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Montreal: Affordable Winter Base for Families The blackboard menu is in French and all around the little cafe, people are chattering in French, nibbling on croissants and sipping cafe au lait. But we're a lot closer to home than Paris. Welcome to Montreal, just a scant hour-long flight or a 370-mile drive from New York, or an hour's drive from the border of Vermont. Most everyone, it seems, speaks English, as well as French, so there's no need for my 16-year-old daughter, Melanie, to practice her French, she says happily. Another plus: Though there are no bargains here for Americans anymore now that the Canadian "loonie" is about the same value as a U.S. dollar, at least we can soak up the foreign ambiance without spending so much in Europe where the dollar is so weak against the Euro. Especially this time of year, you can find hotel rooms starting at $135 a night (http://www.findyourmontreal.com). Mel and I have come to Montreal for a mother-daughter weekend getaway and a look at McGill University, one of four in this oh-so-cosmopolitan city, which visitors can't help but love. Even our taxi drivers wax eloquent about their city - the restaurants! (There are more than 6,000 offering everything from French to Ethiopian to Montreal's famous bagels.) The museums! (There are more than 30. Visit http://www.museemontreal.org for the Montreal Museums Pass.) The theater, dance companies and festivals that go on all year! (There are more than 90, including the popular la Fete des Neiges de Montreal in January.) The shopping! (Simons, http://www.simons.ca, on Montreal's famous Ste-Catherine Street, we discover, is a good bet for young fashionistas on a budget. Such a clean city! So many parks; there are 1,009 of them and scores of green spaces. Let's not forget the 21-mile Underground Pedestrian Network that connects everything from metro stations to restaurants to skating rinks, office buildings, hospitals, libraries and nearly 1,000 retail shops. With ski areas just an hour away, I think, Montreal would prove a good, affordable winter base for families whose members aren't equally passionate about the slopes. Mel and I are ensconced in one of the city's many boutique hotels, the 59-room HotelXIX Siecle (http://www.hotelxixsiecle.com), which was built in a 19th-century bank building just a short walk from the historic cobble-stoned streets of the Old Port on the St. Lawrence River where this city began. And I love that breakfast is included. I promise Mel if she goes with me to the Pointe-a-Calliere, the Montreal museum of Archeology and History that tells the story of this city from its first Native-American settlers - our next stop will be Ste-Catherine Street where she can shop till she drops at street level and at the three interconnected malls underground. She liked the museum more than she expected - thanks to the terrific multimedia show and its excellent introduction to Montreal, from the first North Americans to the arrival of French settlers in 1642 and then later, the British. The museum is actually built atop authentic archeological remains, enabling visitors to take an underground archeological tour. Models set in the floor reveal how Place Royale evolved through the centuries and the exhibits include displays of artifacts found here, including dice, crockery, old combs and beer caps. Virtual historic figures also pop up to chat about their era. Even kids who hate museums can't help but be intrigued - and leave with a much better understanding of the cultures that have melded to make this city what it is today. Last modified: October 07. 2007 9:33AM
A man with a soft spot for Montreal's seafarers He kept a low profile but he was gregarious, a giant of Old Montreal, with a strong feel for its history ALAN HUSTAKThe Gazette Sunday, January 27, 2008 Grant Townsend, who owned a waterfront maritime supply company, was for more than 30 years involved in the direction of Mariners House, a hostel and social centre for itinerant seafarers in Old Montreal. Much more than an active Mariners House board member, he often contributed directly to sailors in need out of his own pocket. Townsend was 92 when he died at St. Mary's Hospital on Jan. 9. "He was a very good money manager. He was very involved in the welfare of Mariners House," said the institution's manager, Carolyn Osborne. "He never wanted to be board president because he was always bucking the board's considered opinion. "When our original building was put up for sale in the 1970s, the board was ready to take the first measly offer it could get, but he insisted they hold out for a much more substantial offer to guarantee the future of Mariners House." Grant William Townsend, the eldest of six children in a ship's chandler's family, was born in Montreal on Sept. 15, 1915, into a long line of seafarers. One of his ancestors was a British navy officer who took part in the siege of Louisbourg in 1758. His grandfather was the captain of a Nova Scotia windjammer. His father, Dudley Roy Townsend, founded the Montreal shipping supply company in 1917 and was Canada's comptroller for shipping supplies during the Second World War. For his contributions he was awarded the Order of the British Empire. Townsend had hoped to enlist in the Royal Canadian Navy during the war, but was rejected because of poor eyesight. Townsend was raised in Westmount and obtained an engineering degree from McGill University in 1950. He worked for Alcan then started a scaffolding company that he owned with a partner until he joined his father's business in 1961. Encouraged by his father, Townsend took an active interest in sailors' welfare and was a fundraiser for the Sailors' Institute. He helped negotiate its 1968 merger with the Catholic Sailors Club, which had been started in 1893, into the non-denominational Mariners House. A gregarious individual with a soft spot for those who worked the waterfront, he often housed as many or six or seven seamen in the second floor of his warehouse. "The work he did was unbelievable, he was always involved in service clubs, like the Rotary Club, and as vice-president of the Ship Suppliers Association. He kept a very low profile," said his widow, Berna Nardin. "He always could work his way around any problem and find a solution. "He was very determined. More than money, he used his influence to get things done. He was soft. He'd often hire people because they needed a job, not because they were necessarily qualified." Townsend's company warehouse in the Gillespie Moffatt building on Place d'Youville stood on the site of a mansion built in 1691 for Louis-Hector de Callière, who was governor of Montreal from 1684 to 1698 and then governor of New France until he died in 1703. Seven years ago Townsend sold the historic property to the Pointe à Callière archeological museum for well below its market value. It was, he said, his gift to the city. The museum plans to incorporate the foundations of the mansion into an expanded $30-million underground gallery. "He adored Old Montreal and was steeped in its history," Nardin said. "Rather than see the building fall into the hands of a developer who wouldn't respect the historic foundations, he wanted it preserved as an archeological site." His first marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Berna Nardin, a former teacher and translator whom he married in 1982, and by the four children he and his first wife adopted. [email protected] © The Gazette (Montreal) 2008 http://www.canada.com/components/print.aspx?id=d15bfab5-c24f-4c3f-862c-daeb870f75dc