Daily Archives: July 29, 2007

Quatre jours en Montréal — première (fear not, post in English)

Warning: Many photos, none of yarn (though the Yarn Harlot is mentioned)! I won’t be hurt if you aren’t interested and stop now. (Newly updated with diacritical marks!)

We had four full days in Montréal earlier this month as a family vacation — the first time the girls had been out of the country or immersed in another language. My husband and I have been to Montréal twice; both times because I had meetings there, but we took some time for fun. We love Montréal and wanted the girls to experience it.

When we left the travelogue intro, a few days ago, we had finally gotten into our hotel room, which was lovely and comfortable.

Day 1

I had visited Pointe à Callière, a museum of Montréal archeology and history, as part of a tour the first time I was there, and I dragged my husband back to it. Now I went a third time, as I thought it would be a great way to introduce the children to Montréal and give them a sense of history. This place is awesome. It’s in Vieux Montréal, old Montréal, and is an actual excavation of some of the oldest structures in Montréal which you can actually walk around in and also view reconstructed through time. After a multimedia presentation set in the actual ruins, you go down stairs into the ‘basement’ where you first walk on the flagstones of the 19th century building that was last built on this spot,basement-pointe-a-calliere.jpg

with dioramas,


artifacts, a timeline, etc. all interspersed in the actual dig.dig-pac.jpg Then you go over catwalks


to see the walls and foundations of several layers of old buildings as well as the old fortified wall (actually two walls with rammed earth in the middle, to withstand shelling and cannons), the oldest paved streetscobblestones.jpg

And an old sewer. Before you go ‘yuck!’, I have to tell you a story about this sewer.


This dry culvert is all that remains of a river! Before the first French settlers came, when this area was a fishing camp for Iroquois and other First Canadians, there was a small river joining the big river, the St. Lawrence, at a point of land (“Pointe à Callière”!). The river was named the St. Pierre or the Little River by the settlers. Well, as ‘civilization’ occurred and the town became fortified and walled, the river became the dumping ground for sewage and garbage, then was paved over and funneled into a culvert, and now the culvert is no longer attached to the sewer system; the “Little River” just does not exist any more. Wild. You can see the process in the dioramas. There are future plans in progress to open up the other end of the culvert to be able to walk under Montreal as part of an expansion of the museum. Cool. I’ll just have to go back again in a few years!

One particularly enjoyable and unique part was interactive exhibits which portrayed actual former residents of Montreal through time; one French, one English, one (I think) Dutch. You could ask them selected questions on a touchpad, though occasionally it glitched. They really did look like ghosts:


And similar technology was used to portray a marketplace scene in the actual archeological area of the marketplace; artifacts that were still in situ, like a child’s marbles, were used and highlighted in the scene with sights and sounds of the marketplace near the port (you could put on headphones for English).


Seagulls are the same in any language, though.

There’s a wonderful view from the top of the museum:


I love archaeology (I have my bachelor’s degree in anthrolopology) and enjoy browsing history, architecture, etc., so this museum is right up my alley.

Then we spent a while in the gift shop (“we” meaning two of us; I found that I and the Gothlet see museums much differently than my husband and the Preteen; we savor, they hit the high points), and had lunch here, in Vieux Montréal, the Café St. Paul:


Very good food and friendly service.

We had poutine! I admit, I was not 100% sure what it was, but I knew Stephanie the Yarn Harlot had mentioned it, so took the plunge. It was great. (For those like me not previously familiar with poutine, it’s fries with melted cheese/cheese curds and gravy. Perhaps not heart-healthy, but very tasty!)

Then some of us needed dessert cafe-bistro-place-royale.jpg and stopped down the street here, at le Café Bistro Place Royale, where I had a “Milkshake Royale” — espresso, vanilla ice cream, and maple sugar — mmmm!

A brief digression on language:

It is fascinating that, although Québec has not been under French dominion since 1760 (1760! Before the United States were even the United States!), in some ways, it is more assertively French than France. Given Québec’s struggle not to lose its French culture and language in the larger Anglophone Canada, I suppose it’s natural. But, par exemple, stop signs:


In France, stop signs like this say, “STOP”. But not in French Canada! “Arrêt” technically is the word used for a train or bus stop, where you get off. But at a no-doubt-particularly tense time in Québec/Canada relations, it was decided that stop signs in this area would say, “Arrêt”. Fascinating. However, what prompted this digression: milkshake is milkshake, even in Montréal!! I guess milkshake is not an originally French concept.

We wandered around Vieux Montréal and le Vieux Port for the rest of the day:


A very narrow street.


This, the Place Jacques Cartier, somehow is one of the defining places of Montréal for me. It’s always a happening spot. As we walked up the hill, someone else was being filmed doing the same thing:


It’s a mystery to me what that was all about.

Also on the Place, this restaurant with a great name:homard-fou-restaurant.jpg

The Crazy Lobster.

Past the Place Jacques Cartier, here is a lovely fountain outside l’Hotel de Ville de Montréal (sounds nicer than City Hall, and looks nicer too):



Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal. I believe this is the church whose architect was so inspired by designing and building it, that he converted to Catholicism.

Then back on the Métro (amazingly efficient!) and to bed. Whew. I think we worked off that poutine.