A little geography
Montréal is an island situated in the south of the province of Québec which is one of the ten provinces and 2 territories of Canada. Montréal is said to be shaped like a sock, I prefer to compare it to a boomerang. It is 51Km. long by 16 Km. wide and has a hill in its center called “Le Mont-Royal” which is 232m high.
A little history
Jacques Cartier, a Frenchman, was the first European to visit the island in 1534. Then, in 1612, Samuel de Champlain set up a fort on it to facilitate fur trading activities with the Indians. Walls were built to protect it, around, what is now known as, the old port. You can see parts of the old fortifications in the Pointe à Callière museum. But it is really in 1645 that people started to settle here. First a French lady by the name of Jeanne Mance built a hospital and then, a few years later, another woman, Marguerite Bourgeoys opened a school for both Indian and French children. She also founded a religious order called “La Congrégation de Notre Dame”. The Maison Saint Gabriel is still standing on the lot that she bought to welcome the “filles du Roy” (the orphan girls sent by the king to marry the soldiers and settlers here and raise the population numbers).
The city grew slowly, more or less comfortably with the neighboring Indians and the clergy became more and more powerful. In 1759 a battle between the French and the British ended with the British take-over. But the day to day lives of the people did not change much. The French held on to their language and their faith, and managed to survive as a group, an enclave within an English speaking America. Montreal went through the same periods as the rest of the western world: the industrial revolution, the wars, the economic depression. There were many fires and epidemics, yet Montréal continued to grow, spreading north, away from the port and downtown.
The 1960s saw a time dubbed “the quiet revolution” when, one could say, the entire province moved up into modern times.
There have been many waves of immigration over the years, starting in the 1800s when the Italians, the Jews, and the Irish came here to flee famine or persecution or hoping for a better life. Lately, people from Asia, Vietnam in particular, as well and the Caribbean and the middle east have also joined the large Montreal community. They have all contributed to the flavor of Montréal.
Some events have shaped Montréal also, leaving landmark buildings such as the world fair: “Expo 67” which left us the French pavilion that has been transformed into a casino, and the summer Olympics in 1976 which left us the Olympic stadium and it’s mast visible for miles.
I want to explain the city layout to you so you will understand where things are. The city is divided in neighbourhoods I will mention the most popular ones:
Vieux Montréal / Vieux port
These are so close that I put them together. This is the oldest area of Montreal and it has been restored quite nicely in the last few years.
You can walk along the water’s edge, you can rent all kinds of rolling vehicles and follow the cycling path along the Lachine canal.
There are many shops, restaurants and terraces in the area, at least two churches worth seeing and a couple more museums. It might not be quiet but it should be fun.
There is a metro (subway) station not too far away which will connect you to everything else in the city.
If you are good walkers you can get to China Town by foot from Old Montréal or from downtown. It is easy to spot as there are giant red and gold arches with sculptures at the entrance. China town is delightfull to walk through. There is a hidden temple to discover, many restaurants and stores that sell mysterious herbs and medicines.
The other important area is downtown (centreville), where you will find more American style hotels. The shopping is done in this area, as this is where you find the “underground city”.
You have many interesting museums and more restaurants that you can want (more on food later). Many fashionable streets, each with it’s own character: Crescent, Bishop and De La Montagne are close together and offer mostly restaurants and bars. This is a nightime place popular with an English speaking crowd. Rue St Denis is more French speaking and is longer, so it offers both restaurants, terraces and bars as well as shops of all kinds. Finally St Laurent Boulevard is the in place to see and be seen, trendy avant garde bars and restaurants. By the way St Laurent boulevard, also called La Main, divides the city between east and west. So any address with Est on it, is necessarily to the east of St Laurent.
The longest east/ west street is Sherbrooke street. It is a good reference point on a map. Just south of Sherbrooke is Ste Catherine with is the shopping street and also where the jazz fest is held (it gets closed off to car traffic for the occasion).
