Exploring Montréal ~ Day 4

My final day in Montréal was only a half day, the rest ear-marked to travel  to Québec City.

It was also the day that I would be finally joined by my wife Marcie, who had to stay behind in Vancouver to film a commercial. She ended up taking a red-eye to Montréal so that she could have at least the morning here before we moved on to Québec City by train. Her flight was due to arrive at 7:30 am. Originally, she planned to take a cab, but I convinced her to take the 747 bus, as it would be more economical (just $10) and a lot easier—since there is so much construction going on here, I figured a cab ride might take a long time, longer than the bus.

Well, a good idea in theory. Around 8:00 am in the morning, Marcie started messaging me to let me know that she found the bus ticket booth and the bus itself really quickly and was onboard as soon as she was out of the terminal. Then I suddenly received a message that said: “I think the bus just broke down. Stuck and not moving and people talking in French.” (Which seemed natural to me that people would be talking in French. You know, it being Montréal and all.)

Exhausted and out of  sorts, she eventually clambered off the (now smoking) bus and began a long trek to the hotel. I came and met her halfway, but it was still a thirty-minute journey for her! So instead of getting in around 8:30, it was more like 10:30.

Despite her fatigue, we decided to try and make the most of the morning and headed into the old city to get some crepes for breakfast. We had a lovely seat at Crêperie Chez Suzette, on the second floor. Marcie was enamoured with the view, looking across the street at the old architecture:


She also enjoyed a very decadent crepe for breakfast, complete with ice-cream! I guess it was well deserved after her (mis)adventures.

I then took Marcie up to show her some of the sites I had previously explored. She instantly Marcified Place d’Armes:


Yep, that’s my wife!

We headed back to the hotel, snatched a quick nap, then loaded up our bags and made the fifteen-minute walk to the VIA rail station. As I’ve mentioned a few times before, Montréal is at war with construction, so we had to dodge different areas here and there, criss-crossing streets to take the designated detours. It seems no street—major thoroughfare or side alley—is safe from renovation right now in this city. It’s really too bad, as I feel like all of the ongoing and very invasive work really detracted from my time here. However, I know it will result in a beautiful celebration for the city’s 375th birthday next year.

In any case, I was kind of glad to hunker down in the relative quiet of the VIA rail station and board our train to Québec City.

Marcie smiled graciously for the below photo, then slumbered her way to Québec City. After all, she had only slept two hours the night before on the plane!


As for me, I ended up getting quite a bit of work completed on a chapter I’ve been struggling with for a book I’m tinkering with. It’s going to be a long work in progress. Let’s just call it the “dragon book” for now. Of course, I did pause from time to time to gaze through the window at the countryside rolling past.


Speaking of writing, the other project I’m currently working on is a middle-grade book that involves a type of station. Actually, I’ve been working on this book for a LONG time. Which means for the past few years, I’ve wandered around a lot of train stations and museums to do research. Imagine my joy when I stepped off the train and into La Gare du Palais . . . I discovered a realm of architectural beauty and charm!







My photos don’t really do it justice, but I consider this all just bonus research!

Well, it was pretty late, so we started slogging through the quiet Québec City streets, hoping we were taking the right way to our hotel. Our devices said it was only a fifteen-minute walk, but they don’t really show elevation and we suddenly arrived at a fork in the road, one leading up and one leading down.

We went up. Right choice! We soon found ourselves immersed in a bustling, lively atmosphere. So this is where all the people were!

Our hotel, Palace Royal, is located in the old town and is simply gorgeous. As we approached, we caught glimpses of the fortified wall with its ornate turrets. We checked in, dumped our bags, and headed out to grab some grub. Imagine our surprise when we turned the corner and found ourselves at the front of an exuberant late-night pride parade. It’s the city’s Pride Festival this weekend. We felt so much joy and camaraderie; it was quite a fitting welcome to this city.






I didn’t get much opportunity to snap photos of doors or details, as it was dark upon our arrival in Québec City. However, I did purchase this cute fox handle-hook-thingie at a store in Montréal:


I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do with it, but it caught my attention because of a couple of prop ideas I have. I always enjoy making props, and this fox reminds me of something that might be in the house of a character I’m developing for my book. (The “dragon book”. Not the “station” book.)



Exploring Montréal ~ Day 3


Day 3 in this city was my last full day, so I decided to try and make the most of it by swooping in on anything I might have missed.

I began by visiting the Marguerite-Bourgeoys museum at the Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours chapel. We had paused here during my ghost tour, so I thought it would be worth it to come back and explore the inside of the chapel. Once I found my way around the construction (I’ll repeat, Montréal seems to be currently under siege by every construction company in eastern Canada) and through the door, I learned that there was both a crypt and an upper balcony to explore, so decided to pay the fee and explore.

