I travelled to Montreal my hometown for a week’s vacation away from PEI. Islanders will tell you that you need to get off the island especially between November and end April for mental health reasons. I did not listen to them and I should have, everyone I know goes away for a minimum of 2 full weeks in that time period.
I was born in Montreal and lived part of my childhood there from 1956 to 1960 and 1965 to 1974, only returning occasionally afterwards for family matters or to see friends.
I witnessed great changes in Montreal during the period of Mayor Jean Drapeau who had a grand vision for the Paris of the New World, Montreal is the second largest French speaking city in the World after Paris. It also was the metropolis of Canada until 1977 a title she lost to Toronto but regained as the other Metropolis after 2008.
The Metro system was opened in 1966, then we had the World Exposition in 1967, then the Olympics games in 1976. Montreal is also the seat of IATA and several international organizations, fine museums, art centres, great dining, etc.
It had been 4 years since my last visit when my father died and that visit was all about death and cleaning out my parents home, so not exactly a fun time.
I flew from Charlottetown on a regional jet (small plane) that is all that flies here to the island, the flight is 75 minutes so fairly quick. Montreal is a city of 4 million people and growing, construction everywhere, including the road system and a new bridge across the Saint-Lawrence river. People everywhere, traffic, very cosmopolitan and French.
I was staying with an old friend in the Côte des Neiges neighbourhood, near the Jewish General Hospital and the Université de Montréal. Montreal has 4 universities. The neighbourhood is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, though everyone speaks French and all signs are in French, you will hear a multitude of languages from around the world.
On Monday we went to a German grocery store which sells all manner of product from Germany and Austria but also has a great lunch counter with specialties as you would find them in Europe. It seems that many customers spoke German with the staff and French with everyone else. The food was very good, this business has been on the same corner of Queen Mary and Côte des Neiges for 60 years.
Then I went downtown, to look around and was very surprised at how much familiar streets where my parents lived and worked had completely changed to the point I could not remember what was previously there. The area around the old Windsor Station which is now a complex of tall stylish condo buildings, there is about 9 new towers. The Queen Elizabeth Hotel, my Mom’s favourite in Montreal has been completely redecorated for its 60th anniversary and it is very nicely done. The old Birks & Sons Jewellery store on Phillips Square is being remodelled into a luxury hotel but is keeping the famous jeweller on the ground floor.
Birks and Sons Jeweller on Sainte-Catherine street at Phillips Square under renovations.
A new Four Seasons Hotel is being built next to Ogilvy’s department store which is now amalgamated with Holt Renfrew. I thought of Dad when I saw this project, he knew all about it, it has been in the works for 10 years and is now coming to completion. My father opened the first Four Seasons Hotel in Montreal back in the 70’s, how he would have love to see this one, a tall tower of black glass.
I also walked by the former Mount Stephens Club which was the home of Sir George Stephens the builder with Sir William Cornelius Van Horne of the transcontinental railway in Canada in 1888. Today the mansion has been restored preserving the rare and exotic wood panelling and original decor and is used as meeting rooms and bar, dining rooms and joined at the back to a new hotel tower part of the Leading Hotels of the world collection.
Detail of the interior of the house, top is the former reception room panelled in Lemonwood or Degame, beautiful soft yellow colour. The other bottom photo shows the top of the staircase all in mahogany, the windows have Tiffany glass, it is very dark despite the very large windows, giving the house a very formal atmosphere.
Then on Sherbrooke Street I went to the Musée des Beaux Arts also known as the museum of Fine Arts to see what was on show. The museum has 2 new wings, one called Le Pavillon pour la Paix, a gift of Michal and Renata Hornstein and the other is the Pavillon Claire et Marc Bourgie, a gift of the Bourgie family, the premier undertakers for funerals of distinction in Quebec. The Museum was founded about 120 years ago by art lovers in Montreal on the same location it is now but with the years it has grown into a 7 building complex. What is interesting about its expansion is how organically it grew, incorporating other landmarks around it like the Erskine & American United Church with its 17 famous Tiffany Stain glass windows of 1897. I love this museum, the collections are superb and if you go to Montreal you really should make an effort to visit, even if just for one hour. The restaurant of the museum is also wonderful, I had lunch there and the food is very good as is the wine selection, I had a grilled octopus salad accompanied by a Pouilly Fuissé Chardonnay and then a Magret de Canard, very good indeed.
I return by Métro to my friend’s home, tired but very happy for this first day.