Almost 500 years ago, a man by the name of Jacques Cartier sailed up to (at the time) the furthest point that his ship could reach in the St. Lawrence River, only to find an Iroquois village occupying a strategic point on an island with a very high hill. A century later, the French made this place the headquarters for establishing a colonial empire in the New World, with their eyes squarely set on achieving dominance in the fur trade.
This lasted little more than a hundred years, as the British juggernaut steamrolled the French in the Seven Year’s War in the 18th century. This, combined with the determination of the local Quebecois to preserve their culture in the face of red-coated imperialism, led to Montreal becoming the bilingual city it is today. About 50% of the city speak both English and French fluently, with 71% holding French as their mother tongue. This makes Montreal the second largest French speaking city in the world, after the capital of France, Paris. The diversity of Montreal doesn’t end there though. The dynamic nature of this cities’ culture has drawn people from countless cultures, with Italians, Arabs, Haitians, Jews, Chinese, and most recently Filipinos moving to Montreal to pursue a better life in a new land.
All this has combined to make Montreal an irresistible place to live and visit. The history of this city, dating back hundreds of years have blessed it with a variety of architecture that is positively ancient compared to most cities in North America. These combined cultures and ethnicities and cultures have contributed to countless festivals, which will sweep you up with their awesomeness, especially during the summer months. Best of all, the natural assets, including that massive knoll that attracted the attention of the French nearly a half millennia ago, make for an excellent escape from the urbanity of Montreal when the heat of the streets becomes too much too bear in the peak of summer.
Those looking for a taste of Europe will find it within the district of Old Montréal. Here, buildings date back all the way to the 17th century, when this now mighty city was but a meek fortification that went by the name of Ville Marie.
Cobblestoned pedestrian streets host a variety of street performers, while fine French restaurants, a number of museums, and numerous boutiques compete for your attention along the way. Along the Old Port area, the Cirque de Soleil is set up periodically when the latest creation of Guy Laliberte is ready to dazzle audiences from around the world, and the rest of the time, countless fisherman and women cast a line hoping to reel in a big catch from the St. Lawrence River.
Of all the architectural attractions in the whole city, perhaps none stand out as starkly as the Notre-Dame Basilica. This massive cathedral was designed based on the Gothic Revival school of design, and contains a wooden pipe organ that stands out above all other elements of the interior of the church, as it has 7000 individual woodwind pipes that tower over the congregation at the back of the building.
Summer is a marvellous time to be in Montreal, as not only are there a wide variety of festivals to entertain residents and travelers alike, but the quality of most of these events has made most of them world famous. From Juste Pour Rire (Just For Laughs), a comedy festival that has launched many comics in North America to superstardom, to the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which is the largest festival of its kind in the world, Montreal thinks big when it comes to celebrations of culture.
Other can’t miss events include Montreal International Fireworks Competition (one of the largest in the world), Fete de St-Jean-Baptiste (Quebec’s national holiday), and its Gay Pride festival (Montreal is one of the most gay friendly cities in the world).
Whether the noise and the heat radiating off the asphalt is getting you down, or you just want to get a sweeping view of the area from up high, heading to Mont Royal will accomplish both goals handily. Locals will be occupying its spacious lawns playing frisbee, participating in drum circles, or just soaking up the rays of the much appreciated sun in the summer, while the winter finds many making the most of Montreal’s frigid weather by skating on the sizable Lac Des Castors. The Chalet du Mont Royal houses art from different periods in Canadian history, while the Kondiaronk Lookout hosts an unforgettable view of the downtown core.
Back in 1967, the World’s Fair paid its first visit to Canadian soil in Montreal as a fitting way to celebrate the nation’s centennial. Parc Jean-Drapeau was home to the pavilions and expositions of that monumental event in Canadian history.
To this day, many remnants of that exciting time still remain, including the Biosphere, which was the USA pavilion and today is home to a museum that focuses on climate, meteorology, and water and air quality. Also, check out Habitat 67, a housing development that looks like a post-modern art piece on steroids, still serves that purpose today, but it also draws countless photobugs looking for a shot of one of the most unusual buildings ever constructed on Canadian soil.