Montreal – the city of Mary

Montreal is the second-largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris and it has also been ranked as the 10th cleanest city in the world.

The second-largest city in Canada and the largest city in the province of Quebec was originally called Ville-Marie (Mary's City) and came to be known as Montreal only by the end of the 17th century. The name is derived from Mount Royal, the three-head hill at the heart of the city.

Montreal lies at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers. The port at the Saint Lawrence Seaway is the river gateway that stretches from the Great Lakes into the Atlantic Ocean. Montreal is bordered by the Riviere des Prairies on the north and Saint Lawrence on the south.

Montreal lies at the junction of several climatic regions and therefore has a varied climate. It snows on average more in Montreal, than in Moscow! Summer might be sunny but is also the wettest season making it humid too. The coldest month of the year is January and due to wind chill, the perceived temperature can be much lower than the actual temperature.

Historical overview:

Archeological evidence shows us that various nomadic native tribes had lived on the island of Montreal for at least 2,000 years before the arrival of Europeans, including the St. Lawrence Iroquoians. They established the village of Hochelaga at the foot of Mount Royal.

1535 – Jacques Cartier visits Hochelaga and names it Mont Royal, claiming the St. Lawrence Valley for France.

1608 - French explorer Samuel de Champlain reported that the local settlements had disappeared altogether supposedly due to inter-tribe wars, European diseases, and out-migration. Champlain, known as the father of New France, founded a permanent French settlement in Quebec City.

1642 – Paul de Chomedy de Maisonneuve, on a mission to convert the Indians to Christianity, establishes Ville-Marie and erects a wood cross on Mount Royal. 

1670 – The Hudson Bay Company is formed initiating an economic war between France and England for fur trade profits in Quebec.

1716 – French authorities build a 6.4 m high wall around Montreal that was eventually completed 20 years later.

1721 – A large scale fire breaks out prompting all buildings within the city henceforth to be built of stone.

1759 – British General Jeffrey Amherst marches into Montreal.

1760 – Pierre Francois de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnal surrenders the city to the British army under Jeffrey Amherst during the French and Indian War.

1763 - The Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years' War and ceded eastern New France to the Kingdom of Great Britain.

1801-1820 – The walls surrounding Montreal are demolished and the stone used in new buildings

1828 – Cholera epidemic strikes in Montreal. 

1832 – William IV gives royal assent to incorporate the city of Montreal.

1833 – The city adopts its coat of arms and the motto ‘Concordia Salus’ (prosperity through harmony).

1837 – Patriot’s rebellion is brutally suppressed.

1843 – Lachine Canal project is launched to double the depth of the canal. Workers strike after their pay is reduced and the army is called in resulting in Canada’s bloodiest labor confrontation.

1844 – Montreal becomes the capital of the Province of Canada but loses the status in 1849 when a Tory mob burnt down the Parliament building.

1847 – Immigrants arrive from Ireland to escape the potato famine. They are quarantined. Many die.

1852 – Great Montreal Fire destroys 1,100 homes.

1967 – Montreal hosts the World Exposition (EXPO ’67); first metro lines are open to public; the Louis-Hippolyte Fontaine Tunnel is inaugurated.

1972 – The largest labor strike in Canadian history.

1976 – Montreal Olympics

2002 – Montreal merges with the 27 surrounding municipalities on the Island but the move proves unpopular, and several former municipalities vote to leave the newly unified city. A de-merger took place in 2006, leaving 15 municipalities on the island, including Montreal.

2006 - The city was recognized by the international design community as a UNESCO City of Design, one of the three world design capitals.

Sights around town:

Underground City: It is a set of pedestrian levels built to cross under streets connecting buildings although not all of it is underground. Over 32 km of tunnels connect several public facilities with more than 120 exterior access points. Montreal is often referred to as Two Cities in One.

Mount Royal: The Mountain is part of the Mount Royal Park containing two belvederes, the man-made Beaver Lake, a short ski slope, a sculpture garden, and a well-known monument to Sir George-Etienne Cartier. The most prominent feature of the peak is the 103 ft high illuminated cross.

Montreal Botanical Garden: It boasts an outstanding collection of over 22,000 varieties of plants spreading across 180 acres with 10 exhibition greenhouses and 30 outdoor gardens.

Canadian Centre for Architecture: This is an international research centre and museum with a vast collection and also has a sculpture garden that presents the history of architecture as well as that of the city.

Montreal Museum of Archaeology & History: Built on top of the actual remnants of the original city, the museum is a national historic site. Visitors get to see the first public square, the vaulted canalization of the Saint-Pierre River, and the first Catholic cemetery among other attractions.

Centre d'histoire de Montreal: You can find out all you need to know about the history of the city in this charming museum through sound environments, images, visual effects, personal testimonies and artifacts.

Chateau Ramezay Museum: This was once a governor’s residence built in the 18th century and it now showcases the history of Montreal and Quebec, and the Governor's Garden is truly splendid.

Marche Bonsecours: It is recognized as one of the ten most beautiful heritage buildings in Canada and features Quebec’s artists, designers and artisans in its fifteen boutiques.

