A Taste of France in Montreal
Considered as the cultural capital of Canada, this French-speaking city is a cosmopolitan celebration of Québécois style
Text by DR. JUN RUIZ
MONTREAL IS CANADA’S second largest city. Today, its metropolitan area has grown to a population of around 3.5 million inhabitants. About three-fourths are of French descent, another 15 percent have English origins, and the rest represent the other ethnic groups.
Montreal is the second largest primarily French-speaking city in the world, after Paris. The heart of French Canada is the Quebec province. In this province, French is not just spoken at home, but it is the official language of business, government, and law.
Montreal was named after the triple-peaked hill Mont Royal (spelled as Mont-Real in Middle French) located in the heart of the city. The best time to visit Montreal is during spring time (late April until June). People also like to visit during fall, when leaves change in color.
Montreal was part of my Eastern Canadian adventure three years ago when I toured four cities in the Ontario and Quebec provinces. I was really excited to see Montreal and Quebec City as people have always compared it to France.
I took the train from Ottawa to Montreal. Mont Royal was my first stop. This natural landmark is very popular with the locals and visitors.
Mont Royal is the green hill that rises 234 meters (767 ft) above the city. The mountain is also the site of the Mont Royal Park. It has a verdant landscape in its 500 acres, mostly wooded forests of maple and red oaks. There is a man-made lake, a short ski slope, and it is crowned by a 31-m illuminated steel cross built to commemorate the survival of the city from a devastating flood in 1642.
The Kondiaronk Belvedere is a semi-circular plaza in front of the Chalet du Mont Royal Pavilion. The interior walls of the spacious chalet exhibit pictures from the history of Montreal.
From the terrace of the belvedere at the city’s highest point, I was amazed by the breathtaking sights of the downtown Montreal skyline and the St. Lawrence River. No trip is really complete in Montreal without seeing the spectacular views from here.
Mont Royal Park is popular for outdoor activities, especially the hiking trails for nature lovers and sports enthusiasts. It is a frequent venue for athletic, music, and cultural activities.
SAINT JOSEPH’S ORATORY
As this attraction stands at the foot of Mont-Royal, I next visited the magnificent Roman Catholic Church of Saint Joseph’s Oratory in the late afternoon. This attracts two million pilgrims annually from all over the world. It is dedicated to Canada’s patron saint, Saint Joseph. Numerous miraculous healings by Saint Brother Andre had been reported to occur here.
The grand Italian Renaissance-style of the exterior of the basilica is very imposing. The huge and impressive copper dome is 97 m, and is second only in height to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Inside the basilica, the interior is grand and contemporary. Among its attractions are the Crucifix, the wooden statues of the apostles, and the stained-glass windows. The museum is popular for the beautiful multicultural collection of two hundred nativity scenes that are in permanent exhibition.
The oratory’s magnificent organs and the carillon, composed of 56 bronze bells, give the music that thrills devotees, visitors, and passers-by.
The following day, I joined a coach city tour. Our first stop was the magnificent Notre-Dame Basilica (Fr. Basilique Notre-Dame-de-Montreal) in Vieux-Montreal. It was originally built in the 17th century in the historic district.
This basilica resembles the Notre-Dame in Paris from its exterior, with its twin towers rising 69 m above the church. The splendid architecture of the church combines the elements of Neo-Classical and Neo-Gothic design.
Once you enter the basilica, the sheer grandeur of the interior totally captivates you. This is indeed a feast for the eyes – the most beautiful church I have ever seen.
The ceiling is totally mesmerizing – looking like the soaring deep blue sky studded with thousands of 24-karat golden stars. I was dazzled by the magnificence of the polychrome of colors of blues, azures, red, purples, silver, and gold inside the basilica.
There are hundreds of intricate wooden carvings and several religious statues, including the Crucifixion at the main altar. It houses one of the largest organs (7,000-pipe organ) in the world.
Our next major stop was the Olympic Park where we spent three hours. It is a modern attraction in a historic city.
Designed for the Summer Olympic Games in 1976, Montreal’s Olympic Park is composed of unique modern buildings and cost a whooping Can$1.61 billion to build. The construction put the city in debt and Montrealers call it as “The Big Owe”.
The Olympic Stadium is fully equipped with seven aquatic pools, including a 50-feet scuba diving pool. The stadium, seating 56,000, is used today for concerts by international stars, trade shows, and other big exhibitions.
Arching over the stadium is the Montreal Tower. At 175 m (575 ft), this is the world’s tallest inclined tower rising at an angle of 45 degrees. The ride via a cable car can be breathtaking as it takes visitors up the side of the tower to a large viewing observatory in less than two minutes. Here at the glass platform at the top, I was awed by more stunning views of the city.
MONTREAL BOTANICAL GARDEN
This was our final stop in our coach tour. The Montreal Botanical Garden is the second-largest attraction of its kind and among the most beautiful in the world (after England’s Kew Gardens). There are 26,000 species of plants and ten greenhouses that are open all year round.
There are 30 thematic gardens, including a rose garden, an alpine garden, the Chinese Garden (a replica of a 14th century Ming Dream Lake Garden), and the beautiful Japanese Garden that has one of the best bonsai collections.
I had two fun-filled days in Montreal. After going on a day trip to Quebec City, it was time for me to bid Canada goodbye. It was such a wonderful and educational trip that I wanted to learn French. Au revoir – that means goodbye to you guys. TP