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Chilliwack Times: Visiting the past: Montreal's historic heart


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Visiting the past: Montreal's historic heart

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By Chris MillikanChilliwack Times

 

Monday, February 11, 2008

 

 

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CREDIT: Montreal's old city hall. Chris Millikan photo.History buffs love sauntering along old Montreal's cobbled European-style streets, or wandering her public squares surrounded by grand cathedrals, historic homes and museums.

 

My hubby Rick and I recently joined the curious throng and probed this cosmopolitan city's earliest days.

 

At Musee Pointe-a-Calliere's theatre, a multi-media journey through six centuries kicks off our exploration of Montreal's birthplace between the St. Lawrence and Little St. Pierre Rivers.

 

This innovative three-storey archaeological museum rises sleekly above the original townsite where Paul de Chomedey and 35 French colonists settled in 1642.

 

A stroll through Fort Ville-Marie's subterranean remains reveals traces of the early palisade, first Catholic cemetery, base of the old customs square - even the sights and sounds of a lively market day, circa 1750.

 

And from the third floor open-air lookout, we view panoramic Vieux-Port's busy quayside, nowadays a landscaped 2.5-kilometre linear park complete with flowers, sparkling water fountains and pools.

 

Nearby, Place Royale (now Place d'Youville) developed later atop Little Saint-Pierre River. Here a soaring granite obelisk recalls those plucky settlers beginning new lives on this strategic point of land at the foot of Mount Royal.

 

Two blocks away, an old fire station encloses the Centre d'Histoire de Montreal, a small but charming museum reflecting city history through stories of celebrated personalities.

 

Northward along Rue St-Jacques, the sparkling Trade Centre dwarfs sober financial institutions left from Montreal's early financial Wall Street days, notably the Bank of Montreal, Canada's oldest bank, and the New York Life building, once North America's tallest skyscraper at 10 storeys.

 

Nearby we encounter Cath,drale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, whose unexpected grandeur resembles Saint Peter's in Rome. But here, patron saints of parishes grace the facade.

 

And elaborate interiors reflect new world history, except for the marble altar canopy imitating Bernini's work in St Peter's. In the distance we spot McCord Museum, permanently chronicling Canada's momentous past in McGill University's oldest part.

 

In Place d'Armes, a central monument commemorates Montreal's founders. But the magnificent Basilique de Notre-Dame dominates this historic square, her spectacular interiors sculpted in wood and gold leaf. Inspiring stained glass windows illustrate biblical passages as well as parish history. And for over two centuries, seigneurs resided next door at St-Sulpice Seminary, still topped by a clock from 1701.

 

Stretching from Vieux-Port to Rue Notre-Dame, fine 19th-century townhouses and mansions surround Place-Jacques Cartier.

 

Though Admiral Nelson's monument towers over this cobbled square, it carries the French explorer's name. Once a large public market, Victorian streetlamps, tubs of red and yellow flowers, buskers and artists now create a lively ambience in this hillside square, day and night.

 

Along with locals and hordes of others, we toast Old Port's panoramas from beneath flamboyant red awnings at one of its many sidewalk cafes.

At the top of the plaza, Hotel-de-Ville outshines a sombre cluster of early courthouses.

 

From the grand balcony of this City Hall, French President General Charles de Gaulle once shouted, "Vive le Quebec libre!" causing quite a stir during his 1967 visit. Behind, we find remnants of the wall that once stretched three kilometres around old town.

 

Across the street, Chateau de Ramezay awaits; attendants in ruffled blue dresses, white aprons and poke bonnets greet us.

 

Built in 1705 for Montreal's governor, 15 connecting rooms housed his family of 16 children. With remarkable 17th-century artifacts and furnishings this stone, peak-roofed mansion exemplifies the gracious lifestyle of its esteemed residents.

 

Behind the house we wander the French-style Governor's Garden, tranquil and fragrant. Inspired by gardens at Versailles, this spot replicates former seigneurial gardens flourishing with fruit trees, flowers, vegetables and medicinal plants - but on a much smaller scale.

 

"Then, everyone had gardens; large ones like this covered nearly two-thirds of the old fortified town," explains the gardener, harvesting pungent chives, young carrots and emerald sprigs of parsley.

 

Within blocks, dramatized audiotapes guide us through another 19th-century residence. Fashions and authentically restored, lavishly furnished interiors allow peeks into Sir George Etienne-Cartier's influential life and glitzy high society of his day.

 

Fondly remembered as a Father of Canadian Confederation, his considerable achievements also included creation of Quebec's civil code and development of the Grand Trunk Railroad, all documented in his faithfully restored office.

 

Looping back, we pass La Maison Pierre du Calvet from 1725, possibly the most photographed of all the heritage houses.

 

Currently a first rate inn and restaurant, striking wine-red doors and window frames contrast with massive grey rock walls, chimneys and steeply sloped roof.

 

The original homeowner collaborated with rebels during the American Revolution, holding clandestine meetings here with Ben Franklin, an envoy sent in 1775-76.

 

In the same neighborhood - and fondly nicknamed the Sailor's Church - Montreal's oldest chapel is immortalized in Leonard Cohen's Suzanne.

 

Notre-Dame-de-bon-Secours has been a place of pilgrimage since 1665. Mariners believed the 10-metre rooftop Virgin Mary and her glorious angels safeguarded them at sea; some donated tiny ships in appreciation, many of which we notice hanging in the chapel.

 

Up 92 winding steps, we gaze over old town and harbor. Adjacent Ecole Bonsecours school was replaced with a small museum chronicling first teacher Marguerite Bourgeoy's life.

 

A leisurely walk westward takes us past silver-domed Marche Bonsecours, Montreal's major agricultural market for over a century. Restored for its 150th anniversary, her long 100,000-square-foot limestone building has been re-established as a modern marketplace featuring specialty shops, exhibitions and sidewalk cafes.

 

By strolling Montreal's historic streets and acquainting ourselves with early personalities, we traced the development of this little French fur-trading town into today's happening metropolis.

 

Travel Editor Vic Foster's guest this week is freelance travel writer Chris Millikan, who lives in North Delta. Travel the world on the Internet at www.travelingtales.com.

 

http://www.canada.com/components/print.aspx?id=94057656-f1c5-4904-ba64-09fcd08d6d56&k=89562

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ouf cet article est épuisant juste a le lire

 

Très mal écrit tant qu'à moi, c'est comme vouloir cramer une semaine de vacances en 2 jours, tu cours a droite et a gauche tout le temps

 

Mais bon, c'est toujours une bonne chose de voir Montréal décrite dans les journeaux étranger, en espérant que ca attire les touristes

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