You will see mentioned in guide books the Golden Square Mile, it is part of downtown. This area, is bordered to the east by Park Avenue, to the west, by Atwater Street, OT the north by Pine Avenue and, to the south, by Dorchester boulevard, hence the name “Square Mile”.The Golden Square Mile’s heyday ranged between 1850 and 1930. More than 70% of all Canadian wealth was found here, in this area where the most influential Canadian families resided. Many of the homes of the Golden Square Mile are still standing. Over the years, many of them have been bought by McGill university and converted into faculties and student fraternities. This area is also called le quartier du musée referring to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Le Plateau is a more residential area, although is surrounds St Denis street which is very active, and filled with cafés and shops and terraces. It is a French speaking neighbourhood, and is popular with artists and creators. You will see, as in other areas also, many outdoor stairs, which are typical of Montréal
Further north, surrounding the open air Jean Talon Market, is little Italy. A warm colourful area, it offers many interesting food shops. And this is the place to be during soccer finals! Not far to the south along Saint Laurent boulevard is a charming Portuguese park (with azuleros).
Each neighbourhood is different and interesting in it’s own way, be it wealthy Westmount with the gorgeous views towards the south shore, Côte des Neiges with the University de Montreal and it’s very phallic tower next to….
… the Oratory and it’s very “feminine” dome, Outremont and its very Francophone population mingling with an Orthodox Jewish community.
Pointe Saint Charles which was a workers community but is now becoming fashionable as old warehouses along the Lachine Canal are being transformed into condos…. I could go on and on….a Maison St Gabriel: One of the oldest farmhouses still standing was bought by Marguerite Bourgeoys in 1668 to welcome the “Filles du Roy”, orphan girls that were sent here by the king to marry and procreate. It is now a museum that displays furniture that was listed in the inventory of 1722.
You will notice that we have quite a few parks in Montréal, the two largest being the Mount Royal park with sits on the side of Mount Royal which is our “mountain” (more a hill) and Parc Lafontaine more to the east. There is a lot of action there in the summer. On nice sundays you have “Les tam tam du dimanche” on parc Mont Royal when people come to play music and hang out…
Another area which has a lot to offer (if not in hotels at least in things to see ) is around the Olympic park,The stadium itself offers an interesting visit with a ride up it’s tower. And Right next to it you have the biomewhere you have 4 eco systems reproduced with flora and some fauna (not to be confused with the biosphere , former American pavilion on Ile Notre Dame with an exhibit on the fleuve St Laurent ). Across the street you have the botanical gardens which offer interesting visits both inside the green houses and outside on the grounds. Finally you have the insectarium… interesting also…
Montreal has so much to see I cannot begin to describe it all. But I will talk about my favorite sights, as I would for a friend visiting. Starting with the landmarks and then going by interests.
THE OLYMPIC PARK
The first area to visit might be the Olympic area. It has wonderful photo opportunities and offers a number of different activities. The first of which might be a visit of the stadium and a ride up the tower. There is a lot of interesting and technical information to learn about the infamous stadium. As for the ride, on a clear day you can see forever.
Next I would suggest a visit at the Biodome. It is housed inside what used to be the velodrome and it re creates four different eco systems, complete with with plants and animals. Walking into a tropical forest is always a surprise especially in the middle of winter. I like their boutique, it is filled with interesting gifts especially for kids. By the way, the word Biodome. comes from the Greek bios meaning life and domos meaning house.
Across Sherbrooke street lies the botanical garden. In the summer time I encourage you to visit the grounds either by foot or on the little train that rides through them. There are so many different gardens to see from the Chinese garden to the Japanese garden, from the monastery garden to the peace garden, from the medicinal plant garden to the poisonous plant garden, from the rose garden to the shade garden, from the flowery brook to the marsh and bog garden and the list goes on. When the weather turns cold check out the 10 exhibition green houses with their 36,000 plants.
Next door is the Insectarium with it’s 140 000 specimen. It is particularly interesting to visit during the bug eating activities. The building itself resembles a bug. There is also a wonderful butterfly house that is a delight to visit.
One last attraction worth visiting in the area, yet totally unrelated is the Château Dufresne.
On another day I would suggest old Montréal. This area has cobblestone streets and old buildings, it is full of cafés and boutiques. A tourist heaven. Just walking around is pleasant, if a bit Disneyesque. But it is also full of history. Predictably it grew along the port. So you are never far from the water when walking in Old Montreal. The water’s edge itself is being slowly spruced up. Interesting structures can be seen.Many old warehouses are being transformed. The waterlocks have been re-opened and a cycling path runs all along the Lachine canal, so there is a lot to see and do all along the port.
