Monday - Old Montreal


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North America » Canada » Quebec » Montréal » Old Montréal
May 14th 2018
Published: June 7th 2018
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After breakfast buffet at the hotel, Sylvie introduced Marie who would lead us on a walking-history and culture tour; in the afternoon we would have the rest of the day to explore. The potential difficulty is the fact that nearly all the museums are closed on Mondays, so with the beautiful weather, we planned to spend the afternoon in the Botanical Gardens, but that was not to be, since THEY are also closed on Monday!

Marie promised to be entertaining and she was! she started out by telling us that Montreal is on an island, with its own "mountain," Mount Royale (get it? MontReal). It's really more of a huge hill, but we learned during the tour that Montreal's tallest building cannot exceed the height of their mountain! The a park surrounding and including Mount Royal is a huge recreation area created by Frederic Law Olmsted, the same guy who designed New York's Central Park. Cool, huh? The park has miles of recreational trails and is used year round by the hearty Montrealers who come out and play in the winter too. The park includes cemeteries, the first hospital for the city, churches, and is even home to part of McGill University.

Marie mentioned that much of the history and culture in Montreal revolves around the centuries-old conflicts between the French and the British. The first reference she pointed out was at Place Jacques-Cartier. At the north end of the square is a statue is of Horatio Nelson, a British Naval Officer who defeated the French in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars. It is thought to be the oldest monument in Montreal, possibly in all of Quebec. Subsequently the statue of Jean Vauquelin, a French Naval Officer who stood against the British in another battle, was erected at the opposite end of the square; the two statues face each other across the square. Marie said there was a conscious effort "to balance" the number of French and British statues in Montreal! She also commented at this time that the French citizens of Montreal disliked Napoleon because he seemed to be at least non-religious or worse anti-religion, certainly not supportive of Catholicism.

We walked past Chateau Ramezay, but couldn't go in since it was one of the many Montreal museums and attractions that are closed on Mondays. The Chateau was home to the governor of Montreal, Claude deRamezay and his family, including 16 kids! The building changed hands and purposes multiple times over the years; in 1775 Benjamin Franklin lived there and had an office there, when the American Revolutionary soldiers held Montreal for a short time. That faction tried to woo the French to join in the young colony's efforts to throw off the rule of the British. But alas, Franklin received no support from the French for our revolution...Even though the French held no love for the British who were occupying Montreal at the time, they felt that the devil they knew was preferable to the devil that they didn't know. The British had pledged to allow Montreal to continue Catholicism and speaking French, and they had no such assurances from the young revolutionaries that they would do the same! Franklin's pleas fell on deaf ears, and eventually he left to return to the colonies.

Then we went to Marche Bonsecours, or Bonsecours (Good Help) Market, named for its next door neighbor, Notre Dame de Bonsecours Chapel. (The Chapel is also known as the Sailor's Chapel, and you can bet I returned for a visit later in the week!) Being right on the river, the location was an ideal place for a market, as ships were able to load and unload from the river docks right out front. Over the years, the building also served a few governmental purposes, including as Montreal's City Hall for a period in the late 1800s. It continued to serve as a Farmer's Market, including meeting and banquet facilities until it was slated to be demolished in the 1960s, when it was then granted status as a national historic site, and was saved and restored. It now houses small shops and restaurants.

While we were standing in front of the market, Marie also discussed the evolution of the coat of arms and the flag. The slogan "Concordia Salus" means "Together We Prosper," and seems to capture the attitude of the city. The current coat of arms is a bit different from the one on the front of the market, but reflected the symbol at the time the market was restored. Most of the elements are similar, but the formats and placements have changed; you can still see various iterations of these symbols on public buildings around the city. If you double click on the picture of the market building, you can to zoom in to view the details on the coat of arms above the entrance of the Market. Representing the

** French - the Beaver (trapping) was changed to the Fleur-de-Lys
** English - the representation of the Rose of Lancaster has been modified
** Scots - the Thistle
** Irish - the Shamrock
** First Nations people - a White Pine in the center of a red dot (fire circle)

Marie also mentioned that Montreal has a thriving film industry, and that many scenes that appear to be in France were actually filmed in Montreal and Quebec. There is also a relatively new attraction, where you can log onto their app and find evening light shows around the city, featuring historical buildings and dramatize some historical events. I was hoping to see some of these at night, but didn't come across them. A friend on the tour happened across one and said there was apparently a motion sensor because as she walked through it, the light patterns on the cobblestones changed so it appeared that she was walking on water! Marie also pointed out differences in the cut stone used on the buildings...the French cut stone with a rough surface, while the British buildings featured a smoother cut.

