Exploring Québec City ~ Day 3

We woke up on the morning of our third day in Québec City feeling very sore, our legs reminding us of the amount of trekking we did yesterday. According to Marcie’s app, over 26,000 steps! So we decided to have a casual day.

Marcie spent the morning exploring the shops on Rue Saint-Jean, while I stayed in the hotel room, at the window seat, doing some writing. I had a goal to finish a particular chapter of one of my books before the end of this trip. The scene I’m working on is set in an old museum, a sort of cabinet of wonders, so this whole trip to Old Canada has been very helpful and invigorating. I’m not sure if I’m actually going to be able to complete this chapter before I’m back in Vancouver, but I’ve outlined the whole scene and now—ha, ha—just have to write it. Well, maybe I’ll complete the chapter on the flight home and that will give me some sort of sense of accomplishment. I tend to be a slow writer anyway, and am not one of those who forces myself to achieve a certain word count each day or week. It’s just not the way I create.

In any case, after Marcie returned from shopping, we headed out to the provincial parliament building and registered for the free tour. We had 45 minutes to spare, so we wandered around the neighbourhood, which we had some familiarity with from the previous day. We came across an old church on Grande Allée East that was for sale and discussed whether we would ever consider buying in it and living in it. We thought the turret at the top would make for a neat studio—but it would be one laborious walk each morning!


It was actually sad to the church in a dilapidated state. Tall weeds were sprouting from the sidewalks and many of the windows were boarded up.


Of course, the cost for renovating and up keeping such a building would be exuberant and, of course, we don’t have the money for such a venture. So we left behind our whimsical moment and took our tour at the parliament building.

Like so many of the provincial parliamentary buildings in Canada, it is a beautiful structure—and a little better maintained than the old church up the street!






The 45-minute tour was excellent and we enjoyed the beautiful stained glass windows and magnificent chambers. Many of our fellow tourists were Canadian, so the guide made sure to keep testing us on Canadian history. (I feel like I did pretty well.)

After the tour, we decided we needed a leisurely lunch and headed back towards our church and enjoyed a couple of hours at Le 3 Brasseurs, which is a chain I was first introduced to in Montréal. I encourage Marcie to try the flammekueche, which I had tried previously, while I had poutine. Because, you know. You can never have enough poutine.



Well, of course you cane have way too much poutine. I certainly have while I’ve been in this province, but, hey, I convinced myself that I deserved my poutine indulgence after walking 26,000 steps the previous day before. I’m not sure how we convinced ourselves that we also deserved a refreshing pitcher of sangria. We just did.

Well it was Monday, and that was the last day of the long holiday weekend in Canada, and we certainly noticed a difference in the city as we walked around through the afternoon and night. The streets were sedate, and we had many of them to ourselves! We enjoyed the frantic hustle bustle of the weekend, but now we were privileged enough to enjoy a more romantic experience of the city on a warm summer night. In particular, we enjoyed all the stunning lighting of the buildings, both modern and old.






As is always the case, I’ll end with a few doors and details that I espied during the day. My particular prize is the lion doorknob! I’m pretty sure this a portal to Narnia—but I posted it at the bottom of the photos, just so you don’t shun the others!






Exploring Québec City ~ Day 2

Our second day in Québec City was another busy one. We woke up a little bit later than usual and decided we would go visit the Plains of Abraham, the site of the famous battle between the British and the French in 1759—a deciding moment in Canada’s history.

We ambled along the wall again, past the provincial parliament, and arrived at the museum’s office. The clerk there told us that, if we hurried, we could make it to the nearby “Le Citadel” to see the changing of the guard. So we abandoned the Plains of Abraham for the moment and charged off to Le Citadel, along with hordes of other late-arriving tourists, hastily purchased our tickets, and squeezed through the gates to observe the ceremony.


I’ve seen quite a few changing of the guard ceremonies (London, Prague, Seoul, and so forth), but this one was the first one to feature a goat. And this is no ordinary goat, but one with golden horns!


