Canadian Chic
by Sam Reid

Every year, more than 11 million visitors swamp to Montreal in search of its unique blend of European-style chic and North American big-city atmosphere.

This makes the urban archipelago of Montreal Canada’s second most popular destination after Toronto.

Made up of more than 400 islands covering some 310 square miles, it is said that the Montreal area is beautiful – beautiful and green. Gardens, parks and green spaces cover more than 10 percent of the land in the Montreal area, where there is one tree per two inhabitants.

Montreal is an immensely affectionate city and boasts a European flair for familiarity that is perhaps lacking in other North American cities.

Greeting a French person from Montreal can be confusing for visitors because it is customary to greet friends in Montreal with a kiss on both cheeks, starting with the right, while Canadians in other provinces tend to just use a handshake!

After all, this is the city that played host to John Lennon and Yoko Ono during their famous Bed_n in 1969. John and Yoko spent a week in bed in site 1742 at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in downtown Montreal, surrounded by celebrities like Timothy Leary and Petula Clarke singing Give Peace a Chance.

But Montreal’s history goes back much further than that. ‘Discovered’ in 1535 by Jacques Cartier, and founded more than a century later in 1642, by a handful of French settlers determined to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity, Montreal is now home to some 4.2 million people of virtually every single nationality and creed under the sun.

Today Montreal is officially bilingual and proud of its status as the largest French speaking city in North America, and the second largest French speaking city in the world. It’s a truly international city where newcomers feel right at home and visitors have no trouble finding someone who speaks their language.

The founders settled along the banks of the St Lawrence River, and today, as you tour the Old Port and Old Montreal, you’ll find that much of what they built has been lovingly preserved: graceful stone buildings, stately churches and cobblestone streets.

Montreal’s historic buildings soar in all their splendour when night falls on the city. Since 1642, Old Montreal fascinated citizens and tourists alike, both by day and night, and the respondent lights have only added to the old city’s timeless appeal.

The lights were specially designed to emphasise the beauty of the intricate architectural details of the city’s centuries old buildings. Their warm glow blends effortlessly with the buildings’ natural tones, bringing out a myriad of architectural styles that stood side by side for years on end.

Although Old Montreal’s charms are best discovered on foot, a ride in a horse-drawn carriage will take you right back to the hustle and bustle of life in the early colony. To add to the enchanting atmosphere, gas street lamps have been installed along Saint-Helene Street. Ever since, this delightful corner has been home to many a movie-making set.

Some 350 years of history await all who make their way through Old Montreal. Awash in the radiance of dazzling lights, the old city’s narrow and winding streets provide an idyllic backdrop for lively nightlife, Old Montreal is more than just a historic city; it is also a city of its time.

Montreal has a wonderfully continental feel to it, regardless of its Canadian location. It even has an authentic Parisian metro grille that was a gift to the city from Paris on the occasion of Expo ’67. It was installed in the Square-Victoria station, near the Montreal Exchange tower. And in a small lane called Ruelle des Fortifications near the World Trade Centre stands a portion of the Berlin Wall, which the German city gave to Montreal to mark the 350th anniversary of its founding.

But one of the city’s most shining landmarks is the cross on Mount Royal. The cross was erected in 1924, in remembrance of December 25th, 1642, when a flood threatened to wash away the French colony. On that day, Paul de Chimed, Sierra de Maisonneuve, promised to carry a cross up the mountain if the floods would spare the colony. On January 6th, 1643, he kept his promise and carried a wooden cross to the summit. Fibre-optic lighting, installed when Montreal celebrated its 350th anniversary, now illuminates the cross. You can see a statue of Paul de Chomedey at the centre of Place d’Armes in Old Montreal.

And just as Paul knew how to celebrate a job well done, Montreal today is a city that thrives on festivity.

The city is bursting at the seams with creative spirit and is home to the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, L’Opera de Montreal, and more than 300 other musical organisations, including the Orchestre Metropolitain and the Orchestre Symphonique de Laval. There are more than 100 English and French theatre companies, and every year Montreal plays host to more than 40 major festivals and events.

Which just goes to show: there’s always something to celebrate in chic Montreal….

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