14.09.2014 - 14.09.2014 24 °C
Because of my poor research, I only had my last day to spend looking around Old Montréal. The city was first established as a French colony in the mid 17th century, called Ville-Marie. The existing inhabitants were none too happy about this and it is likely they would have wiped out the French settlers had reinforcements not arrived: from that point on, the place thrived, spurred on by the fur trade. When Louis XIV declared it a province of France in 1664, the building style changed: craftsmen had to make all important buildings in stone and the town had to follow a particular pattern. Luckily, moves to make the area accessible to cars in the 1960's did not succeed, so walking around it now, both are still very much in evidence. I have no idea how many of the buildings are from the 17th century - there has been a steady process of revitalisation and refurbishment which makes Old Montréal a great place to wander.
My starting point was the Sherbrook Metro station - I walked down Rue St Denis towards the old port. As I got closer, things got more interesting - cool, stone apartments, the former archives building (all the archives have been moved into the Grande Bibliothèque), outside which there is a rundown park with a couple of rundown old gentlemen sitting on park benches (I nearly joined in) and a couple of disused hotels. One, the Place Viger, had been the main railway station for downtown Montréal as well as a luxury hotel. The hotel closed in the 1930's and the train station in the 1950's - it has been empty for decades, although there are plans to turn it into an apartment building.
I had a clear idea in my head of how the Old Port would be - little shops along the waterfront, falling down old sheds and other port buildings and still a bustle of activity on the water. I was completely wrong - it is a marina, a park, a boardwalk and, at the tip, a tiny man-made beach stuck behind a concrete edifice - both closed for the season. The one significant landmark left from its days as a port is the clocktower, which operated as both beacon for sailors and memorial for lost ones.
There is a pretty significant road between it and Old Montréal, on which is to be found the Bonsecours Market, the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, a line of stern-faced buildings which were probably port-related and now feature bars and souvenir shops, and carriages for those who want to travel around the area in style. The market was built in the 1840's to house the main public market, although for a year it provided a home for the United Canada Parliament. The market ran for over a hundred years - now there are restaurants on the ground floor and posh little shops in the upper floors. It gained its name from the nearby chapel, built in the 1770's, which has long been a place of pilgrimage for sailors.
The main street through Old Montréal is Rue Notre-Dame, although it veers off about half way through and other streets carry you through. It is still cobbled and a bit quaint, despite all the traffic and modernisation. Its lined with all sorts of little business and shops as well as, of course, cafes and bars. One thing it does not have (I know, because I was in need of one) is a stationery shop.
I did my best to wander up and down every side street in the area, but probably skipped a few as I got towards the end. The Town Hall is about half way down, and has the Place Jacques Cartier running down hill from it - this had been the formal garden of a château: when that burnt down, this was turned into a public square and named in honour of the French explorer who found Canada (who knew that?). It was a busy spot when I was there - several performers, stalls selling various sorts of food and tragic tourist restaurants down each side.
A typical style for smaller buildings developed: Château Ramezay - the former home of former Governor, built in 1704 - is an example. It is now a museum and national historic place.
With all the walking and the bars and cafes, I was a bit hungry, but I wanted to eat somewhere which spoke to me - not some chain restaurant, not a basic cafe - and I found what I was looking for in La Suavagine Restaurant - serving up game in a classical French style, It opened in 1980 and most of the waiters (there were no waitresses) looked like they were the original crew - old timers, the lot of them. I had a very pleasant wild boar stew, although the vegetables were a bit sad.
Somehow, I failed to take a proper picture of one of the main attractions in the area, the Notre-Dame Basilica. They wanted quite a lot of money to go in and there was quite a queue so I decided to wander on.
Time to go: after picking up my bag from the hostel, I made my way to the train station, between an anonymous huge bank and the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral. As I walked, I heard a pretty loud BANG - I am not sure exactly what happened, but there was a collision involving a bus and a car. The bus didn't look like it had been much affected, but the side of the car was all pushed in - with a woman sitting in the rear passenger seat who looked absolutely terrified. Since I hadn't actually seen anything, I didn't see any point in hanging around to talk to the police and went off to catch the last train of this part of the journey.