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Dans le SFGate Montreal's quartet of cultures creates a colorful pattern Margo Pfeiff Updated 11:25 am, Friday, July 4, 2014 Tourists gather near the Basilique Notre-Dame in Montreal. Photo: Joanne Levesque, Getty Images The Ogilvy Piper makes his way through the jewelry section of the iconic department store at noon every day. Photo: Margo Pfeiff, Special To The Chronicle A room at Old Montreal's classic 18th century Hotel Pierre du Calvet. Photo: Margo Pfeiff, Special To The Chronicle Old Montreal's classic 18th century Hotel Pierre du Calvet. A terrace at an Old Montreal restaurant. Photo: Margo Pfeiff, Special To The Chronicle Activities at the Lachine Canal National Historic Site. Photo: Margo Pfeiff, Special To The Chronicle Ninety percent of all first encounters in downtown Montreal begin with the same two words. That are the same word. "Bonjour. Hi." Respond one way and you parlez français; answer the other and you're in English territory. Despite periodic bickering - including threats of Quebec's separating from the rest of Canada - the biggest French-speaking city outside of Paris has actually become increasingly bilingual and harmonious over recent decades. But with the strong bilateral English-French vibe, what's often overshadowed is that there were four founding cultures that laid down strong roots on this island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River almost 350 years ago. I'm reminded of this as I wait at a traffic light staring at each culture's national symbols on a flapping city flag - the French fleur-de-lis, the red English rose, an Irish shamrock and Scotland's thistle. Though Montreal is wildly multicultural today, in the 19th century, 98 percent of the city's population was French, English, Irish or Scottish. Is it still possible, I wonder, to experience each of those distinct original cultures - including real, non-poutine France and genuine tally-ho England - in modern Montreal? Heart of New France Since I believe every cultural quest is improved with a signature cocktail, I start with France and I order my very first absinthe at the Sarah B Bar, named after Sarah Bernhardt, queen of French tragedy. As couples cuddle in "Green Fairy" alcoves, my bartender pours the notorious chartreuse liquor that Hemingway, Toulouse-Lautrec and Oscar Wilde imbibed in their Parisian days into a specially shaped glass. He rests a flat, perforated "absinthe spoon" topped with a sugar cube across the top, then drips ice water until it is melted, turning the absinthe milky. Legend has it that absinthe has driven men to madness and drove Van Gogh to slice off his ear. Sipping the herbal, floral and slightly bitter cocktail, I look closely at the bottle's label - while the current version is a hefty 160 proof, it's missing the likely source of "la fée verte" (green fairy) hallucinations, wormwood. I teeter on uneven cobblestone streets to the heart of New France in Old Montreal amid clip-clopping horse-drawn carriages. Bells chime from Notre Dame Basilica with its Limoges stained glass windows from France, artists sell their crafts in narrow alleyways, and in the evening, gas lamps still light up rue Ste.-Helene. I check into La Maison Pierre du Calvet, a nine-room guesthouse spanning three small buildings dating back to 1725. It's a stone-walled time capsule with random staircases, crooked hallways and an antique-filled library with ancient fireplaces. Escargot and stag fillet are served in a grand old dining room, and the chateau luxury includes a grand step-up, monarchy-caliber canopied bed. The morning streets waft cafe au lait and croissant aromas as I walk to the walled city's original market square of Place Royale to Maison Christian Faure, a chic new French pastry shop. In the hands-on cooking school, I glean the secrets behind crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside, iconic French macarons. It's so simple they even offer kids' classes, and it's made all the more fun by Lyon-born Faure himself, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) - an elite group of France's best chefs - and the stories of his days as pastry chef for French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the prince of Monaco. "I moved here because the public markets are like those in Provence," he croons in a Lyon accent, "and because Montreal is so, mmmmm ... Europe." The pipes are calling While French zealots came to the New World to save the souls of "sauvages," the Scots came to make money. And you can still see plenty of it in the Golden Square Mile's historical buildings sloping up from Sherbrooke Street, downtown's main upscale shopping boulevard, to Mont Royal, the park-topped hill after which the city is named. The area was a residential tycoon alley from 1850 to 1930, occupied by rail, shipping, sugar and beer barons with names like Angus, McIntyre and Molson who owned 70 percent of the country's wealth. About 85 percent of the lavish estates were lost before heritage finally won over demolition in 1973. When I walk those hilly streets for the first time instead of whizzing by in my car, I'm surprised to see downtown with different eyes, an obviously British and Scottish quarter with an eclectic architectural mix from Neo-Gothic and Queen Anne to Art Nouveau, estates with names such as Ravenscrag and castles crafted from imported Scottish red sandstone. These days they're consulates, office headquarters and the Canadian