It was inaugurated in 1847 and housed a concert hall, and even served as a city hall.

Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours: This is the oldest stone chapel in the city built in 1655 and it also houses the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum. On display are objects and works of art related to the history of the chapel and the life of Marguerite Bourgeoys, Montreal's first teacher. The museum offers the highest vantage point in Old Montreal and gives visitors a magnificent view of the river and the harbor. Here you can also see the archaeological site where the foundations of Montreal's first stone church can be found.

Christ Church Cathedral: Built around 1859, it stands over an underground shopping centre. The square nearby is dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg who saved thousands of Jews from concentration camps during World War II.

Eglise du Gesu: It means ‘Jesus’ in Italian and takes its name from the church in Rome. Built in 1865, it is one of the oldest churches in Montreal and a cultural heritage site.

Saint Joseph's Oratory: The largest church in Canada is nicknamed ‘la Ville aux cent clochers’ (the city of a hundred bell towers). It has the largest dome of its kind in the world after that of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. It is a pilgrimage to Brother Andre, who was reputed to have healed the sick and handicapped. Here you will find a collection of crutches and canes from the healed. You can see devotees climbing to the top on their knees. If the weather is good, take a stroll through the beautiful garden nearby, which features the Stages of the Cross in marble sculptures.

Saint-Pierre-Apotre Church: Built in 1851, its Chapel of Hope is the only chapel in the world dedicated to AIDS victims.

Notre-Dame Basilica: Built in 1829, the church has magnificent interior sculpted in wood, paint and gold leaf. Paintings, sculptures and stained-glass windows illustrate biblical passages as well as 350 years of parish history. It also has a sound and light show about the founding of Montreal and the Notre-Dame Basilica.

Visitation Church at Sault-au-Recollet: This is the oldest Catholic Church in Montreal built in 1750 and now a historic monument.

Saint-Nom-de-Jesus Church: This church is said to be one of the most prestigious houses of worship in all of Quebec and also houses one of North America’s most powerful organs.

St Patrick’s Basilica: It is more commonly known as the Irish Church and was constructed in 1847. The Basilica was designated as a historic monument in 1985 and a national historic site in 1996. Its huge pine columns, the oak carving in the nave as well as the carved pulpit stand out among other features of the structure.

Champ de Mars: If you want to relax then this tree shaded expanse is the perfect place for it offering you a great view of downtown Montreal at the same time. The two rows of stone are where you can still see physical evidence of the fortified town of the old city.

Saint-Louis Square: This delightful park was the site of the first water reservoir in Montreal.

Darling Foundry: This ancient Darling Foundry now serves as an arts centre. Originally established in 1880, the foundry had contributed greatly to the development of Montreal’s industry and the port. It was then abandoned for over ten years before being converted into an arts centre showcasing the creation, production and distribution of works by young artists.

Olympic Stadium: Built for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, the tower (from which the roof is suspended) is the world's tallest leaning structure. It is a great place for not only major sporting events, but also rock concerts and public gatherings. The roof, which could originally be raised, has been replaced numerous times. A funicular-type elevator takes you to the top observation deck, where you get a superb view of the city.

Grande Bibliotheque du Quebec: The library houses a staggering 4 million works and is part of the National Library. The building has outstanding features such as a glass mural, a kinetic luminous mural, and a sculpture garden.

Cultural highlights:

Montreal International Jazz Festival: It is the world's largest jazz festival attracting many big name artists. Many streets are closed off to traffic for concerts.

Just for Laughs: This is a comedy festival held in English and French featuring comedians from all over the world.

Francofolies: A festival celebrating French music.

Tremblant Film Festival: Tremblant is just an hour from Montreal in the splendid Laurentian mountains. You can see some of the year’s best independent films and foreign cinema.

World Film Festival: The festival is open to all cinema trends and over 70 countries participate.

Festival du Monde Arabe: This festival celebrates the music and culture of the Arab world.

Festival Mondiale de la biere: This is, simply put, five days of tasting beers!

Montreal International Fireworks Competition: The festival features fireworks displays accompanied by orchestral music from about a dozen countries around the world.

City’s palate:

Montreal, being so culturally diverse, offers a huge variety of food options to suit all budgets and preferences. And if you are trying to save up, many restaurants allow you to bring your own wine. The city was recently ranked 2nd best dining city in North America after San Francisco and is one of the cities with the most restaurants in the world.

The large Jewish population has contributed specialties such as smoked meat sandwiches and bagels. Lebanese falafels and Japanese sushi have also been in favor with the residents. The local favorite is the split pea soup. While here, try the unique poutine, which is a plate of French fries drowned in gravy and topped with chewy curds of white cheddar.

Getting around:

Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (formerly Dorval Airport) serves all commercial passenger traffic. The Montreal-Mirabel International Airport now serves only cargo flights. Montreal-Trudeau is the only Canadian airport that offers non-stop service to Africa and it also contains the second largest duty free shop in North America. You could also get into the city by VIA Rail, which is headquartered in Montreal. Amtrak also provides service to Montreal.

Commuting within the city is also convenient with the city’s network of buses, subways, and commuter trains that extend across and off the island.