ÎLE SAINTE HÉLÈNE
Another area that is worth a day’s visit Île Sainte Hélène. This is where the 1967 World Fair was held.
Once you have seen the main tourist sites you might want to check out some of our museums
Le Musée Mc Cord, is more “artifacts” than paintings or sculptures, it is a history museum.
Montreal is known as the city of a hundred steeples. It is true that we were a very religious country, like many others, and the churches are a witness to that. Some are grandiose, some are modest, some are austere, some are flamboyant, some are tiny, others are large, some offer great acoustics and are often the site of concerts.
HOW ABOUT MONTREAL WITH THE KIDS?
Here is an idea of activities that kids might enjoy in Montréal: I will go by “area”.
In the Olympic parc area: The tower itself has an elevator that takes you to the top from where you get a nice view.. At ground level, the Biodome. which is inside the Olympic installations, has recreated four climates, complete with plants and some animals. www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/Biodome.
Across the street you have the Insectarium, butterflies (loose in a tent where you can go) as well all kinds of bugs and spiders. www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/Insectarium
The botanical garden is next door, they have a little open train ride in the gardens which can be a nice rest.. www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/jardin There are tickets for each of these activities as well as combos….
In the old port: you can again take an open train ride , but you can rent quadracycles, to get around… there is a bike trail that runs along the river for 13 miles….
There is a interactive science exhibit, (they say for young and old…) as well as an Imax theater showing SPACE STATION, the first ever 3D space film. www.CentredesSciencesdeMontreal.com
There is a gigantic labyrinth, that you walk through …. that is fun for everyone
There is a clock tower: 192 steps to the top, but along the way you get to see the mechanism of the almost 100 years old clock. Once at the top you have nice view. There is a playground close by.
There are boat rides of all sorts amphibus tours, bateau mouche, old port cruises, jet boats… www.croisieresaml.com
If you have one museum to see with kids I might suggest the Sir George-Étienne Cartier historical museum, because the staff is dressed up in period costumes… or the Musée Pointe a Callière because of the audio visual presentation…. although I am not really sure how much they would be interested.
If you have an artist with you, you can take him to one of the ceramic cafés, he will get to choose a piece to paint and they will fire it for you… so you have a lovely memento (if you leave before the piece is ready I will pick it up and mail it to you).
For a cool break there is an indoor skating rink open all year, with rental skates available: L’Atrium au 1000 de la Gauchetière.
Not too far is the Planetarium: the screen is on the ceiling… the presentations alternate :French English This summer the name of the presentation for the kiddies is “stars in my backyard” and it is being run on wednesday, thursday and friday at 11:30. They have two other presentations for an older audience.
There is always a metro ride… many of the stations are colourful as they were all decorated by various artists…
The underground city is not really intended for kids… although the place Ville Marie which was the first part of the underground system has a fun eating place called Movenpick, where you walk from one “stall” to the next choosing your dishes.
On the St Hélène’s island: there are many attractions here… making it a good destination for a visit.
First the Biosphere, which is the former American pavilion (from the 1967 world’s fair). It now holds an interactive exhibit on water and more specifically the St Lawrence river…. it is informative for the grownups but there are enough “things to do” to keep the kiddies interested also. It is set amidst nice gardens… excellent for a picnic..
Also on St Helen’s island is the Musée Stewart au Fort de l’Île sainte Hélène. Apart from the museum there are displays of regiments parading in full regalia with drums and pipes etc… Impressive and a very nice setting by the water….pic nic areas too. http://www.stewart-museum.org/index.html
La ronde is the amusement park where the fireworks displays originate from. There is a kiddie part with smaller rides… some of the grown up rides are OK for kids too, like la pitoune ( the plume) and they have make up for the kids too etc. The fireworks contests are great : http://www.montreal.com/tourism/laronde.html and www.lemondialsaq.com
Odds and ends: In Laval, the Cosmodome, offers many on hands activities as well as a multi-media presentation all related to space travel, the kids can even step into a replica of the endeavor space shuttle.
