Like most cities, Montreal can be ugly and noisy, with its constant construction, heavy traffic, plain gray skyscrapers, chain restaurants, and cloudy days. But it can also be surprisingly beautiful... and nowhere is that more apparent than around Saint-Louis Square, in the neighborhood of the Plateau.
Every Sunday, a curious gathering takes place on the slopes of Mont Royal, near the statue of Sir George-Étienne Cartier. Men and women bring their tam-tams, grab a seat, and spend the entire afternoon pounding out impromptu rhythms, smoking and dancing. You might be thinking, "This sounds like it'd be popular with hippies." And you would be right.
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.
Visible across from the Old Port of Montreal, Île Sainte-Hélène is home to the Jean-Drapeau Park, and many of Montreal's favorite summertime activities. With nature trails, weekend festivals, an amusement park and a pool, not to mention the Biosphère, there's plenty to on the island. We spent the day there, and made sure to swing by the Stewart Museum, located in an old British fort and dedicated to the history of Montreal.
An artificial island created for the 1967 World Expo, the Île Notre-Dame is found in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River. The Notre-Dame and its sister island, the Île Sainte-Hélène, together make up the Parc Jean-Drapeau, which is among Montreal's most popular summertime hangout areas.
There's nothing rich people enjoy more than lording it over the rest of us, especially when they can do so literally. Montreal began life as a provincial fur-trading village, but as it grew in wealth and prestige, the richest and most powerful members of society started to build fabulous mansions on the slopes of Mont Royal, in a neighborhood which would eventually be coined the "Golden Square Mile."
Founded in 1821 on a royal charter from King George IV, McGill is today considered to be Canada's leading university. Its original, downtown campus located at the foot of Mont Royal is a thing of beauty, and among its Victorian-era buildings, you'll find the Redpath Museum of Natural History.
A small island found just off the foot of Montreal, Île Bizard is named after one of New France's original settlers, Jacques Bizard. The island has been largely spared from over-development, and a healthy percentage of it is today protected in the Bois-de-l'Île-Bizard Nature Park. We spent a beautiful summer day there, exploring the park's diverse ecosystems, which include swampland, plains and forest.
Found in an old maintenance yard near Canada's first railway line, the Exporail Museum introduces visitors to some of the country's earliest trains. With dozens of refurbished models, many of which you can enter and explore, exhibitions and movies about the railway culture, and even a miniature train which you can ride, this is a much more impressive museum than we had been expecting.
In 1912, the Canadian Northern Railroad Line bought a swath of undeveloped land to the north of Mont Royal. Architects and urban planners were hired to design a new model community, which would become known as the Town of Mont-Royal. In its hundred-plus years of existence, this suburb has remained a green, affluent, English-speaking oasis in the middle of Montreal.