McCord Museum; 30 of the beauties are campus outposts bought by McGill University, a legacy of Scottish merchant James McGill, who donated his 47-acre summer estate to become one of Canada's leading universities. One of my favorite buildings is the 1893 Royal "Vic" (Victoria) Hospital, where you can get your appendix yanked in a Scottish baronial castle complete with turrets. And where there are Scots, there are bagpipes. Montreal's most famous piper is at Ogilvy, a high-end department store on Ste. Catherine Street. Every day from noon to 1 p.m. since 1927, a kilt-clad piper plays marches and reels as he strolls around all five floors, down spiral staircases and beneath massive chandeliers where purchases are packed in tartan bags and boxes I also hear the whining tones of "Scotland the Brave" as I head toward my Highland cocktail at the Omni Hotel, where a kilted piper every Wednesday evening reminds folks emerging from Sherbrooke Street office towers that it's Whisky Folies night, a single-malt-scotch tasting in the Alice Bar. I choose five from the 10- to 20-year-olds served with a cuppa fish and chips. A local Scotsman drops in for a wee one, informing me that there's been a benefit St. Andrews Ball in Montreal every November for 177 years, "but come to the Highland Games, where there's dancing, throwing stuff around and looking up kilts - fun for the whole family." Montreal's bit o' Irish Snippets of the four founding cultures pop up repeatedly when you walk around town - statues of Robbie Burns and Sir John A. Macdonald, the Glasgow-born first prime minister of Canada; the green Art Nouveau ironwork of a Paris Metro at the Victoria Square subway station, given by France; British hero Adm. Horatio Nelson overlooking Old Montreal's main square (though the original likeness was blown to bits by Irish republican extremists in 1966). Ah, the Irish. They arrived in Montreal in big numbers in the early 1800s to build the Lachine Canal to bypass rapids blocking the shipping route to the Great Lakes. They settled nearby in Griffintown, currently a maze of condos and cranes. Stroll along rapidly gentrifying Notre Dame Street, still an eclectic melange of antiques-and-collectibles shops, funky cafes and local bistros. The Irish were unique among English-speaking immigrants - hatred for their English oppressors back home had them cozying up with the French, fellow Catholics. Surprisingly, the Irish legacy is dominant in Montreal; about 40 percent of the population has a wee bit of Blarney blood. Of course there are also pubs and churches, St. Pat's Basilica being the ornate religious hub, its interior adorned with intertwined fleurs-de-lis and shamrocks. Conveniently nearby, sacred brew is served over the altar of Hurley's Pub, a favorite hangout where Irish and Newfoundlanders work magic with fiddles, pipes and drums - even the Pogues have jammed here. I love Hurley's because it's a rare pub with Guinness stout on tap both icy cold and traditionally lukewarm; I prefer the latter for bigger flavor. "Watch him top that brew up three times," Frankie McKeown urges from a neighboring stool. "Even in Ireland they hardly do that now." The Irish come out of the woodwork on March 17, when Canada's oldest St. Patrick's parade turns downtown green, as it has since 1824. "It's amazing," says McKeown. "In Dublin it's all done in 45 minutes, but here we're watching floats for three hours." A grand party ensues afterward at Hurley's. "But it's just as much fun on Robbie Burns Day, when a haggis held high follows a piper through the pub." Britain in the mix Britain enters Montreal's picture after the Seven Years War in the 1760s when France dumps Quebec in exchange for the sugar colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe. By 1845, about 55,000 British top out as 57 percent of Montreal's population - and the percentage has been dwindling ever since. While there may not be much Scottish brogue or Irish lilt left these days, there's plenty of culture on the plate and in the glass, though surprisingly not so much representing British roots in Montreal. In 2012, English chef Jamie Oliver made big waves by teaming up with Montreal chef Derek Dammann to highlight creative British tavern-inspired fare at the popular Maison Publique (Public House), serving locally sourced, home-smoked/pickled and cured angles on Welsh rarebit, hogget with oats and cabbage, and the like. Otherwise, the truest of Montreal's British establishments is the Burgundy Lion in Griffintown, one of the few places to offer Sunday British "footie" on the big screens, as kippers 'n' eggs, Lancashire pot pie and cucumber sandwiches are dished out by gals in tight, mod-'70s outfits. I happen to drop in during England's National Day, St. George's, to find the place hopping with dart-throwing, papier-mache piñata-style "dragon slaying" and ballad singing. I wind up at the bar sipping my pint of Boddingtons between two fellows, both dressed in fake chain mail. The one also draped in a Union Jack British flag clicks my glass with his bottle, announcing "Here's to Blighty!" before raising the visor on his medieval knight helmet to take a royal slug. Can you still experience Montreal's four founding nations in this multicultural modern city? Oui. Yes. And aye. If You Go GETTING THERE Air Canada offers daily flights from San Francisco to Montreal year round. (888) 247-2262, www.aircanada.com. WHERE TO STAY La Maison Pierre du Calvet: 405 Bonsecours St., Old Montreal. (514) 