Friday, January 7, 2011

My Montreal - Old Montreal

Perhaps one of the best known tourist attractions in Montreal is the old city and port of Montreal, generally referred to as Old Montreal. It is a trip back in time with narrow, cobblestone streets, ornate churches, historic buildings and museums. There are also boutique hotels and some of the city’s best restaurants. It is on the water and right next to the modern downtown core. The area is best seen on foot, but there is one other option. Coleche, or horse-drawn carriage rides are available in what I call the liveable months (ie. not winter), though I noticed that they were also conducting some of these carriage rides right before Christmas. If you like the idea of carriage rides this may be something to do.

I will describe the sights of Old Montreal from East to West, though the order can certainly be reversed. I will also be listing more things that you would probably consider seeing in one walking tour, but then not all these places would interest every reader. Choose what sounds most interesting to you. The images of Old Montreal are what make the place special, so this post will be more reliant on photos than is usual for me.

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To get to Old Montreal, there are three metro stations on the orange line that pass by the northern edge of Old Montreal - Square Victoria, Place d’Armes and Champs-de-Mars. Several downtown hotels are not far away either, so you might consider walking the whole way if you are up for it. Heading to Old Montreal from Champs-de-Mars station, the first building you see will be City Hall on the right as you go up the hill. After you cross Notre Dame street, there are two big attractions across from city hall. The first is Chateau Ramezay, a historic home that has stood for 300 years.

It was the residence of the first governor of Montreal and played a crucial role in Montreal’s history. When the Americans invaded Canada during the war of 1812, the home was occupied by the US leadership, including Ben Franklin. At other times it has been a school, and for a long time now a museum. The collection shows artifacts from the various time periods in Montreal’s history, and chronicles the various occupants of the building. In back there is a garden patterned after 19th century gardens. The garden can be entered free of charge, while admission to the museum proper is $10 CAD. There is a small patio overlooking the garden that is used during the summer for lunches by a restaurant a few steps away. The restaurant is Club Chasse et Peche and I may give a review of this restaurant if I can remember enough about my visit there (it was at least a year ago).

Next to the chateau is a must visit location: Place Jacques Cartier. This is a public square that slopes down to the port and the centre of many activities. It is lined with restaurants (most seem like tourist traps to me, though). Often you will find buskers or art displays or other goings on. A block back to the east is Marche Bonsecours, a historic building now a shopping destination, with a fair amont of high end merchandise.

From the market heading west, Rue St. Paul is closed to vehicle traffic during the summer through the busiest part of Old Montreal, making things very pedestrian friendly. St. Paul has shops, galleries and restaurants that can keep a shopper busy for hours. Many of them are souvenir stores, but there are some nice art galleries and some stores actually have good stuff. Some restaurants seem to not be worth it, but I know there are many good restaurants on this street.

At St. Laurent, you will find one of the entry points to the Old Port. Montreal’s Science Centre is located there, which includes an IMAX theatre. There are many temporary events or exhibits that locate at the port. Last summer there was a Cirque de Soleil show and a wildlife art exhibit, among other things. The fireworks for Canada Day and New Year’s usually take place here as well. There are places to rent paddleboats and other activities as well. There are also tree-lined paths for walking.

Continuing on, consider heading back uphill at St. Sulpice. At the top of the hill, between St. Jacques and Notre Dame, is Place d’Armes, a nice public square. I won’t say much about what you will find there, as major construction took place last year, so it will probably be different. There is also the Notre Dame basilica, a beautifully constructed church. They hold Christmas concerts every year. In this area there are several boutique hotels, most of them with restaurants. In this section of Old Montreal, it is hard to go wrong, as most of the restaurants are quite good. I can not be more specific because I have an employment relationship with one or more of these establishments. Also, if you wish to step out of Old Montreal, our Chinatown is just two blocks away - look for the Holiday Inn that looks like a Chinese pavillion. It doesn’t really compare to, say, New York, San Francisco or even Toronto, but there are some good restaurants and grocery stores.

Back at the waterfront, and a little further east, is one of my favourite locations in Old Montreal. It is Place Royale and Pointe-a-Calliere Archeological Museum. While they are two separate buildings, they are connected underground and one admission fee covers both. They explore the history and people of Montreal and deserves its own post, which will follow shortly.

The remaining eastern portion of Old Montreal is not as interesting and in a bit of disrepair, but there are a couple things worth seeing. One option is to continue along near the water, where you will find the Maritime and Shipping Museum. I have not been there, but is probably worth a look, especially if you like boats. There is a historic tugboat on display near the museum.

Otherwise, follow place d’Youville, which is much more picturesque. There is a monument worth seeing and a historic fire station, another part of the museum. There are two worthwhile restaurants here, Gibby’s - a rather famous steakhouse- and a small, old school french, bistro that I like very much - La Gargote. In the summer, they have a patio with an atmosphere I really enjoy. Old Montreal ends at University, where there are more restaurants. We are getting into the financial district so most of the restaurants are a little pricier, but are supposed to be quite good.

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