Squeezing the most out of summer, the Monkey made for Montréal in September 2004. He rather enjoyed Montréal’s cultural landscape, and hopes to return to this grand old city some day.
Montréal takes its name from a 230-meter hill at the heart of the modern city, the Mont Royal. Here the Monkey surveys the skyline of modern Montréal, a far cry from the first significant settlement—Ville-Marie de Montréal—that French colonists established on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in 1642. The French settlers arrived over a century after the first French explorer in the region, Jacques Cartier, visited in 1535, finding an Iroquois village at the foot of the mont.
Montréal gradually grew into a major trading center, propelled by the harvesting of local lumber and animal pelts (Montréalphile that he is, the Monkey is not happy about that aspect of the city’s history). But in its early decades, Montréal played second fiddle to Québec City, up the St. Lawrence, which served as the French imperial center in North America. When the French finally lost out to the British in the American imperial stakes in 1759 and 1760, Montréal became a British possession—and one that was briefly, from 1775 to 1776, overrun by the independence-seeking British colonies that were soon to become the United States. But the growing city retained an unmistakeably French air in cultural terms. It was also a strategically critical city, possessed of riverine port with access to the Atlantic and much of the fertile interior of the Québec region. By the second half of the 19th Century, Montréal was the chief port, railroad junction, and financial center of the massive Dominion of Canada, the reorganized British colonial administrative system in what would shortly become the independent state of Canada.
Montréal has remained a major Canadian city, long ago surpassing Québec City and now second only to Toronto in size and stature. The city retains several core traits of its French founders, not least in its peoples’ appreciation of rich cuisine, its ambling attitude, architectural heritage, and the preponderance of the French language. In fact, it is said that Montréal ranks as the second largest French-speaking city in the world (after Paris).
On chic Rue Sherbrooke in Montréal’s downtown district, the Musée des Beaux-Arts is the city’s premier fine arts museum, and also one of the oldest museums in Canada (opened in 1912, but with a history in the local arts scene dating back to the 1860). There are several other museums in the surrounding streets, creating a cultural zone in conjunction with nearby McGill University (below).
Montréal is home to at least two well-known universities, Concordia and McGill. Here, the Monkey visits the genteel grounds of McGill’s campus, which is wedged between downtown and the foot of Mont Royal. The building behind the Monkey is the Redpath Museum, a McGill-affiliated natural history collection housed in what is said to be the oldest North American building constructed for the express purpose of housing a museum. The Redpath was built in 1882.
Canada, with its relatively open immigration and asylum policies, has become a cosmopolitan culture with all the benefits of a multicultural society. The major cities—Toronto, Vancouver, and of course Montréal—are particularly diverse and lively in terms of their human inhabitants.
Here, the Monkey makes a new friend in Montréal’s Chinatown. Located in the heart of the city, between the old city and the high-rise downtown, Chinatown is an enjoyable area to explore.
Day or night, Montréal’s most happening street may just be Rue St-Denis. Long and lined with bars, cafés, restaurants, boutiques, and bookshops, St-Denis is one of those streets that reminds reticent city dwellers why they opt to live in cities. Here, the Monkey peers down on a stretch of St-Denis par nuit.
The Monkey watches the waters of the mighty St. Lawrence Seaway from a walkway at the port of Vieux-Montréal. The striking clocktower behind him is the Tour de l’Horloge, a 1922 structure commemorating Canada’s marine dead from the First World War. The bridge in the distance is the Pont Jacques Cartier, which holds the dubious distinction of being the locus for the most suicide attempts, after San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. It was built from 1925 to 1930.
Desolé petit Singe, mais ça n’est pas votre maison! A lovely Montréal mansion in the Rue Sherbrooke area, near equally posh McGill University.
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