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If you look at Montreal on a map, it is probably hard to imagine that the city is, or at least was, a very important port. The city, however, lies right at the narrowing of the St. Laurence River, an important artery that connects the Great Lakes System with the Atlantic Ocean. Montréal is, in fact, on an island, and thus the city's prime importance has long been as a transit point for people and goods coming from Europe and destined for the Central Canadian provinces. Although the oldest parts of the city are located closest to the harbour, the actual installations along the water are fairly modern, and they are designed more for leisurely outdoor activities than for historical interest. There is a marina filled with smaller yachts and sailboats (always a favourite among kids) and a long river-side promenade with jogging trails. In the winter, this is probably not a good place to hang out. In the summer, however, it provides some of the most beautiful and enjoyable sights and hours that you can have on a warm day.
- Hiking and Walking
- Arts and Culture
World Trade Centre
World Trade Centre in the Old Montreal is kind of an indoor village. You may stroll around anytime of the year and experience Montreal cafes and restaurants, the shopping mall with its specialty shops, boutiques, and art galleries.
You can also find within the premises, the 5-star Inter-Continental Hotel which is a better location if you are on a business trip. The place has easy access to Square-Victoria metro station so much so that you can conveniently move around the city. And mind you, if you are meeting friends or relatives, the World Trade Centre is a perfect location as it is the best place to start exploring the Old Montreal.
Enjoy your tour of the Centre de Commerce Mondial de Montreal.
- Business Travel
Roam the streets of Old Montreal
Very easy to find this , just walked down Notre Dame Street to walk into the old city, narrow streets, some cobblestone. Lots of little cafes and little stores, it was very nice to have a walk around. i was expecting old montreal to be larger, more like a little village of scattered cobblestone streets, but it was smaller, only a couple streets and i think i only saw maybe one actual cobblestone street, maybe i missed them somehow, but all the streets in this area are narrow and its a nice area to roam around
Some people I talk to say that Old Montreal has a 'european' feel. Perhaps. In any event, it is pleasing and relaxing to aimlessly wander through the old streets and inhale historic Montreal. There are several quaint cafes scattered around and you can even ride in a horse carriage, should you feel so inclined. It's a cool place to walk around.
Two from the 1800s
Two other significant buildings at Place d’Armes are the Notre Dame Basilica built in 1827, and the New York Life Building, Canada’s first skyscraper and built in 1888.
The Notre Dame Basilica lays claim to having the largest bell in North America and is able to seat 5000 people. Yes, it’s a very substantial building, but by this part of our trip I was “churched out”, so I left it to Pauline to pay the entrance fee and visit the spectacular interior which also features a superb pipe organ (photos 2,3) while I went to the Aldred Building.
Across the way, the New York Life building in its red bricks (photo 4) was very much “the latest thing” when it was built: with its eight storeys and even a lift, it must have really created a stir! It still warrants a photo, after all I doubt that many places had anything like it when it was built!
- Historical Travel
In my pages, I’ve made no secret that modern city centres with endless glass skyscrapers fail to excite me. So, for one of my tips to be tagged as ‘interesting skyscraper’, the subject has to be well and truly different. I’m glad to say the Aldred Building, built in 1931, fits that description. It is pure classical Art Deco, a style that I always enjoy, and best of all it has not been ‘modernised’ inside (at least in the public area).
While the crowds at Pl d’Armes all head for the Basilique Notre Dame, slip away for a few minutes as I did, and look around the building’s foyer: apart from a few office workers, you’ll have it to yourself. The entry comes from two sides, rue St Sulpice and rue Notre Dame Ouest, and what you see first will depend which way you enter: from one direction you will be facing the superb glass doors in photo 2, from the other you are approaching the lifts in photo 3. From either direction, if Art Deco appeals, you’re sure to be delighted by the details, such as the lift door in photo 4 and the brass letterbox in photo 5.
One of Montréal’s main squares is the Place d’Armes. When we visited, on a typical mid-week day, this place seemed like “Tourist Central”! The city was founded by Paul de Chomeday, sieur de Maisonneuve, so it’s appropriate to find here this large monument (main photo) to him and his men. Around the base of the monument are statues representing some of de Chomeday’s fighters, one looking very much like an escapee from a Disney movie! (photo 2)
Around the square are some quite significant buildings, so that explains why most of the tourists are there (photo 3). When we visited, on a very warm summer day, there also were food and drink stalls.
- Historical Travel
This remarkably uninspiring plaza in front of the old Customs House now occupies the spot where the first settlement in what is now Montréal, named Ville Marie, was built in 1642. In those days, the French were battling the Iroquois, so the little town was fortified with a stockade. As Montréal developed, this area became its market place.
Out in the middle of the plaza area you will find an unidentified ‘sculpture’ (or is it fountain?) made from copper plumbing, as seen in photo 2 - it’s the industrial object on the right. As you may gather, I really feel this particularly historic area deserves to be marked (at least externally) by something a little more inspired than the present offerings.
Across the way, behind the camera in the heading photo, is the modernistic “Point à Callière Museum of Archaeology and History” museum which apparently is very good and which extends as an archaeological crypt under the plaza area to encompass Montréal’s old Customs House (dating from the 1830s) at the far side of the plaza, and also shown in photo 3. So yes, for those with time to explore the museum, there is more of interest.
- Historical Travel
Old Montréal / Vieux Ville
It is indeed very pleasant to stroll through the old part of Montréal just soaking up the ambience. The main photo shows part of Pl Jacques Cartier: up the hill to the left of the photo is the column erected for Nelson, no doubt the reason the large building in mid-photo goes by the name “Hotel Nelson”!
