definitely the dominant language in the city, but nearly 20% of residents are native English-speakers, while another 20% have another primary language (Italian, Arabic and Spanish are the most prominent, each at around 3%). Montreal is nothing if not multi-cultural, and you’ll also hear Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Vietnamese and Greek in various pockets of the city.

Economy: Montreal boasts one of the world’s largest inland ports, and has traditionally been one of North America’s main railroad cities. Canada’s largest oil refinery was based here, though it closed in 2010. Important industries today include film and television, videogames, finance and the aerospace sector.

Culture: Approximately 72% of the city’s population have at one time been a member of the Cirque du Soleil, and you can’t walk down the sidewalk without getting kicked in the face by some clown flipping around on a curtain. But the city has a lot more to offer than acrobatics, including a seemingly endless supply of theaters, concert halls, festivals and clubs. Montreal has a legendary indie music scene, and is home to both the world’s largest jazz festival, as well as its largest comedy festival.

Sports: You might be shocked to learn that the most popular sport in this Canadian city is hockey. The Montreal Canadiens have won more Stanley Cups than any other NHL team, and are massively popular… although they’re currently in the midst of a long drought. Baseball had been popular here until 2004, when the Expos moved to Washington. In 2012, Major League Soccer expanded to the city with the Impact, who have proven popular. And Montreal is also home to one of the world’s most-watched televised sporting events: the Canadian Grand Prix, held on the Island of Notre Dame.

Cheap Flights to Montreal

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April 11, 2016 at 11:29 pm Comments (0)
The Chteau Ramezay 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.
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