What to do in Old Montreal

Montreal of yesterday, today and tomorrow would not be the same if it weren’t for its geographic location.

Montreal was a fortified city until the early 1800’s. You can still see vestiges of the old settlement and even its fortification since, like many settlements in the region, it had to be protected. You can see the fortifications in the Champ-de-Mars behind the City Hall and in the Pointe-à-Callière Museum.

The museum of archaeology, Pointe-à-Callière, is very nice to visit as it allows you to have a closer look at archeological findings in this area.  In addition, via tunnels, you can also be a witness of the construction of the city above a city river.

The Old Port is adjacent to Old Montreal and was a strategic location for the development of the railroad as well.  You can still see the tracks along the Old Port. The old Dalhousie Train Station and the Viger Station are very close by. John Young (1811-1878) has been associated with the development of the port and a monument in his honor resides in front of the Allan Building.

In the old days, the Champ-de-Mars was an outdoor gathering place and market as were the Bonsecours and Sainte-Anne markets although the latter is no longer standing.

The spiritual beliefs of the city’s inhabitants were confirmed with the construction of a few churches in the area.  The Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, Notre-Dame Basilica, St-Sulpician Seminary, and the Grey Nun’s Hospital are sites to visit. Even the houses on rue du Faubourg with the enclosed religious silhouette is another example.

Montreal, along with other cities, were expecting to be named the capital of the country and for a few years (1844 to 1849) Montreal was the capital. Of course, other cities battled for the title. Finally, Ottawa was named the capital in 1857.

For a very long time, Montreal was a major hub where financial transactions occurred and trading and manufacturers set up their stores in the city. Transportation development allowed the country to be where it stands today and more.

You can see financial dominance by the historical architecture of the Bank of Montreal Head Office Building, the Old Exchange Building now the Centaur Theatre, the CIBC building now the St-James Theater, the Merchant’s Bank now the Hotel le St-James, the Aldred Building and New York life Insurance Building, both located near the Place d’Armes Square. These are a few good examples of the importance of the transactions happening in the area in the early days. Walk along Saint-Jacques Street and you will likely see those beautiful examples of old banking architecture.

Insurance companies are also very present in Montreal. When taking the time to look at buildings, some still retain their original names.  There are so many buildings associated with insurance that I just stopped taking inventory of them.  You will be amazed by the architectural buildings that want to project their prosperity on the outside and have become pieces of art.

The justice system infrastructure is dominant on Notre-Dame Street. You can find the new and old court house (Lucien Saulnier Building), Court of Appeal (Ernest Cormier building) and the Municipal Court which is located on Gilford Street. The City Hall is also on Notre-Dame Street.

There is so much to see in Old Montreal. If you want to learn more about Montreal, the Montreal Historic Museum is located in an old fire station, although I have just learned that it will change locations, so this might no longer be accurate. Another good place to learn about the history of Montreal is at the Chateau Ramezay.

Public figures and their houses in this area include Claude Ramezay, Louis-Joseph Papineau and Georges-Etienne Cartier as some examples. The Ramezay Castle and Georges-Etienne Cartier are museums if you wish to visit. Marguerite Bourgeois played an important role for Montreal and there is a museum dedicated to her next to the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel and the work of Mother Marguerite d’Youville is presented in the House of Mother Marguerite d’Youville.

Typical housing examples dating back to around 1750 and 1828 can be found on St-Louis Street. You can easily notice them on this small street.

When walking around you will encounter a few plaza or squares that present public art: Place Marguerite Bourgeois, Place d’Armes, Place d’Youville, Place Jacques Cartier, Place Vauquelin, Place Royale, just to name a few.

Also, a special element to notice is the fact that some streets are paved with cobblestones: St-Paul Street, De La Commune and Place Jacques Cartier, are easily accessible. But again, as you walk the city, you will come across other small alleys that are charming with almost romantic vibes paved with cobblestone.

Because there was a time when some wanted to erase this period to make place for newer things, we are fortunate that this part of the community stands to preserve the Old Montreal buildings and streets. I believe it was worth it. Thank you.

If you plan to visit Old Montreal by Metro, exit at the Champs-de-Mars Station or Square Victoria as these are good places to start your visit.

Note that the East and West of the city are divided by the Saint-Laurent Boulevard.

It is very easy and probable that you will want to visit the Old Port at the same time. However, due to the quantity of information provided on this subject, it is in a different post.

For an overview of Montreal click here.

For all posts on Montreal click here.