Easter in Montreal

I spent a few days over the warm, sunny Easter weekend in Montreal. It’s only two hours from Ottawa, but I only seem to get down there a couple times each year. And it’s a world away.

As Canada’s capital, Ottawa has a lot to offer, but compared to Montreal, Ottawa is very bland. If Ottawa is white Wonder Bread, Montreal is pumpernickle. Its streets teem with life and a mixing of languages and cultures. Depending on where you are, you’ll often hear conversations in English, French, Spanish, Italian and Haitian Creole all within a space of minutes. Each neighbourhood has its own ethnic and cultural character.

Montreal is loud, but refined. Its architecture covers many eras from the 17th century to the very modern, but most buildings have a strong sense of design. There’s timeless art in the Métro (subway) and on the streets. Fine dining is everywhere. Montrealers love good food.

I stayed on Sherbrooke near McGill University, the main English-language university, and walked or took the Métro to various points in the city. I tend to go back to favourite areas because they are always different according to the time of year and time of day.

With early summer-like weather, the Latin Quarter near the Université du Québec à Montréal was buzzing with activity in the sidewalk bars and cafés. I took a sequence of tripod photos as night descended on this hive of activity.

On a Saturday morning, the market at Jean Talon on the edge of Little Italy is a popular place, though it’s still relatively quiet at this time of year before all the fresh local produce comes in. The fruit, vegetables and busy shoppers and vendors all add lots of colour.

The narrow cobbled streets of Old Montreal are best visited early on a Sunday morning before they fill up with cars. With only the occasional pedestrian, it’s easy to walk among the centuries-old buildings and imagine you are in another era, or even on another continent. Later in the day, the area is dominated by traffic jams and tourist kitsch.

Invariably there are disappointments as some landmarks are torn up for construction. Last time I was in Montreal, the old fire station at Place d’Youville (now a museum) was covered in scaffolding. It’s now complete and looking good as ever. This time, Place d’Armes in front of Notre-Dame Basilica is completely torn up and closed off with hoarding. But it just means the city is renewing. Unlike many other North American cities, Montreal values its heritage buildings.

I walked from Ile Sainte-Hélène, site of the former Expo ’67, back to downtown Montreal across the immense steel structure of Pont Jacques Cartier, one of a few bridges across the St. Lawrence River. Little remains of Expo, which I visited as a kid, except the geodesic dome of what was once the U.S. pavillion. It was covered in plexiglass, but after that burned in a fire, all that’s left is the metal frame. It’s now the Biosphère, a museum of the environment. Once the site of a massive international fair, the rest of the island is mostly tree-covered hills with views of the downtown.

Walking back over the bridge, the blisters on my feet grew bigger and walking became difficult. But Montreal is such a great walking city, it’s a small price to pay.

Sun over the Biosphere, Montreal

The Biosphère, former U.S. Pavillion at Expo ’67.

About Richard McGuire
Richard McGuire is a part-time photographer and photography enthusiast based on Ottawa, Canada.

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