Montreal is famous for its unique Anglo-Gallic heritage.This works in the visitor’s favor, for where else is there such joie de vivre in North America?
Montreal is as renowned for superb French pastries, artisan cheeses, outdoor markets and torturous outdoor staircases as it is for its heritage buildings, gilded madonna’s and the magnificent skyline, best viewed from lookouts on top of Mont Royal, the name Jacques Cartier gave the mountain in 1535.
Romantic Old Buildings
Even though demolition crews have devastated large areas of Vieux Montreal, there are still plenty of romantic old buildings which give testimony to the city’s heady, early days. In the 1800s Montreal, with its combination of navigation on the St. Lawrence River, banking, commerce and artistry, was one of the foremost centers of New World civilization and communication..Canada’s first bank, the Bank of Montreal, opened its doors in 1817 in Montreal..
English versus French
According to the diary of Reverend William Bell, a Scot who visited Montreal on the way to Perth, Ontario where he settled in 1817, there were nearly 30,000 inhabitants in Montreal, “about half of whom are of French extraction; the rest are English, Scotch, Irish, Americans, etc. The English language is more frequently spoken than at Quebec (city), yet even here it is difficult doing business without some knowledge of the French.” He continued, saying that the “city contains many handsome buildings, and is evidently making rapid advances in improvement.”.
Montreal’s Oldest Square
John Ostells’s handsome neo-classic Customs House still stands on the Place Royale, Montreal’s oldest square. It now houses the gift shop of the Pointe-a-Callieres Museum, near the port and practically on top of an old Indian burial site. The famed Beaver Club, started in 1785 by merchants who were carrying on trade with aboriginals in Canada, is still a place where gourmets meet. It is now at home in the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, well situated for visitors wanting to walk around Old Montreal.
A preoccupation with good things to eat exists as strongly in Montreal as in Paris and it contributes to an impression of solid bourgeois prosperity. In considering restaurants, a visit should be made to Vieux Montreal, with its narrow cobbled streets. Here, there is a bevy of fine eateries but today it is unusual is find tourtiere, the pork pie of the early settlers; ragout de pattes, a meat stew with pig’s feet; or ragout de boulettes, stew with meatballs; and cretons, a sort of pork pate. Many of the restaurants, such as the Auberge le Saint Gabriel,426 rue St. Gabriel are in what used to be underground storage places or even smugglers’ hide-outs.
The Hotel Nelligan, which won the Travelers’ Choice Award in 2009 has an in-house restaurant well worth trying. It is in Old Montreal on rue St. Paul. And no visit to Montreal would be complete without trying the bagels at the Fairmont Bagel Factory or the smoked meat at Schwartz’s. rumored to be the best this side of the Atlantic.
The oldest building in Montreal proper is the Sulpician seminary on Notre Dame Street at Place d’Armes. Part of this building dates back to 1660. The clock usually on its wall (now being repaired) is the oldest outdoor clock in North America. The oldest structure in Montreal is the Martello Tower on rue Sherbrooke, which is a fashionable shopping street. The tower was built in 1683 as part of the Sulpician fortifications against the Indians, and is one of the oldest buildings in all Montreal. The College de Montreal, founded in 1767, now occupies the site of the old Sulpician fort.