The old building in photo 2 dates from 1725, when it was the Auberge Pierre de Calvet. It now houses the ”Filles de Roy” restaurant, which apparently is very good (we didn’t visit) and an antique collection. You will find it at 405 rue Bonsécours. I can’t give as much detail on photo 3, but it was taken nearby and shows yet another of the many restaurants to be found in this area.
- Historical Travel
As you wander around Old Montréal, it pays to keep an eye out for interesting little details. As we walked up rue Notre Dame from the City Hall, we were quite taken to see the quiet leafy courtyard tucked behind this steel gate. What is it about something like this which stirs the imagination and makes us wonder what lies beyond? We also rather liked the address placard we found, painted onto a ceramic plate (photo 2).
Near the City Hall/Hôtel de Ville
Before you dash away after your visit to the old city walls, spare a moment to look around. To your west are the old law courts, across the way to the east is the unmistakable bulk of the City Hall, with its green copper roof. But between those, you will find you are near the statue in the main photo. It is of Jean Vauquelin, a French naval hero who became commander of the French fleet in the St Lawrence, and who made the British invasion of New France somewhat more difficult than it would otherwise have been, with his defence of Quebec and Louisbourg! Fittingly, in this statue erected in 1930, he is shown at the mast of a ship (photo 2).
Most significantly, Vauquelin’s statue (in Pl. Vauquelin), is placed to directly confront the column commemorating the British naval hero, Admiral Nelson (photo 3), across Rue Notre Dame in Pl Jacques Cartier. The erection of this as early as 1809, only four years after Nelson defeated the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar, must have galled the French population considerably!
- Historical Travel
City Hall / Hôtel de Ville
You just have to be impressed by the Montréal City Hall, with its green copper roofs and soaring chimneys. It certainly wouldn’t be out of place in France, and looks as if it dates from the time of Louis XIV! Despite appearances though, it dates from the 1870s, about 150 years later. A serious fire caused extensive damage in the 1920s, but it now is restored to its full glory.
While I am sure the Councillors may consider that many important events have taken place here, without doubt the building’s most significant moment of international fame came in 1967, when General De Gaulle stood on the balcony (maybe the one at the left in photo 2) and said "Vive le Québec libre!" (“Long live Free Quebec”). I gather it nearly brought the house down (apart from causing a "diplomatic incident)!
We also noticed the ornamental garden at the front of the building (photo 3): going by the design, it seemed to relate to some kind of soccer event.
Old City Walls
Living in Montréal was not without risk in the early days: there were constant worries about attacks by the Indians or the English. Not surprisingly, the French settlers followed the European tradition of building city walls. A timber palisade had to suffice until 1715, when Louis XIV authorised construction of a stone wall 6 metres high and 3.4 km long around the city. Construction took 30 years, but demolishing the wall in the early 1800s took only 20 years! And then it was forgotten.
In 1965, when new courts were being erected, the footings of the old walls were rediscovered and an archaeological dig was made. Finally, the section seen in the main photo was preserved. I must admit to being less than totally overwhelmed by the meagre remains of what must have been an impressive construction in its time. Still, it provided a photo opportunity (second photo) for a “wandering tourist” shot!
Be sure to either keep this tip handy, or have a good guidebook to tell you about the walls, because the signage provided by the “powers that be” will be totally useless to you unless can you read French! (third photo)
Montréal’s Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) is one of the city’s most spectacular buildings, fashioned in a style that pays homage to the mother country, France.
City Hall History
Sitting in the midst of Old Montréal, facing Place Jacques-Cartier, it took six years to build this fabulous building known in French as Hôtel de Ville. Designed by Henri-Maurice Perrault, construction of Montréal’s City Hall began in 1872 and commenced in 1878.
This City Hall is built in the French Second Empire style, also known as the Napoleon III style. The exterior is decorated with ornate balconies, grand turrets, and attractive mansard roofs, and is best appreciated in the evening, when the city lights the building with hundreds of bulbs. It’s an awesome sight!
Inside the building, guests will find an abundance of marble and plenty of bronze. The Hall of Honour is particularly striking and offers portraits of every mayor who ever held this office in Montréal. The hall boasts marble from Campagna, Italy; art deco lamps from Paris; and a magnificent French bronze and glass chandelier that weighs a metric ton (about 2,200 pounds). Ceilings are hand-carved and the stained-glass windows are stunning.
Unfortunately, Montréal’s City Hall was less than 50 years old when it suffered a terrible fire in 1922. The interior was completely gutted but the exterior was spared, even though the roof was destroyed. The people of Montréal saw to it that the interior was restored in a timely manner and fashioned it in the style of the city administrative building in Tours, France.
Visiting Hôtel de Ville
City Hall serves as the administrative headquarters for the city of Montréal and the mayor has his office here. Many areas are off-limits to the public, but visitors can register for a quick but insightful 15-minute tour, which takes place several times each weekday from May through October.
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Not that interesting, but not to be missed either
Montréal's old town (Vieux Montréal) was a bit disappointing to me. After I had been in the wonderful old town of Québec City for some days, I had imagined Montréal to be similar. Instead, there's hardly anything to see in the old town. Okay, so some of the houses look slightly older than what can be expected in Canada. Okay, so the streets are paved with cobblestones. Okay, so... uhm, wait, this probably was it. Montréal's old town is full of tourists who sit in cafes and sip their coffees and full of souvenir shops where you can get everything that somehow will remind you of the city after you've left it again. But in contrast to Québec, there's nothing that immediately captures your heart and makes you feel happy that you've gone there.
So my recommendation would be to skip Montréal's old town if you make it to Québec later. If not, it might well be worth a short visit.
- Historical Travel
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