The goat’s name is Batisse. He is the regiment’s mascot and is an integral part of the changing of the guard.  The origins of the goat goes back to Queen Victoria, who in 1883 was given a goat by the king of Iran. Fast forward to the mid-twentieth century, and Queen Elizabeth II gave one of the descendants of this goat to the regiment at Le Citadel. Well, Queen Elisabeth II is still around, but the original Batisse is not. In fact, the regiment is now on the twelfth Batisse. According to our guide, the queen sent over a new goat each time one passed away . . . until number four. With that fourth goat, came a wife. So now the regiment is responsible for propagating its own line of mascots.

In any case, Batisse looked quite regal. I suppose horns painted gold will do that for you.

We really enjoyed the tour. Our guide was informative and humorous and we learned a lot about the history of the fortifications—namely, that it was built to protect the city from an attack by the Americans that never came. (They did attack Québec City, but only before the citadel was constructed.)

It was interesting to see the difference in construction between the original French buildings and the subsequent English fortifications.





The tour guide also introduced us to this twelve-tonne cannon:


According to our guide, this beast once caused the destruction of a woman’s house on the other side of the Saint Lawrence River. They fired the cannon one winter, only to have its payload strike the frozen ice, ricochet off the hard surface and bounce forward to obliterate her home. Thankfully, she wasn’t inside at the time. Recently (and by recently, I mean within the last few weeks) many of the shells for this cannon were unearthed and were lying nearby for us to see:


You can see my foot in the bottom of the photo, to show you how big the shells are. (Also, my foot is there because I didn’t know it was in the frame when I took the shot.)

Nearby was the building where they kept all the powder. There was a slot in the outside wall that most of us assumed was for use by soldiers inside to use for firing at enemies.


Actually, it’s just a ventilation shaft. It zigzags into the building so that an enemy couldn’t simply stick his own gun through, fire, and easily explode the store of gunpowder. However, our tour guide told us that attacking soldiers sometimes used animals as incendiary devices. What they would do is take a rat, dip its tail in oil, light it, then send it scampering into the shaft to ignite the entire building.  Very cruel, but I suppose effective. This technique was never used at Le Citadel, but about a half hour later, I spotted a black squirrel scampering across the grounds and thought to myself that it best just keep moving in case anyone got any ideas . . .

Well, of course, they don’t store powder in that building anymore. It’s a museum where you can see plaques and relics from the Seven Years’ War, including a very cool original canon. (We weren’t permitted to take photos.)

Near the end of the tour, we got to stand on the battlements overlooking Old Québec City. The view was very impressive. Marcie and I had taken our tour of Château Frontenac the day before, but we looked upon it with fresh eyes from this vantage point—it truly is an impressive and magical building. I have to say, it’s just one of those buildings that no photo can really seem to do justice. It rises out of the cityscape like a castle.


After leaving the citadel, we returned the Plains of Abraham, but thought we better get some lunch before we ran out of steam. We found a restaurant called “Cosmos” just past the statue of General Montcalm and enjoyed some crepes. You can see Marcie’s meal. It was like fruit exploded all over her plate.


Our stomachs satiated, we returned to the Plains of Abraham and wandered across the grounds of the infamous battle. It was so verdant and peaceful that it was a bit difficult to imagine that this was once the sight of the grisly Battle of Québec, the deciding confrontation in the Seven Years’ War.



Incidentally, this pivotal battle lasted all of fifteen minutes. It resulted in the deaths of the leaders on both sides, James Wolfe and Louis-Joseph Montcalm. Whenever I think of this moment in Canadian history, I am reminded of this pair of famous paintings:

The Death of General Wolfe, by Benjamin West (1770)


La Mort de Montcalm, by Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté (1902)


Just outside of the park, there is also a statue of Montcalm. I could not really get a good photo of it due to the position of the light at that time of day, but here it is anyway:


The Plains of Abraham also features a famous statue of Joan of Arc. I guess she was kind of like a patron saint for New France.