282-1725 or (866) 544-1725. www.pierreducalvet.ca/english. Lavish French colonial inn. From $265 double with continental breakfast. (Two on-site dining rooms serve French fare.) Fairmont Queen Elizabeth: 900 Rene Levesque Blvd. West. (866) 540-4483. www.fairmont.com/queen-elizabeth-montreal. A classic fit for everyone from the Queen Mother to John and Yoko; where they recorded "Give Peace a Chance" in 1969. From $209 double. Hotel Nelligan: 106 St. Paul West, Old Montreal. (877) 788-2040. www.hotelnelligan.com. Chic boutique hotel named after a famed Irish-French poet. From $250 double. WHERE TO EAT Le Mas des Oliviers: 1216 Bishop St. (514) 861-6733. www.lemasdesoliviers.ca. Classic French cuisine at a landmark downtown restaurant, one of the city's oldest places to eat. Dinner for two from $120. Also open for lunch. Restaurant L'Express: 3927 St. Denis. (514) 845-5333, www.restaurantlexpress.ca. Popular, casual French bistro, a Montreal icon. Dinner for two from $60. Maison Publique: 4720 Rue Marquette. (514) 507-0555, www.maisonpublique.com. Jamie Oliver's hip, up-market and creative take on British tavern fare. Very popular, no reservations. Dinner for two from $60. Burgundy Lion: 2496 Notre-Dame West. (514) 934-0888, www.burgundylion.com. Only true British pub in Montreal. Large selection of local and imported brews and one of Canada's biggest single-malt whiskey collections. English gastro pub menu with lunch and dinner from $40 for two. Hurley's Irish Pub: 1225 Crescent St. (514) 861-4111, www.hurleysirishpub.com. Great selection of brews, a traditional Emerald Isle pub menu, and Irish and/or Newfoundland fiddle music nightly. Entrees from $10. WHAT TO DO Point-a-Calliere Museum of Archaeology and History: 350 Place Royale, Old Montreal. (514) 872-7858, www.pacmusee.qc.ca/en/home. Excellent museum set atop the original city town square. Closed Mondays except in summer. Adults $18. McCord Museum: 690 Rue Sherbrooke West. (514) 398-7100, www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/en. Extensive cultural museum of all things Canadian. Frequent exhibitions of Montreal's various cultures. Closed Mondays. Adults $12. Fitz and Follwell Co: 115 Ave. du Mont-Royal West. (514) 840-0739, www.fitzandfollwell.co. Guided Montreal biking, walking and unique snow tours. Martin Robitaille: Private history-oriented city guide. [email protected] Maison Christian Faure: 355 Place Royale, Old Montreal, (514) 508-6453, www.christianfaure.ca. Hands-on French pastry and macaron-making classes. There's even a pastry-making boot camp for kids. Whisky Folies, Omni Hotel: 1050 Sherbrooke West. (514) 985-9315, http://bit.ly/1iCaJxc . Single-malt scotch and whisky tastings with fish and chips every Wednesday, 5-9 p.m.. From $16 to $40. My Bicyclette: 2985-C St. Patrick (Atwater Market). (877) 815-0150, www.mybicyclette.ca. Bike rental and tours of the Lachine Canal region. MORE INFORMATION Tourism Montréal: www.tourisme-montreal.org. Tourism Québec: www.bonjourquebec.com. Margo Pfeiff is a freelance writer living in Montreal. E-mail: [email protected]
Ancient Scottish capital city to receive explosion of colour in Children's Hospital Locally regarded as Sick Kids, Edinburgh's historic Royal Hospital for Sick Children is to be relocated to a colourful new building designed by Nightingale Associates. Branching into a new location, this will be only the second of Nightingale's projects in Scotland, following a successful bid for Dumfries Royal Infirmary earlier this year. Edinburgh is a notoriously difficult city for modern architecture. The Scottish Parliament building, designed by Spanish architect, the late Enric Miralles, sits at the foot of the Edinburgh's Royal Mile despite intense disapproval from many residents from the design stage. But while the new design for the Sick Kids features an impactful, brightly coloured facade, resistance is less likely as the project will move services from the existing city centre hospital to the outskirts of the city adjacent to the new Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. The £150m design for NHS Lothian was won through the new Frameworks Scotland scheme. It will provide 30,000sqm of space containing children and young people’s A&E, day case and inpatient areas; an imaging department; outpatients unit; therapy suite: theatre suite; a critical care unit; Child and Adolescent Mental Health day case and inpatient unit; as well as a child and family hotel. There will also be facilities for rehabilitation, education and staff administration. Kieren Morgan, Health Development Director, said: "Nightingale Associates was awarded the contract based on, amongst other things, the innovation displayed in its design, which used new concepts such as ‘cruciform wards’, Sense Sensitive Design and the much-discussed single-bed wards. The practice was able to draw on its pervious similar experience on the Design for Life NHS framework in Wales, through which it was selected to design the first ever 100% single-room hospitals to be built in the UK." He continued: "It is extremely important that the design of this building reflects the significance of the project, and that we therefore use and build on our pioneering research completed for the Welsh Designed for Life 'pathfinder' hospitals to ensure that this building is regarded as a benchmark in healthcare design.” Niki May Young News Editor http://www.worldarchitecturenews.com/index.php?fuseaction=wanappln.projectview&upload_id=11452