Montreal is one of the oldest cities in Canada, being founded by the French in 1642. It was originally named Ville-Marie, however after 25 years of growth the settlement gradually became known as Montreal. In 1760 Montreal fell into the hands of the British however this did little to suppress the french influences architectually and culturally.
Unlike many other cities that knock down older buildings to make way for more modern more space efficient developments, Montreal has retained its old town and charm. Many of the buildings are open to the public so Simon and I took the opportunity to look at some stunning interior design and to take a break from the wind. The Bank of Montreal (Canda’s oldest bank) had towering marble columns and large ceiling roses and chandeliers. City Hall and Palais de Justice (courthouse) built in the mid 1800’s are also here, topped with green copper domes.
The oldest part of the district is home to cafes, restaurants, galleries and museums. The streets are cobblestone and horse drawn carriages still rattle by regularly. Down by the old port the mix of industrialisation and recreation makes for a interesting and pleasant vista, especially as we were blessed with sunny blue skies.
As for our french, this is coming along too, we managed to buy two tickets for the subway and a couple of cups of coffee.
Last night Simon and I left Ottawa and took the train two hours North East to Montreal. Along the way we practiced a little french as once you cross the border from Ontario to Quebec engish becomes the second language. A friendly train guard assurred us the the main thing to remember is Bonjour, Merci, Excusez-moi and si vous plais. Hello, thank you, excuse me and please.
Armed with our four words of French we got up this morning to explore the Downtown area of Montreal. Running through the middle is Rue Catherine, a long thoroughfare lined with shops, nightclubs, fast food and pizza shops. Along our walk we came across the cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde (Mary Queen of the World Cathedral), a replica of the St Peter’s Basilica in Rome built at one quarter the size. The interior was splendid with high ceilings disappearing into three large domes. Given its size I am eagerly anticipating our visit to Rome to see the Basilica four times it size! I am sure you have noticed the influx in the number of churches in our travels. These older cities are full of them and some are among the oldest buidling ins the city, many dating back to the 1800’s.
We also tackled the walk up Mount Royal for a far reaching view of Montreal. It wasn’t that high – only 250 steps and a bit of a hill. My legs are still sore but it was worth it to get this view.
In the evening it was time to join our fellow travellers from the hostel (including Leah, the friendly German traveller who helped us find the hostel in Ottawa) to explore some of Montreal’s bars. Many of the places where mere holes in the wall and without being shown by our local guide we would never have found them. The 2am bed time is going to make tomorrow’s sightseeing a little more difficult but we could come to Montreal and not play up a little!
Time for a history lesson.
The city of Ottawa was originally named Bytown after Lieutenant-Colonel John By who supervised construction of the Rideau Canal.
The 200km canal was constructed to join the Ottawa River to Lake Ontario via the town of Kingston. Construction followed the War of 1812, as the British colonies of Northern Canada feared attack from the United States. They hoped to create a secure supply and communications route between Kingston and Montreal incase of a blockade on the St Lawrence river which forms a border between Canada and the USA.
The section of the canal photographed here is directly below what is now Parliment Hill. You can see about 8 of the 47 locks, used to raise and lower boats at 24 points along the canal. The canal was completed in 1832, well after the last conflict between the British and Americans so it has never been used for its intended purpose.
The canal now is a tourist attraction, particularly in winter when it becomes the worlds largest ice skating rink measuring 7.8km long.
When you go to someone’s home you can tell a lot about them by the pictures that are hanging on their walls, so what better way to get an appreciation of Canada by checking out its taste in art!
The National Gallery of Canada has three floors covering various styles of art including, but not limited too, Contemporary, European, Inuit and Canadian. The title photo is titled ‘Trans-Am Apocalypse No. 2’ and was featured amongst the Contemporary collection. The Pontiac has been inscribed with the Book of Revelations and stands as the contemporary mode of transport for the apocolyptc horsemen. I shall let you ponder the levels of meaning on this one. Whilst not my style, I prefered the Maritime inspired Candian art, it did appeal to the rev head within Simon.
Of worthy note was Van Gough’s ‘Iris’, painted in 1889, and the Asian stone carvings dating back to as early as the 5th century. My favourite works where the various portraits of early Canadian settlers and the marble statuettes.
The gallery is quite large and we did not see everything, however did get an appreciation for the different aspects of Canada’s cultural personality.
On the way to museum we stopped and had a look inside the Notre Dame Basilica. Quite a spectacular interior, I’m not sure how the congregation concentrates during mass.
To ensure we can answer any questions regarding Canadian history you may have when we return, today we visited the Canadian Museum of Civilisation.
The museum is three floors in total and gives a great overview of Candian history and culture. The first floor covers the history of the First Nations People – Inuits and Canadian Aboriginals (not Eskimoes and Indians), with lots of carvings, artwork and information on how European settlement affected their lives and culture. The second floor currently has a feature on the history of Ice Skating/Hockey and a display of Canadian craft.
The third floor has recreated scences from different Eurpoean settlements begining with the Vikings, the Arcadians and the French and British whalers. A series of displayes also showed the battles beween the British and French colonised areas culminating in the Treaty of Paris which ceded New France to Britain.
The frozen river you see in this photo also forms the border betwen Ontario and Quebec meaning Ottawa has as much in common with Albury-Wodonga as it has with Canberra. We crossed two of the six briges spaning the border today.
Standing regally over the Ottawa River, Canda’s Parliament House is the foundation of the capital and an architectual art work. The Hill has three blocks, the most prominent, Centre Block, houses the Federal Parliament and the Library of Parliament.
Tours run regularly so we joined one for a behind the scenes look at the Senate, the Library and the Peace Tower. Unfortunatley the Parliament building was destroyed by fire in 1916, however the Library was saved and is all that remains of the original building that was completed in 1878.
The Library was my favourite part of the Parliament, however we were not able to take photos. Simon did capture a great shot of the Senate and you can check it out of Flickr.
We also rode the lift up into the Peace Tower to a viewing platform below the clockface for a bird’s eye perspective of Ottawa and also caught a bit of debate in the House of Commons.
It was a grey and rainy morning in Toronto so we were very thankful to Boris (landlord’s son) for driving us into the Toronto bus station for our five hour journey to Ottawa. Not much to note about the bus trip so shall skip straight to our arrival.
We arrived safely in Ottawa around 2:30pm, a little nervous however as neither of us had bothered to check how to get from the bus terminal to the hostel. No need to worry as a fellow traveller overheard our predicament and helped us find our way.
The hostel is the Old Carelton County Jail, operating from 1862 to 1972 and was the site of Canada’s last public hanging. The jail was closed as it’s conditions were deemed inhumane for Canada’s worst crimials, despite this it is considered fit for budget minded foreigners.
With the day dwindling away we took a stroll around Ottawa to familarise ourselves and stopped at the Byward Market for a COffee and a Beavertail (a deepfried pastry shaped like a beaver’s tail covered in cinnamon and sugar – mmm yum).
Off to bed early though as we have a big day tomorrow exploring Parliament Hill, the National gallery amoung other things.
On that note, we will now be adding content on a much more regular basis. Be sure to check in on us as we hope to post once a day.