I just got back from an incredible weekend in Montreal. I had only been to Canada previously for a few hours when I went to Niagara Falls a few years ago with Ariel O’Connor while I was visiting the Buffalo State art conservation program. I decided to go for the weekend traveling alone, I am really intense when I travel, trying to see as much as possible, walking cities up and down, and I didn’t want to subject someone to my whims for a weekend. I also really like traveling alone, a holdover from half-a-year I spent backpacking around through Poland, Hungary, Spain, and Italy. I had 3 guidebooks with me, The Rough Guide to Montreal, Frommer’s Guide to Montreal & Quebec City, and Insight Guide Montreal. These were my sources for facts about the city for this trip and this blog post.
OLD MONTREAL Vieux Montreal
I started out going toward the Notre-Dame Basilica. I had the ahhhhhhh moment staring up at the two towers, 227 feet tall, called La Preservence and La Temperance. The architect of the basilica, James O’Donnell, converted to Catholicism after his experience building the church, and he is the only layman buried in the church.
I think Gothic churches are my favorite, there is something inspiring about gazing up to the sky, realizing how tiny you are.
This church is in an interesting square, many other architecture styles surround it. On one side of the square is the Edifice Aldred which was built in 1931 to resemble the Empire State Building in New York City. The Edifice New York Life Insurance, the red building, was Montreal’s first skyscraper in 1888. Not pictured is a modern skyscraper made of wall of glass on the other side of the square. I found the assortment of buildings in this square fascinating, it is not often I can see so many styles in one area.
I continued to explore Vieux Montreal, walking down to the river and over to see the Eglise Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours, or Sailor’s Church. This Church was built in 1673, founded by Marguerite Bourgeoys, one of the first teachers who came from France to Canada. The church is called the “Sailor’s Church” as it would have been visited by sailors after docking at the port Montreal. The interior of the church is decorated with a nautical style, with small wood ships serving as votive candle holders hanging from the ceiling. The church is small but beautifully decorated. There is a museum that tells the story of Marguerite Bourgeoys, and a tower viewing over the port and the city.
I did not go to either, but I lit a candle with the prayer that I would remember where I had booked my hotel that evening. I realized once I arrived in Montreal that I had forgotten the name of my hotel, and I had not printed the reservation e-mail, I had actually mapped myself to another hotel with a similar name. I think this was because my French is….lacking.
From the church it is a short walk along the rue St-Paul to reach the Place Jacques-Cartier. This is a charming little town square, with cafe’s lining either side you can follow the square uphill to the Rue-Notre Dame. At the top of the square is a statue of Horatio Nelson, the hero of Trafalger. The original statue was erected in 1809. However, the statue was a target for French separatists for years as it is in the French quarter of the city. One account is damage from these attacks are the reason the statue had to be replaced. The first case I found of an attempt at the statue was in November 1893. Another belief is because the statue was 200 years old it was suffering wear from the environment and had to be replaced with a limestone copy.
After going to this end of the port, I doubled back and went past the Basilica Notre-Dame square again, turning left and going down to the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History. (Point-a-Calliere Musee d-archaeologique) It is a wonderful building that resembles a ship (a theme here?). The tour begins with a presentation in a room looking into the remains of the first building on that site, the customs house. It really must be called a presentation instead of a video, there are hologram images projected into the spaces in the remains of the building, a fog effect, lights, everything but pyrotechnics really. Each chair has headphones so you can choose to listen to the presentation in french or english, and Montreal was very accomodating every place I went with information in both languages. After the presentation you walk through the ruins, underneath the street, and look at exhibits about the archaeology of Montreal told through exhibits of excavated ceramics, metals, and organic materials.
I was mainly interested in the temporary exhibit about Pirates. It was very well done, you enter and board a ship, joining a pirate’s crew, and then see the items pirates would have owned and used. There are many interactive exhibits and I greatly enjoyed flipping through sets of pirate flags to see who flew the skeleton and hourglass combination. It was a bit crowded on the ship though, and I was surprised at the number of people interacting with the exhibits, I had expected more children, instead I found adults at the exhibits.
This ended day one, I went to the hotel and for a walk in the Park. I found a ginger cat to follow around, I wondered if the cat was english or french, she was tres jolie.