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Montreal

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Southwestern Quebec : Montreal
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Montreal (French: Montréal) is the cultural capital of Quebec and the gateway to that province. Once the largest city in Canada, recent years have seen it cede that place to Toronto. It remains a city rich in culture and history, and has a well-deserved reputation as one of the liveliest cities in North America.

Understand

Situated on an island in the St. Lawrence River just at its highest navigable point, Montreal has been a strategic location since before the arrival of Europeans in Canada. A Native American village called Hochelaga was on the site of present-day Montreal when explorer Jacques Cartier first visited in 1535. A hundred years later, in 1642, the tiny town of Ville-Marie was founded as a Jesuit mission, but soon became a center of the fur trade. After its capture by the English in 1762, Montreal remained the most important city in francophone Canada, and was briefly capital of the province in the 1840s.

Prohibition on sales of alcohol in the United States during the 1920s and 30s made Montreal a mecca for cross-border fun seekers from nearby New England and New York. The city built up a seedy yet playful industry in alcohol, burlesque, and other vices. In the 1960s, an urban renewal drive centered around the Expo 67, the World's Fair in Montreal, brought a subway system and a number of attractive urban parks. The 1976 Olympics left a strikingly idiosyncratic stadium and many other urban improvements.

The opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959, though much lauded as an economic boon, spelled the beginning of the end for Montreal's economic dominance in Canada. Once the transition point between western rail roads and eastern sea carriers, Montreal watched helplessly as this business moved farther west, up the now navigable Seaway, to ports in Ontario and on Lake Superior. The Quebec sovereignty movement, which began to pick up steam in the 1960s, further chilled the atmosphere for Canada-wide businesses, many of which moved their headquarters to Toronto.

After an economic depression in the 1980s and 1990s -- due to automotive and aerospace plant closures in the surrounding area -- Montreal today has become more secure in its place in North America and the world. The second-largest francophone city in the world after Paris, it remains steadfastly confident in its own relevance in the face of the previous difficult years. It remains center of culture, arts, computer technology and media for all of Canada and for the French-speaking world.

Get in

Bus

Train

Plane

  • Dorval (to be renamed Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport on January 1, 2004. See press release)
  • Mirabel (charter airlines, far from the city. Avoiding it is best. If connecting with a flight at Dorval: 3 hours)

Get around

  • Metro (subway), an important part of excellent public transit.
  • Driving (drivers are more aggressive here, road signs are not great.)

See

  • Churches (St. Joseph's oratory, Basilique Notre Dame, Queen of the World Cathedral, ...)
  • Museums
  • Olympic Stadium
  • Old Montreal
  • Squares
  • Parks
  • Site seeing

Do

  • Mount Royal Park, North of Avenue des Pins between Avenue du Parc and Cote-des-Neiges, 843-8240 (info@lemontroyal.qc.ca). This beautiful urban park tops the "mountain" (at 232 meters, it's more like a hill) that overlooks all of Montreal and lends the city its name. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, creator of Central Park in New York, the park is elegant and accessible, and has hundreds of nooks and crannies for exploring. A broad and gradual 5-mile bike and pedestrian path begins at the corner of Mont Royal Avenue and Avenue du Parc, wending its way around the mountain and culminating at the Belvedere, with incredible views of the city in all directions. http://www.lemontroyal.qc.ca/

Learn

Work

Buy

Eat

Montreal has a huge variety of food options, from diners and fast food to low-cost ethnic restaurants to haute cuisine. The large local Jewish population has contributed local specialties including a huge smoked meat sandwich called viande fumée and small, crusty bagels. Other specialties are "all-dressed" pizza (with smoked meat), and Quebecois favorites like split pea soup.

No visit to Montreal is complete without at least one plate of poutine (from English "pudding"). This unique dish is a plate of french fries, drowned in gravy, and topped with with chewy curds of white cheddar. There are variations on the theme -- adding chicken, beef, vegetables or sausage, or replacing the gravy with tomato sauce (poutine italienne). Every Montrealer has their favorite poutine restaurant where you can get "the real stuff."

Many Montreal restaurants require you to bring your own bottle of wine (apportez votre vin). This may sound like a hassle, but you end up paying much less for wine with dinner if you bring it yourself. There's usually a SAQ -- the province's official liquor store -- nearby; ask your waiter.

Restaurants lie thick on the ground in Montreal. A stroll down Duluth Street or Prince Arthur -- both pedestrian streets -- will turn up at least a few worth trying.

  • Futenbrule. A unique restaurant serving an incredible variety of beers from all over the world, and a selection of venison and other game dishes - often made up modestly as venison steaks or caribou burgers or boar sandwich.
  • La Banquise, 994 Rue Rachel Est, 525-2415. Open 24 hours. La Banquise consistently tops locals' lists for best poutine in town (perhaps because it's open for post-bar-hopping munchfests when judgement is slightly impaired). The clientele is hip and clubworn, and the staff is friendly. Poutine makes up most of the menu, but if you insist there's hamburgers and other fast-food fare. $6-10.
  • Chu Chai, 4088 Rue St. Denis, 843-4194. M-Sa 12PM-3PM, 5PM-10PM, Su 12PM-3PM, 5PM-9PM. A treat for vegetarians, vegans, and those who love them, Chu Chai specializes in Thai cuisine made with soy or vegetable protein to simulate meat. The roast "duck" is delicious, and the tom yum gai (lemongrass soup with "chicken") warms the heart. A bistro and takeout counter next door called "Chuch" has many of the same dishes in a more casual setting. Bring your own wine. $15-20 (per person, not including wine). http://www.chuchai.com/
  • Toqué!, 3842 Rue St. Denis, 499-2084. In 1993, chef Normand Laprise put Montreal cuisine on the map with this landmark restaurant, and after more than 10 years it's still going strong. Combining the latest trends in fine dining with locally-available produce, the chefs create spectacularly complex dishes in tiny but strangely satisfying portions. The house specialty is an 8-course surprise menu, made up of many small dishes that continue to delight over and over. This restaurant will take a bite out of your wallet, but serious foodies will find it worth the reputation. $30-50 ($80 menu, $100 with wine). http://www.restaurant-toque.com/

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Bars

  • Name of Bar, Address (extra directions if necessary), phone number (email, fax, other contact if possible). Days and times open. One to three sentences about the food, service, atmosphere, view, specialties, music, what have you. $lowprice-$highprice (extra price info). http://www.restaurant.example.com/

Clubs Events

Sleep

Specific accommodation info, or general idea of good areas of the destination to try. Other good info to include is high/low season, the importance of reservation, things to request (quiet room, view, airport pick up, etc)

Budget

  • Name of Place, Address (extra directions if necessary), phone number (email, fax, other contact if possible). Days and times open. One to three sentences about the service, atmosphere, view, rooms, what have you. $lowprice-$highprice (extra price info). http://www.hotel.example.com/

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay Safe

Get out

Montreal makes an excellent entryway for visiting other cities and destinations in Quebec. Quebec City, about 3 hours to the north east on Highway 40, is almost but not quite a day trip -- you'll want to stay over, anyways. Mont Tremblant lies less than 2 hours north in the Laurentides, while the Eastern Townships are about the same distance straight east. If you're continuing to Ontario, Ottawa is 2 hours west by car, and Toronto is a more distant, but still doable, 6 hour drive.

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