The St Constant train museum has 130 train engines on display. www.exporail.org/musee/musee_MFC.htm
La pointe du moulin is a lovely spot near the water, with an old windmill and a thematic exhibit as well as animation… great for the little ones… http://www.pointedumoulin.com/page3.htm
Here goes for the restaurants list. This is not easy as there are hundreds of good restaurants in Montreal. I have 5 different rest books in front of me, and I will try to gather a consensus as well as add my own comments. Of course it is far from complete, but I went with the ones I know… feel free to ask me about more suggestions, when I put (DT) is means it is located downtown… I know I will update it as soon as I post it but… at least this is a start I will group them by categories that I hope will be useful.
The first group would have to be the TOP restaurants. Meaning the most expensive and in SOME cases the best food and decor.
LES CAPRICES DE NICOLAS, is my favourite among the very expensive. The food is wonderful, the service is attentive and knowledgeable and the setting is lovely. (DT) 2072 Drummond (514) 282 9790 lescaprices.com
LE TOKÉ, is highly rated, very innovative cuisine, the setting is modern ( a bit cold to my taste). 3842 St Denis (514) 499 2084 www.restaurant-toque.com.
LA QUEUE DE CHEVAL, is a steak place, popular with hockey players, nice setting, but overpriced. 1221 boul René Lévesque ouest (514) 390 0090 www.queuedecheval.com
(DT) NUANCES set in the casino, is said to be very good (I have not tried it) 1 avenue du Casino (514) 392 2708 1 800 665 2274 www.casinos-quebec.com
CAFÉ DE PARIS, set in the Ritz Carlton hotel, becomes a rooftop garden in summer time, quite posh, but good food usually… 1228 Sherbrooke ouest (514) 842 4212 (DT)
LE PASSE PARTOUT, very good food in an ordinary setting , but above an art gallery and includes a bakery. A bit off the top in attitude and prices sometimes… 3857 Décarie (514) 487 7750
The second group are very good restaurants but at a slightly less extreme prices
RESTAURANT HÉLÈNE DE CHAMPLAIN, set on Île Ste Hélène, opulent setting, good service, honest food. Nice view on the rose garden…. 200 tour de l’Ilsle, Île sainte Hélène (514) 395 2424
BEAVER CLUB, supposed to be a great table. I find the room too somber… they used to have nice sunday brunches… Queen Elizabeth hotel, 900 René Lévesque (514) 861 3511 (DT)
LA RAPIERE, good food in a nice setting (great steak tartare and carré d’agneau) Edifice de la Sun Life 11556 Metcalfe (514) 871
8920 (DT) LES HALLES, well rated… I am not crazy about the place but it is popular. 1450 Crescent (514) 844 2328 (DT)
LES CHENETS, one of the best wine cellars in Montreal, good food, nice setting… a cigar room… 2075 Bishop (514) 844 1842
(DT) LE PARCHEMIN, is well rated… I have never tried it… let me know if you do, the menu seems very creative… 1333 Université (514) 844 1619 (DT)
Next category: reasonable prices , nice food and nice setting:
LE CHANDELIER, a bit out of the way but lovely setting, in an old home, honest food and pleasant service. 825 Côte Vertu (514) 748 5800
MOISHES, one of the best steak restaurants in Montreal, the decor is nothing special, it is a busy place. Only opened at night. 3961 St Laurent (514) 845 1696
ALEXANDRE ET FILS, popular bistro, in the middle of downtown, very French 1454 Peel (514) 288 5105 (DT). It has a bar downstairs.
BONAPARTE, in old Montréal… I have memories of a winter night, snow blowing outside on a deserted street… honest food, set in a nice little hotel next to the Centaur theater… 443 Saint François Xavier (514) 844 4368
CHEZ GAUTHIER, a noisy bistro, coupled with one of the best pastry shops in town, good food. 3487 ave du Parc (514) 845 2992
CHEZ LÉVESQUE, an institution, always busy, on fun Laurier street in Outremont. Good food. 1030 Laurier ouest (514) 279 7355
CLUB DES PINS, also on Laurier, sunny bistro, good food, good service. 156 Laurier ouest (514) 272 9484
LALOUX, very French bistro atmosphere, I loved the food the last time I was there… not far from st Denis street. 250 Des Pins EST (514) 287 9127
LE CAFÉ DES BEAUX ARTS, set in the museum of fine arts… it is quite good… not always open at night… 1384 Sherbrooke ouest (514) 843 3233 (DT)
LE CAVEAU , an institution, nice setting… good food… in the heart of downtown behind La Baie store 2063 Victoria (514) 844 1624 (DT)
LE MAS DES OLIVIERS, nice Provençal ambiance, good food. 1216 Bishop (514) 861 6733 (DT)
LE PARIS, an institution, crowded, very French, good food. 1812 Ste Catherine ouest (514) 937 4898 (DT)
LE PARIS BEURRE, out of the way, but one of my regular haunts, good food, bistro setting, with an outside terrace in the summer… 1226 Van Horne (514) 271 7502
LE PERSIL FOU, I like the place, honest food, at the top (north end) of St Denis street has changed hands recently… would require another visit… 4669 saint denis (514) 284 3130
LE BÉARN, a tiny place in Côte Des Neiges, the best marmalade d’oignon in town… good food..