From there we headed to Place Royale, the oldest part of Montreal. In 1645, Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve, founded the city of Ville-Marie in New France, at the intersection of the St Lawrence River and a smaller tributary that is no longer present. The street intersection there today marks the original locations of the St Lawrence and the smaller river. Maisonneuve built his house there and also reserved a public square near the waterfront, for meetings and commerce.

There is a marker in the plaza commemorating the founding of Ville-Marie, and for the 375-year anniversary of its founding, additional markers were installed, containing the signature marks of the First Nations people who signed a peace treaty there. An early reason for French migration to Montreal was that the church felt that France had become anti-Catholic with the rise of Napoleon. The church was looking for a place to settle where the people could practice their religion freely. The area that was to become Montreal had already been "discovered" for its beaver fur trade, and the French had a somewhat stable relationship with the First Nations people and enjoyed a satisfying trade relationship. The stylish French men were enamored of beaver fur hats, and Montreal was initially built on the income from fur trade; it took 17 beavers to provide enough fur for a man's hat!

Across the river, we could see Habitat '67, built for Expo '67 (Unfortunately, I couldn't get a close enough photo from here to be worthwhile!). Ironically, the building that was erected to demonstrate an economical style of pre-fab cubical architecture that could be achievable for all income levels (while providing private garden and terrace areas for high-concentration living), had budget woes because it was more expensive to complete than expected. It is now private condominiums, though I understand you CAN stay in one by booking through Air BnB!

Also evident in the Place Royal area are remnants of the grain silos that dotted the river front. At one point Montreal was the foremost exporter of grain, but through the years, some of the silos had become eye-sores and were demolished. However, some have been restored and can be eye-catching monuments to the past. This one is connected with the Pointe-a-Callieres Museum of Archaeology and History, which is on the spot of significant archaeology digs. Sadly, this was another museum I missed!

The next stop was the Montreal World Trade Center, one of many places that is part of the vast underground network (or indoor city) of Montreal. The building is actually six interconnected, multi-story buildings, joined together behind a common facade, with a high glass ceiling. It is home to many businesses, at least one hotel, many stores and restaurants. The bridges and stairways between levels add to the visual appeal.

The concourse is part of the immense underground network of more than 20 miles of tunnels below the city. There are more than 190 entrances to the network. It started as a joint project between two building owners who wanted to be connected specifically for the harsh winters, but they've found that modern air conditioning is a bonus in the hot and steamy Montreal summers! The miles of tunnels increased as building owners decided they wanted to join the underground connectivity. The tunnels are not owned by the city, but rather by the community of businesses that joined in. With constant video surveillance, the tunnels may be safer than the streets above! Marie said the biggest danger is getting lost - People who have lived in the city for years have gotten lost and had to leave through one of the street level exits to see the surrounding area above ground to know where they are!

Marie pointed out the distinctive tile pattern running through the concourse, which marked the location of the original fortification around Old Montreal, the site of the old wall around the city; it now marks the border between "old" and "new" Montreal. The center concourse also provides space for public art displays, where they had a section of the Berlin Wall; the indoor location protects this historic piece.

The day's tour ended at Place d'Armes, a public square with the Maisonneuve Monument as the centerpiece; the square is surrounded by Notre Dame Basilica and the St. Suplice Seminary, The New York Life Building, and the Banc of Montreal Headquarters, and the Art-Deco Aldred Building. Along a side street of the square, is another monument to the French-English dichotomy: a pair of statues called The English Pug and The French Poodle (also known as "The Snobs"). These are relatively recent additions to the public art in Montreal. The English man with the Pug is staring scornfully at the Basilica, while the French woman with the poodle is looking the same way at the Banc of Montreal, which represents the English dominance in finance. They are on opposite corners and facing away from each other; the dogs, much more sensible than their humans, are looking longingly at each other, as if wanting to get down and play together!