I was not disappointed!  The museum is focused on the life of Marguerite Bourgeoys, a famous daughter of the city. She founded the first uncloistered religious community in the Catholic church and was instrumental in educating girls, the Amerindians, and the poor in New France.

I won’t say too much about the life and times of Marguerite Bourgeoys—you can read up about her! But I will post this picture of, which is her “true” likeness:


The portrait was painted immediately after her death in 1700. The picture was painted over, and so there was a contentious time in the early 19th century when people argued over the authenticity of the likeness. Eventually, the painting was painstakingly restored and the true likeness revealed.

My two favourite parts of the museum were the top and the bottom (this is always the case with me when I visit old churches). In the crypt below the chapel, you can see the early foundations of the original chapel, which was destroyed by fire in 1754. Photos were not permitted in the crypt, but I could take them from the top, where I stood by the angels and the belfry and gazed at the Saint Lawrence.




After a quick lunch, I carried on to a second museum, which was at Pointe-À-Callière. This is the “birthplace” of Montréal, for it is the site of the original fort. Actually, many different buildings stood at this point. Now it is the museum, which looks like this:


The exhibit is mainly underground. After watching a very good multimedia show detailing the history of the city, I descended into the exhibit and wandered the early cobblestone streets. This is an authentic archaeological dig, so the floors are uneven and all the stone foundations and accompanying fixtures you see are the originals.



I saw remnants of the old sewer system, the ancient fort wall, and even the exhumed graveyard.





It was very neat to explore the foundations down there while the modern city bustled above, unawares.I like to spend a lot of time on world-building in my books, so this experience was very inspirational, helping me to imagine how a city and a culture evolves.

The exhibit featured a lot of relics from the past. My favourites, by far, were an old key and elephant escutcheon.



I confess that I did desire to possess them. So it was probably a good thing they were behind glass and under . . . er, lock and key.

At the end of the exhibit, I climbed the stairs and explored a temporary show that the museum was hosting: “Des Chevaux et des Hommes” (Horses and Men). This exhibit features some 250 objects on loan from the Émile Hermès Collection in France. The grand finale was a GORGEOUS life-size sculpture of a pegasus by Christian Renonciat. The detailing was incredible, especially in the wings.


After this exhibit, I wandered around Old Montréal some more, taking in Rue McGill and Rue Saint-Jacques. I visited the Bank of Montréal headquarters. Founded in 1817, it is the oldest bank in Canada.



Everything inside was quite luxurious, include the front door and the ceiling . . .




There is a small museum inside that is worth visiting. You can learn about the history of Canada’s first bank and also see some old equipment, such as a telegraph machine, a cheque writer, and a heavy-looking “pencil pointer” (sharpener).

A kind local told me to check out the Aldred Edifice, which is an art nouveau-style building located on Place d’Armes, near the bank. She advised me to go through the door and check out the elevators. So I did!

edificealrded - entrance.jpg




Right next to the Aldred Edifice is the brick NY Life Insurance building—otherwise known as Canada’s first skyscraper, with all of eight floors. It looks dwarfed these days, but it still is a pretty building, especially with its distinctive red bricks.


The day ended with meeting up with some good friends who are also visiting Montréal from back home. Rob and Sarah are dropping off their daughter Brianna at Concordia University, so it was neat (and a little surreal) to see good friends we see often, but in a city on the other side of the country. It’s their family tradition to take a “bad” selfie, so I obliged:


We ate at a really good gluten-free restaurant called NINI Meatball House. Obviously, the speciality is different styles of meatballs. I had the buffalo chicken with blue cheese sauce, and they were divine.

This was the moment I especially wished Marcie was here! But she is on her way and will get to spend a half-day with me in Montréal before we take the train to Québec City and spend a few days there. So the trip is soon about to get “Marcified”—which means a lot more quirky and fun (because that’s how my wife rolls).

Well, as usual, I collected a few details from throughout the day: doors, sculptures, windows . . . so here they are:












Exploring Montréal ~ Day 2

After a busy day exploring Vieux-Montréal yesterday, I decided to head in the other direction today and go explore the Museum of Fine Arts.

It was a bit of a trek, but I love exploring a new city that way, so off I set up (or down?) Rue Sainte-Catherine. The main problem with walking is that you can continually be distracted, so inevitably delay arriving at your destination.

Such was the case today; many doors, gargoyles, and other whimsical details called out to me as I traipsed along. Of course, you have to be careful with gargoyles; they don’t often have anything nice to say!

The first place I paused along Rue Sainte-Catherine was St. James United Church.



I especially adored the impish poses of these little dragons:



Next, I came upon Christ Church Cathedral. It had a beautiful red door:




It was guarded by these dog-like gargoyles. They looked very earnest.


I also discovered this door, somewhere along the street. I can’t remember exactly where; it might have been at the diocese behind the church . . .


