Tuesday - Downtown Montreal

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May 15th 2018
Published: June 20th 2018
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After our hotel breakfast, we met our guide for the day, Christian, in the lobby for our tour "Facets of Daily Life in Montreal," which is to include the Theater District, McGill University, the Golden Square Mile, and the Underground City (a taste of that yesterday).

One of the things that Christian emphasized was the immigration trends, and how that shaped the neighborhoods in Montreal. Christian talked a bit about schools in Montreal; some are primarily Francophone (French speaking) while others are Anglophone, and still others are bi-lingual. In addition there are public and private variations of both. It can be a complex decision for families, but some of the decision is simplified by the constitution, which eliminates some of the conflict. Non-citizens must send their kids to Francophone schools, but English-speaking citizens may choose the best fit for their family. That's one complication I had never thought of!

Along the walk, we saw small and large art installations. This one (just a temporary display) is a comment on the impact of man on the oceans.

We started walking in the Theater District, which was the early home of Montreal's Red Light District. Through the years many of the buildings have changed hands and changed purposes, but red is still a dominant color in the neighborhood, still marking out the old locations of prostitution and pleasure! One story Christian shared was that in an effort to stop burlesque strip shows, the city introduced a rule that a dancer could not leave the stage wearing less clothing than she wore entering the stage. One exotic dancer side-stepped that rule by entering the stage with minimal (or NO) clothing, and getting dressed during her act!

We went below ground to the Metro, which was pretty amazing. It was so clean and well-lit, with artistic displays throughout. When our train arrived, I was amazed at how fast it seemed to be going. Christian said that was pretty normal, and explained that the tracks between the stations are not flat. They actually descend slightly and ascend equally when coming into the next station. While not noticeable by the casual rider, this is an energy saving feature that adds to the acceleration naturally and helps with the deceleration when approaching the next station. He also mentioned that the Metro is especially smooth and quiet because it runs on rubber tires instead of steel wheels!

Christian talked a lot about the Montreal elite and about the movement of the upper classes from the Old Town area continuously farther and farther inland, away from the noise and bustle of the harbor. As new immigrants came to the city, they moved into the empty places left as the upper classes moved on to bigger and better places. There were about 60 families in the upper echelon of Montreal society; these families controlled 60% of the wealth in Canada! Those 60 families formed a core area in what is now the center of the city in an area called "The Golden Square Mile." There is only one of those families remaining and retaining their wealth - the Molsons. They even founded their own bank!

We exited the Metro underground near the entrance to Place Desjardins, a complex of more than 110 stores and restaurants, as well as entertainment events all year long, which is great for getting to and from in the dead of winter or the sultry heat of summer. As is the rest of the underground city, the Metro connects it all to the entire city of Montreal.

We wandered the streets in a drizzling rain (really the only less-than-ideal weather day of our trip) and went past McGill University. We didn't have a chance to go onto the campus, but it was a beautiful location at the base of Mt. Royal. From the campus you can climb the 400 wooden stairs to the crest of Mt.Royal. Their "mountain" is really more of a fairly large hill, with 3 "peaks" ranging from about 650 - 750 feet above sea level. The park is about 500 acres, one that will have to wait for my next trip here!

From there, we strolled to McGill University and walked around near the Christ Church Cathedral, the seat of the Anglican Diocese in Montreal. We didn't go inside, but it was a beautiful church from the outside, and the courtyard was peaceful with flowering trees and benches. The church was built of stone in the early 1800s; even the steeple was originally stone. But the steeple had to be rebuilt because by the early 20th century, the weight (1750 TONS!) had caused the steeple to lean nearly 4 feet to one side.

The next stop was the Fine Arts Museum of Montreal, which is comprised of several buildings conveniently linked underground. One of my favorite exhibits there was the Inuit carvings in the Contemporary Inuit Art room. There was also a Picasso, and a chess board by Dali, with silver and gold pieces in the shape of fingers! The suspended rock was a real eye catcher!

After spending more time wandering around in museums learning more about the culture and history of Montreal, I headed back to the hotel to prepare for dinner with some new friends. We went to a great little place called Maggie Oakes. The decor was very cool, including a wall of greens that they could harvest for their dishes! I asked the server how they watered it and kept it fresh, and of course there was some elaborate system to water from the top. I'm guessing they didn't use much from the wall or it really would have looked picked over! It's amazing because the wall was not near a window, so they must have used artificial light during the day...but it was beautiful! It was really nice to be able to walk everywhere. For the most part we had great weather, and the walk back to the hotel after dinner was a great way to end the day!


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