After exploring the park for a bit, we crossed down to the nature path and descended down a long staircase to the rue at the bottom. From there we gained a good vantage point of the cliff looking upwards:


It was this type of cliff that a small contingent of British soldiers had to scale in order to surprise the French garrison at top. Once they seized the garrison, the rest of Wolfe’s 5,000-strong army was able to reach the plains via a road. (Let’s just say the walk down was onerous enough and we had the use of stairs; so I can only imagine how difficult it was for these men to climb up beneath the cover of night.)

We required refreshment after our long walk in the hot summer sun, so we decided to head back to Château Frontenac, where we had seen the lovely 1608 bar the day before on our tour of that hotel. We arrived just after the bar opened at 2pm, so were able to procure a table (the bar filled up very quickly afterwards). This is a beautiful, cozy location in the hotel, affording a great view of the Saint Lawrence, if you get the right seat. We sat next to the bookshelf, since we wanted to feel like we were in the old reading room—which is what this room used to be.


Our next adventure for the day didn’t happened until later at night when we took the ghost tour through old Québec City. As I mentioned in my blog posts about Montréal, I really enjoy taking ghost tours, since it is a good way to hear about the history of a place.

This tour did a good job of trying to create atmosphere. Our guide was dressed in a cape and hat and led our way down cobblestone streets with a candle-fuelled lantern.


Marcie and I appreciated the fact that the tour took us down several streets, back alleys, and courtyards that we wouldn’t have otherwise explored. In fact, there was a great deal of walking on this tour—it had some people puffing and panting, especially when we started climbing some of the steep hills. The grande finale of the tour was at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity near the Château Frontenac. Here is my picture of it in the night:


The guide led us inside—it was pitch dark with only the lights from the streets beyond to provide us with any illumination. We then sat in the pews as she told us stories about the ghosts who apparently haunt the cathedral, her candle light flickering and adding a certain macabre ambiance. That was certainly a lot of fun!

After the tour, we headed back towards our hotel and came up through the gate on St. Jean where raucous music was playing on the festival stage. It’s the Pride Festival here this weekend, so each night they have been having celebrations. On this night, it was drag queens performing. We paused to watch a bit of it. Marcie said to me, “That looks like Marilyn Manson on stage.” It was just a look-alike of course. Afterwards, faux-Marilyn stalked through the crowd looking grim and somber and people delighted in taking pictures with him. Faux Gwen Stefani went next. Well, it was a fun way for the night to come to an end.

As usual, I’m finishing off this post with a series of photos chronicling the doors and details discovered throughout the day. Every time I turn a corner in this city, there is a new treasure to find . . .













Exploring Québec City ~ Day 1


Technically, this was our second day in Québec City, but our first full one. We arrived late last night, and you can read about our welcome in my previous post.

We had a restful sleep in our gorgeous hotel, then after a quick petite-déjeuner, and with a spring in our steps, we entered old town Québec, ready to embrace all the new experiences awaiting us.

We started by walking along the old fortified wall and heading to get a view of the parliament building and, eventually, the Saint Lawrence River (pictured at the top of this post).



We enjoyed the many gates, doorways, and bridges that afforded us the different views. They have many cannons along the walls, which especially caught our attention. See, after learning of our visit to Québec City, my cousin’s husband, Pat (a native Québecer) gave us a mission to find a cannon ball embedded in the trunk of a tree in the old town. We made sure to take pictures of the cannons—because we thought we could doubly impress Pat if we did so!


Well, after surviving the cannons, we kept walking along the route, and eventually arrived at Dufferin Terrace and Château Frontenac. It’s here where you can see the beautiful monument to Samuel de Champlain:


We had already pre-booked a tour for Château Frontenac, so decided to not linger there, but instead went up Rue Saint-Louis to gaze upon the beautiful architecture. We almost immediately were distracted by this side street where vendors were selling art.


Marcie and I are not ones to buy a lot of souvenirs, except for artwork. We are running out of wall space, but I had no choice but to purchase this adorable print by Francois Thomassin. I think his artwork would be wonderful in a children’s book.