The Maisonneuve Monument in the center of the square was installed to celebrate the city's 250th anniversary. While Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve is considered one of the founders of Montreal, his co-founder Jeanne Mance, who arrived on the same ship in the same month as Chomedey, is relegated to a smaller sculpture on a lower level of the piece. According to Marie, Mance was the practical part of the pair, managing the money and mundane details of the new city, while Chomedey claimed the credit! In addition to those occupations, Mance was a teacher and nurse, operating a small clinic from her home before founding a hospital.

A little bit about the buildings surrounding the square: Note that the Basilica de Notre Dame, is quite handily right next door to the Banc of Montreal, which kind of reminded me of the old Cleveland Trust building on East 9th and Euclid! The Seminary St. Suplice is on the other side of the Basilica.

The red brick building is the New York Life building, which was built in the late 1890s as the Canadian home for the insurance company. The lower floors were made available as offices and quickly filled with attorneys and financiers, since this was a busy financial area at the time. The red sandstone building was the first "sky scraper" at the time, with 8 floors and the city's first elevator, according to Marie. To get men used to the new-fangled contraption, the building owner paid a woman to hang around the lobby and get into the scary box to ride to an upper floor. The men, not to be out-done by a mere woman, could not admit to their fear of the box! Next door to the New York Life building is the Alred building, which mimics the Art Deco buildings New York.

In our walk around the city, we saw numerous (innumerable!) churches, and Marie mentioned how much church attendance has declined there, similar to many places around the world. Before the 1960s, most Catholic people attended mass weekly, if not more frequently. But as fewer people attended church, many of the congregations and parishes began to consolidate and/or close, leaving many beautiful historic churches empty, and people began to find ways to repurpose the buildings. Some churches were transformed to be used for other religions as new immigrants brought their language and customs to Montreal. Still others found new life as performance spaces, libraries, a circus school, and even a gym with a climbing wall!

If you are wondering how I managed to capture so many details, it's because I was indeed walking around with a note pad! One of my fellow travelers remarked that she was impressed that not only could I walk and chew gum at the same time, I could take notes and not fall on the cobblestones! And I was not alone...the next day I noticed that there was another woman taking notes!

After we bid farewell to the group for the first part of the afternoon, Pam and I stopped at a sidewalk cafe, Xavier Artisan, for lunch. For a simple sandwich on a baguette, it was delicious, perhaps more so because of the 5 miles we had walked in the morning! The ambience of sitting at a patio on the sidewalk added to the experience!

After lunch, we had planned to visit the Botanical Gardens to enjoy the beautiful day, but they too were closed on Monday! Instead, Sylvie (the Road Scholar Guide) got us tickets for The Montreal Observation Wheel. While not what we had planned, it was great fun! From there we could see Mont Royal, the old port area development, the Biodome, and Habitat '67. It was a beautiful day to be up that high! I enjoyed seeing how they are re-purposing some of the old port area with an escape room, a zip-line, several pirate-ship square-riggers, and a nice park with fountains and a jogging trail. There were of course, food trucks parked there for our convenience! The Biodome is across the river, and this was the closest we got to it!

From there, we enjoyed boat ride on the St Lawrence River on Le Petit Navire, floating down the river towards the Great Lakes. We were treated to the river view of the city, and could see some new developments there, including a floating spa! Bota Bota started life as a 170-foot ferry, but has been repurposed (there's that word again!) as a floating spa, complete with multiple pools, a garden, saunas, steam rooms, hammocks and lounge chairs on the deck next to the river. And since it's anchored in the river, it's constantly rocking!

At one point the small launch we were riding on turned the corner from a smaller tributary into the main force of the St. Lawrence, the boat spun in the current...even though I expected the current, it was more than I had thought it would be! Nearly everyone on the boat had a vocal reaction to the strong current!

When we got to shore, we met the group for drinks at The Keg, and several of us continued to dinner at Jardins Nelson. Delicious end to a fun day!

BE SURE TO SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE IF YOU DON'T SEE HABITAT '67 AND BOTA BOTA!


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