In September 2004, Le Singe explored the scenic streets of Montréal’s old city. Have a look with him!
Vieux-Montréal, the old city, is an atmospheric—and at times, overly romanticized—barrio at the core of the city. While the rather regal horse-drawn carriages trawling the cobblestone streets in search of tourists may take matters a step too far, the area is undoubtedly one of North America’s most beautiful and scenic colonial neighborhoods. The French colonial architecture is readily apparent, but Vieux-Montréal hasn’t shied away from the French-inspired fun of presenting temporal dissonance, as is the case with this bizarre modern art display juxtaposed against the simple lines of an 18th Century building. The Monkey enjoys such cultural clashes, as they expose a willingness to adopt the new while embracing the old, and help to keep cultures lively yet rooted.
The original European colonial settlement at Montréal was called Ville-Marie, and the multi-steepled church behind the Monkey here was the colony’s first, the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours. Close to the St. Lawrence riverfront, the church greeted anyone arriving in the city by water for centuries. While the present structure replaced the original chapel some 70 years after the founding of Ville-Marie, the Chapel is still one of the oldest buildings in Montréal. The rebuilt stone structure dates from 1771, and is commonly known as the Sailor’s Church due to its proximity to the port.
Montréal’s long history has ensured it carries a lovely hybridity of architectural styles. Indeed, the narrow streets of Vieux-Montréal, the old French colonial section of the city, is said to have the largest collection of 17th, 18th, and 19th Century buildings in North America. The Monkey was enthusiastic to take in the melange. In this shot from the Vieux-Montréal, the face-off between the neo-Gothic Basilique de Notre Dame (1829) and the Art Deco Aldred Building (1931) is particularly pleasing. Both structures front the Place d’Armes, the central plaza of Old Montréal.
Fronting Vieux-Montréal’s Place d’Armes and very much in control of the square is the Basilique de Notre Dame. This Catholic church, designed by the Irish-American James O’Donnell (a Protestant who converted to Catholicism at the end of his life, apparently so he could be buried in his impressive creation), dates from 1830. The neo-Gothic basilica features a striking blue interior, with stained glass much in evidence. As a devotee of the culture of kitsch, the Monkey was pleased to learn that Montréal’s Notre Dame played host to the 2000 wedding of French-Canadian singer Celine Dion to her manager, René Angélil. Talk about historic.
Montréal’s Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) is a grandiose Second Empire-style structure with clear links to the French motherland. On a slight crest above the Old City, the Hôtel de Ville dates from the 1870s. The building’s most famous—some might say notorious—moment was when, while visiting Expo ‘67, the nationalist French President Charles de Gaulle delivered a speech from the second floor balcony, in which he intoned, “Vive le Québec libre!” (Long live free Québec!). This slogan of Québec separatism was enthusiastically cheered by the gathered crowd, but was deeply resented by the Canadian government figures hosting de Gaulle on his official state visit.
Many Canadians viewed de Gaulle’s statement as an insult to the memory of Canadian soldiers who had fought and died to liberate France from Nazi occupation in the 1940s, and the Canadian Prime Minister, Lester Pearson, wryly noted that “Canadians do not need to be liberated.” De Gaulle’s breach of protocol led to a disruption in France-Canada relations, while also sharpening the discourse of Québec separatists.
The Monkey poses with several more run-of-the-mill structures in Vieux-Montréal. Still nice, n’est-ce pas?
Le Singe admires a lovely, slightly old building in the buffer zone between the old and new Montréal.
This Monkey adventure has been viewed 813 times since the 2010 website relaunch.