And then there is this face, and I can’t remember exactly where I caught him, either. I just remember wandering through an archway and discovering him tucked away in a corner.


Well, I eventually arrived at the fine arts museum. Like everywhere else in Montréal (or so it seems), Rue Sherbrooke, where the gallery is located, is under complete siege by construction crews. Eventually, I figured out how to navigate my way inside. My original intention was to only view the main collection, but once I was at the ticket booth, I decided to cough up for the special exhibition on Pompeii (it was only an extra $8).


I’m glad I decided to do this; it was an extensive exhibit, with many relics and artifacts recovered from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The thing that struck me the most were the moulds taken of many of those who perished in that disaster. A layer of fine ash fell on the bodies, hardening and encasing them in a porous shell. The bodies decayed and leached away over time, leaving behind perfectly preserved cavities in the rock. By pouring plaster into these holes, archaeologists were able to capture the postures of the victims. They have many of these moulds on display—you can see men, women, and children all . . . but for some reason, the one that struck me the most was of this dog caught in its last agonizing moment of life:


Seeing these moulds, really hammered home the reality of the disaster—much more so than the various animations and immersive films they showed.

After exploring the Pompeii exhibit, I continued on to other parts of the museum. I studied art history, and especially Italian Renaissance art, in university, so I eschewed the Canadian wing of the museum for the European galleries. I enjoyed the works by all the famous international artists—I saw plenty of Picassos, Monets, Gainsboroughs, and Latrecs—but afterwards I still had some energy so decided to trek down and ferret out the Canadian works.

I’m sure glad I did. In fact, this was my favourite part of the gallery, probably because my familiarity with most of these works is so lacking. I didn’t do all the floors in order, which meant that the very first painting I saw was this amusing, whimsical piece called The King’s Beavers, by Kent Monkman:


In Canada, I think we are self-conscious of having this little critter as a national symbol; we adore him, but perhaps think of him as a bit comical, especially in comparison to the intimidating bald eagle to the south of us. Perhaps it is the same with this painting; I found it to be both ridiculous and profound at once. It captures a lot about Canada, I think, speaking to the violent iniquities of colonialism, and the legacy that it has left behind. Notice that this is not simply a depiction of the harvest of beaver pelts; this is an extermination! One poor fellow has been tied to a stake and summarily dispatched execution style. Furthermore, the artist chose to anthropomorphize the beavers, showing them in human acts; a pair is caught in a moment of supplication to the heavens, while others languish in their water-bound prison. Still, others float in the clouds, presumably on their way to some sort of beaver heaven! There is also an environmental message here. Sky, water, and land are all depicted, yet we soil them with our behavior; as the human figures slay the beavers, symbol of Canada, we slay ourselves. Look to the far left, and you will see the trinity of human compulsions depicted by the blade, the money bag, and the cross.

Here are the some of the other pieces I really enjoyed (in no particular order):

The Ice Cutters, by Horatio Walker


Le Champ de Mars, by William Bremner


My Mother Talks About Cariboo, by Mattiusi Kyaituki


Shepherdess at Vallangoujard, by Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté


Eventually, I made it out of the museum, but not until mid-afternoon. I had been so entranced inside, that I had lost track of the time and realized I hadn’t eaten. So I decided to head to Schwartz’s Deli to grab a bite. If you ever mention to someone that you are going to Montréal, they will most likely respond to you by telling you that you must go to Schwartz’s Deli. In fact, I think it might be some sort of municipal law that tourists must go there. So I decided to make the fairly long detour from my route back to my hotel.

Along Rue Sherbrooke, I discovered a few more interesting details. Because of the protests from my rumbling stomach, I resisted all of them except for this blue door:



I had heard about the long line ups at Schwartz’s Deli, so there was no doubt that I had found the right place up on Saint-Laurent Boulevard when I spotted the crowd. Since I was on my own, my wait was only about ten minutes; as a “single” I could take my place at the diner’s bar. Here I got to enjoy my sandwich and watch the cooks slice and prepare the giant slabs of meat.



Yes, it was delicious . . . and I guess that’s why everyone says you have to go there.

After a few hours’ rest at my hotel, I headed back into Old Montréal to get a late dinner. I decided to go to Le 3 Brasseurs (The Three Brewers) because on the previous night the guide on my ghost tour said the building was haunted. Apparently, there was a fire in a previous age and 20 people leapt from the top-story windows to their agonizing death . . .


Nowadays, there are stories about restaurant patrons hearing people making noises from the floors above, even though those floors are now completely abandoned and empty.


I didn’t detect any ghosts during my meal, but I did enjoy my “flammekueche” which is a traditional dish from northern France. It’s a lot like pizza, but with a delicious thin crust.




Afterwards, I walked back to the hotel and admired the beautiful lighting of the historic City Hall; a pretty way to end the evening!