Ethnic foods now:
Italian LE PIEMONTAIS, we are not talking pizzeria here, I suggest letting the chef decide your menu… 1145-A de Bullion (514) 861 8122
Chinese: LE CHRYSANTHÈME, large restaurant, very good food 1208 Crescent (514) 397 1408 (DT)
L’ORCHIDÉE DE CHINE, very good food, elegant setting 2017 Peel (514) 287 1878 (DT)
Japanese: KATSURA, an institution, very good food 2170 de la Montagne (514) 849 1172 (DT) SOTO , very fresh fish… great food… expensive. 3527 St Laurent (514) 842 1150
TOKYO SUKIYAKI, the oldest Japanese rest in Montreal…. a favourite with us… dark intimate, private rooms….. very out of the way…. 7355 Mountain sights (514) 737 7245
Thai:THAÏ GRILL, noisy, busy, delicious 5101 St Laurent (514) 270 5566
CHAO PHRAYA very good food 50 Laurier ouest (514) 272 5339
Vietnamese:SOUVENIRS D’INDOCHINE, well rated…. I have never tried it… 243 Mont Royal ouest (514) 848 0336
Vegetarian: LE COMMENSAL, is a pay by weight buffet… there is something for ever one… It is a chain, here are some of their addresses: Côte Des Neiges corner of Queen Mary, Mc Gill college. There are 4 on Sherbrooke street….
Breakfast places: DÉJEUNERS CHEZ CORA is also a chain, with colourful (if confusing) menus, anything you can think of they probably have…. open until mid afternoon…
EGGSPECTATION (another chain) serves breakfast as well as all day long, all forms of egg dishes plus a variety of other things too. Their logo is green and gold.
BEAUTYS is one of a kind… an old fashioned diner… on Mount Royal ouest…
Kids friendly restaurants: I will not mention the fast food chains that everyone knows: MacDonald, Harveys etc…
ST HUBERT is a chain, of chicken rest, with kids menus and games to keep them amused while they wait for their food. It is clean, friendly and reliable.
PIZZÉDÉLIC is a pizza chain…
PACINI, ( a chain) is Italian.. and they have grills to toast your own bread
NICKELS ( a chain) is an old fashioned diner style…
A LA CREPE BRETONNE, is a crepe place where you can have just about any filling you can imagine from asparagus to chocolate.
CHALET SUISSE is chicken..
Yes winters are harsh! We get snow! Lots of it usually, although some years are better than others. Even if the books say differently, to me February is the coldest month. And if you are looking for snow it is the safest month to find some. But we can get snowed in anytime between the end of October to well into April. Apart from the first snowfall every year, drivers and cleaning crews usually handle it well, and except during extreme storms, Montreal life is unperturbed by snow. Everything is well heated, we even have heated sidewalks on St Hubert street! But you need warm clothing and waterproof footwear if you come here in winter.
You should be prepared to hear about the ice storm we had here in …. when the ice covering the power lines got so thick and heavy that the towers holding up the lines toppled like matchstick constructions. People were without power for a long time (one week was the average but it took up to one month to get people connected back in some areas).
If you want to try our winter sports you will be better off to go visit the Laurentians, an area about one hour north of here here you will find all the wintertime sports you can want (downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, snow tubing, dog sledding, ice skating, snowmobiling…).