Weaving up another side street, we came upon Chapelle des Ursulines, which is a Catholic Church with beautiful stained glass windows and many pieces of religious artwork that were saved from the riots of the French Revolution and brought to Québec. There was a very kind and knowledgable man outside the church, and he regaled us with the history and legacy of the Catholic church in Québec and encouraged us to go inside.


We did take a quick peek, but did not spend much time there—after all, we had a cannonball to find!

And find it, we did . . .


I won’t say WHERE we found it, in case you want to search for it yourself. Also, I’m not sure WHY there is a cannonball in the tree. One story claims that the cannonball landed there during the Battle of Québec in 1759 and then the tree grew around and over it. Who knows? Pat was very pleased that we found it; he immediately assigned us a new challenge, which we will try to undertake . . .

It was next time for lunch, and we overheard a tour guide waxing poetic about a restaurant we passed, so we decided to go in.


We weren’t looking for an expensive or heavy lunch, but we did not regret dining at La Buche! It was pure Canadiana! To begin with, it is decorated with many items such as skates, skis, snowshoes, and . . . er, taxidermy.



We dined out in the back terrace, where we enjoyed incredible food. I had tried poutine in Montréal, but nothing like what I was served here:


Let’s just say that other bacon should go hang its head in shame. Because all other bacon has failed in comparison to this bacon.

As for Marcie, she had a grilled cheese sandwich unlike any we had ever seen:


Yes, I know. It does not look like grilled cheese. I actually think it was battered and then grilled. Or deep fried. I don’t want to think about it too much, actually. I think we ate our calorie count for the day in one fell swoop.

Afterwards, we visited the bathroom. It was comprised of unisex stalls and every square inch was covered in graffiti. The sink was a bathtub:


The faucets are actually the soap dispensers!

Well, it was time to make our tour at Château Frontenac. We found our guide, Michel, in full top hat and tailed coat waiting for us on Dufferin Terrace near the hotel.


I ended up discovering A LOT of unexpected inspiration at Château Frontenac, this most historic of hotels. I’m working on a book that involves a hotel angle to it, and taking the tour got me rethinking a few details. (Alas, a writer is always at work . . . even when he is on vacation!) Mostly, this hotel allowed me to think about all the different services, details, and aspects of hotel life. I’ve read up on hotels of course, but nothing seems to top actually walking through one such as Château Frontenac and seeing it for yourself.

Well, there’s a lot one could tell about this hotel and its history, but suffice it to say that it was the largest hotel in North America for quite some time, and is still one of the most prestigious. It has had its ups and downs with fires, economic downturns, royal visits—you name it. The leaders of the allied powers even met here during World War II to plot their strategies.

Our tour included the grand ballroom . . .


The ladies’ tea room . . .


And the 1608 bar . . .


The 1608 bar may have been my favourite place in the hotel. It was the old reading room, and we definitely want to come back here for a drink. In the adjoining room, where they serve the famous Château Frontenac brunch, we saw all sorts of taxidermy, much of it very strange . . .




Yes, that was a two-headed duckling!

Here are a few other details I snatched from the hotel:




Marcie and I now harbour the fantasy of returning to Québec City one Christmas and staying at this gorgeous hotel. It won’t be this Christmas, but hopefully one holiday season soon . . .

After our hotel tour, we went below Dufferin Terrace to explore the Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux national historic site, which is administered by Parks Canada and is underground. Similar to my experience at the Pointe-À-Callièreo museum in Montréal, we were able to explore the old rooms and gaze upon beautiful artifacts from this early period when Québec was New France.




My favourite artifacts, of course, were this lock and key:


After emerging from the past, we spent the rest of our afternoon ambling the beautiful old streets (some of them delightfully narrow) and squares, taking in the many sights, smells, and sounds.





We did a little shopping (Marcie bought a pair of Québec-made moccasins!) and took many photos. Here are just a few of them, including the many doors and details that caught my eye . . .














Well, that was our wonderful first day. We are next looking forward to exploring the Plains of Abraham.






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!