Day 16 CCR: Old Montreal

I had planned to go on a downtown walking tour in St. John’s, but adverse weather made that next to impossible. I had planned to go on a long motorcycle tour of Prince Edward Island, but threatening rain chased us back to Summerside before finishing the chosen driving loop. Today was different. Under blue skies with short-sleeve temperatures, a two-hour, walking tour of Old Montreal (Vieux Montréal) led by a wonderfully knowledgable and delightfully personable guide gave me plenty of exercise and a wealth of new information about the earliest settled parts of this amazing island city.

Notre Dame Basilica. Note repairs and renovations underway on right bell tower. (Click on any photos to enlarge them)

Our tour, arranged through MTL Detours (click here to learn more), began when we met Elise, our guide for the day, at Place d’Armes, a square surrounded by the beautiful Notre Dame Basilica and the Saint Sulpice Seminary on one side, the oldest skyscraper (8 stories, 1888) in the city and the 1930s Art Deco Aldred Building on another, the venerable Bank of Montreal head office on a third, and a building built in 1968 simply referred to as “the black sheep” because it is the definition of “out of place.” In the center of the square stands an 1895 monument to the founding father of Montreal (1642), Paul de Chomeday. Also featured on the monument’s base is Jean Masse, another founder, who, according to Elise, was equal in stature to de Chomeday but never received full credit because of her gender.

de Chomeday Monument with Jean Masse at the base.

The tour wended its way through several streets and boulevards with informational mini-stops along the way until we took an extended stop at the Museum of Acheology and History, which literally sits on the site where the first settlers encamped, calling their settlement not Montreal but Ville-Marie, and where archeological investigations under the museum are accessible to visitors. But today, our interest was not in the museum’s basement, but on its roof, where, thanks to the cooperation of Museum staff, we got an elevated view of the new and the old city.

Saint Sulpice Seminary. The oldest original building in Montreal.
Clock tower on the New York Life Insurance building, the first skyscraper.
The old and the new seen from the top of the Museum of Archeology and History (aka Pointe-à-Callière). The “old” seen here includes the dome of the Marché Bonsecours and a spire and statue from the Cathedral of Notre Dame Bonsecours.
An added bonus of our tour stop at the Museum of Archaeology and History was a birds-eye view of one of the murals painted on the street below as part of Montreal’s current Mural Fest.
Another bird’s-eye view of Montreal. The cantilevered Jacques Cartier Bridge spans the Saint Lawrence River and the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

Off the roof top and back down on the streets, we walked through streets that reminded me very much of streets in Europe. Narrow, cobble-stone ways with pedestrians and vehicles battling for supremacy, while onlookers at scores of sidewalk cafes and restaurants and terraces (pronounced in French as tare asses) sipped coffee, ate marvelous viands and enjoyed the sunshine. In fact, Elise, our font of Montreal information, noted that many movies are shot in Montreal when the director wants to portray a scene in Paris or other European city. Around every corner, literally, was a different historical or architectural treasure waiting to be rediscovered.

This street is closed to vehicular traffic in the summer when tourists and Quebecois enjoy the shops and restaurants by the thousands.
Europe or Canada?
The rear of Château Ramezay, a former governor’s residence and now a museum with a public garden. When American colonial forces briefly took Montreal during the American Revolution, Ben Franklin stayed the night there while trying to raise troops to help the American cause against the British.

After two enlightening hours of walking, listening, asking questions, getting answers and draining the battery in my camera (I had to resort to cell phone pictures at the end), we passed by the Marché Bonsecours and stopped in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame Bonsecours. (Bonsecours translates to Good Help). This church is known as “The Sailors’ Church” because boatmen going up and down the St. Lawrence River would stop to pray for their safety as they sailed to distant parts of the world. While I didn’t go inside, Elise pointed out that there are many small boats in the church and its basement given by grateful sailors who believed their prayers had been answered.

The Marché Bonsecours is and was a market place, first for produce, animals and other needs of the 18th and 19th century and now for artisans and craftspeople to sell their wares.
We said goodbye and merci beaucoup to our entertaining and enlightening guide in front of Notre Dame Bonsecours Cathedral. She made the tour special and especially fun for an old historian.
Fortuitous timing allowed us to briefly meet Leslie, owner and founder of MTL Detours. I thanked her for sharing Elise with us and for helping to share Vieux Montréal with so many people. They wished us bon voyage.

The tour over, it was time for lunch. Taking Elise’s advice, we went to a small bakery under the Marché Bonsecours where they made wonderful sandwiches using their own delicious croissants. We each had a smoked meat sandwich with mustard sauce and cheese. Très bien!

Inside the bakery where we bought lunch. If there had been room in my saddlebags, I’d be eating baguette right now.

A couple of other notes: After we hiked backed to the parking garage where we parked the bikes three hours earlier, we navigated to the Montreal Harley-Davidson dealer where I found a new set of rain gear that fits. It wasn’t as expensive as Steve’s tire, but close. I hope it rains every day the rest of this trip so I can get my money’s worth. ……Not really.

Finally, a friend suggested I take the opportunity while in Montreal to try something different on the menu. So, tonight I had La Gaspesiénne, small Quebec shrimp, celery, green onions and dill, served chilled with fior di latte cheese, taglio crust sticks brushed with herb oil, arugula, and a wedge of lemon. Washed down with a nice light white wine. Bon appétit.

Tomorrow we’re off to Ontario, our sixth province in this Cross Canada Ride celebrating my 75th anniversary as a being.


3 responses to “Day 16 CCR: Old Montreal”

  1. johnwest2343 says :

    The day seemed to start off well and kept getting better. Well deserved. Enjoyed the pics and historical info. On the rain gear…..very glad you were able to find a set that fits. The food presentation was very nice. I hope it was tasty.
    Ride Safe

  2. nuke53 says :

    Happy Birthday! Hope weather is good and you don’t have to wear that rain suit too often! Montreal is a beautiful city and it sounds like your guide was excellent! Your dinner looked great! Ride safe.

  3. sharonjoygerard says :

    We loved seeing the pictures and reading your summary of the tour of Montreal. Merci Beaucoup! We will definitely get to Montreal at some point. But thank you Dennis for sharing this with us and everyone following your and Steve’s adventure.

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