Summers can get quite hot for short periods, otherwise it is sunny and warm and quite pleasant. We have many outdoor festivals in summertime:the Fringe Festival, the Jazz fest, which is really a music festival (not just jazz) and has many outdoors shows as well as paying indoors ones, the fireworks competitions, the Just For Laughs fest which offers entertainment both in French and in English, the Africa Nights festival, the Francofolies, the World Film festival and a couple more such as the Mosaiculture exhibit, which is a flowers and plants show that goes on all summer in the Old Port.
Fall is the most glorious season, when the leaves turn yellow, orange and red against a bright blue ski. The weather oscillates between warm and cool, rainy and sunny, but it is always colourful! it is hard to pinpoint the best time to see the colours as it varies from year to year, but normally, mid September to mid October are safe bets.
As for spring…. well… it is nice for us because it is the end of winter but it is not the prettiest season as dirty snow is melting… it is a good time to visit museums and see some shows.
Most people contemplating coming here, wonder about the language barrier. In Montreal, the majority of people speak both French and English So you can always make yourself understood pretty much everywhere. If you venture outside Montreal but within the province of Québec, you might encounter more francophones who are not fluent in English But everywhere people will do their best to help you and make you feel welcome. And it is NOT true that Americans or English speaking people are not welcome. We LOVE tourists and do our best to make your stay a pleasant one. If you want to try your hand at speaking French, here are a few words that can help you get around .
Hello = bonjour (in the daytime) = bonsoir (at night)
yes = oui
no = non
please = s’il vous plait (pronounced seal vooo play)
thank you = merci
where is? = où se trouve?
I want = je veux
I want to go to = je veux aller à…
how much does it cost? = combien ça coute?
at what time? = à quelle heure?
one = un
two = deux
three = trois
four = quatre
five = cinq
six = six
seven = sept
eight = huit
nine = neuf
ten = dix
eleven = onze
twelve = douze
fourteen = quatorze
fifteen = quinze
sixteen = seize
seventeen = dix sept
eighteen = dix huit
nineteen = dix neuf
twenty = vingt
twenty one = vingt et UN ( the only one to take the word “et” )
twenty two = vingt deux
twenty three = vingt trois and so on…
thirty = trente
fort = quarante
fifty = cinquante
sixty = soixante
seventy = soixante dix
eighty = quatre vingt
ninety =quatre vingt dix
one hundred = cent
two hundred = deux cent and so on……
washroom = toilettes
room = chambreelevator = ascenceur
blanket = couverture
towel = serviette de bain
shower = douche
soap = savon
key = clef ( pronounced clay)
breakfast = déjeuner (in France they call this petit déjeuner)
lunch = dîner, or repas du midi or lunch (in France they call this déjeuner)
supper = souper (in France they call this le dîner)
water = eau (eau plate is non carbonated )
milk = lai
cream = crème
beer = bière (pression means draft)
wine = vin
red = rouge
white = blanc
fish = poisson
chicken = poulet
beef = boeuf
veal = veau
crème caramel you already know
French pastries = pâtisseries
bread = pain
vegetables = légumes
fruit = fruit
to eat = manger
to walk = marcher
to sleep = dormir
to pay = payer ( pronounced pay eeee yea)
money = argent
change ( as in giving change or loose change) = monnaie
ticket = ticket or billet
and if you need a word to express that you are not happy you can use :
merde! which is very clear (it means shit) yet is acceptable. (pronounced mare-rrr-dugh)
Here are a few of the numerous websites devoted to Montréal.
http://www.montrealcam.com Live cam shots around Montreal
http://www.meteomedia.com Live weather updates from Montreal
http://english.montrealplus.ca/ (General info on Montreal)
http://meetings.sixcontinentshotels.com/destinations/montreal/photos.html (General info about Montreal)
http://vieux.montreal.qc.ca/eclair/eng/f_anima.htm (This is a fun site about Old Montreal)
http://www.canada.com/montreal/features/festivals/ (Listing of all the festivals)
http://www.cityguide.travel-guides.com/cities/mon/Excursions.asp (excursion ideas)
http://www.montreal.com/ (Calendar of events)
http://www.montreal.com/tourism/kids.html (Activities for kids)
http://www.icomm.ca/emily/how.html (A funny site…)
http://www.stcum.qc.ca/metro/mapmetro.htm (Subway map)
http://www.visitesdemontreal.com/ (And of course last but not least my work place)