By Harold Gellis, Travel Writer
Montreal, the world’s second-largest French-speaking city after Paris, is in the mood to celebrate. Canada’s festival capital hosts unique multicultural events and exhibitions all year round. Both its summer and winter festivals transform the city into an international stage. Montreal is easily accessible by car for a long weekend getaway or mini-vacation.
Multi Cultural Capital
Montreal is the most unique city in North America. It is a melting pot of cultures from around the world. The population consists of one hundred nationalities. One hundred and nine different languages are spoken in the city. After Toronto and Vancouver, Montreal is the third most multi-ethnic city in the world.
But, overwhelmingly, Montreal is French. Sixty percent of the population speak French as their first language. Only thirty percent speak English as their first language. Despite the preponderance of French speakers, Montreal is the only functional bilingual city in North America – most people also speak English!
Montreal is situated on an island. But it is anything but insular. The city consists of a mosaic of forty one different neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is distinguished by its lampposts!
In the old city, where Montreal was founded, the lampposts look like street signs. In Chinatown, the lampposts look like pagodas. Boulevard Saint-Laurent is a kaleidoscope of different cultures, ethnic enclaves and lampposts.
Reliving History in Montreal
Montreal is a contrast in old and new architecture spanning four centuries of history. Vieux-Montreal – Old Montreal, founded in 1642 by French missionaries, consists of narrow, winding streets with two or three storey red and rust stoned buildings. Beyond the medieval streets are towering skyscrapers silhouetted against the sky. And beyond the skyscrapers and in the distance, a mountain rises majestically upward.
The oldest street in Montreal is Rue Saint-Paul, in the heart of the old city. Reminiscent of a medieval street in England, Rue Saint-Paul winds its way along many cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries.
Bonsecours Market, with its silver domed structure, alongside the Old Port, stands out as a unique landmark along the Saint Lawrence River waterfront. Bonsecours Market has an indoor building and an outdoor promenade and contains thirty art galleries, boutiques, and sidewalk cafes.
Located in the center of the commercial section of the city and sprawled across Mount-Royal is a unique recreational wonderland – Mount-Royal Park. The Park features a vast network of walking paths and stairs leading to wooded areas and landscapes. Vantage points in the park offer breathtaking views and panoramas of the city.
Gateway to the Laurentians
To the north of Montreal lies a wonderland – the Laurentian Mountains. Driving on Highway 15 past the crowded blocks of apartment houses and commercial buildings, the urban neighborhoods of Montreal gradually give way to an open flat plain. The landscape becomes increasingly dramatic with the rural serenity of the mountains and lakes of the Laurentians.
In the heart of the Laurentians is Mont Tremblant, an international tourist skiing resort and recreational area. Activities at Mont Tremblant include swimming, skiing, hiking, boating, and kayaking. Both in the summer and winter, Mont Tremblant is a unique playground and entertainment center with parades, concerts, magicians and an almost infinite variety of activities for everyone.
But the highlight of Mont Tremblant is the gondola ride to the top of the mountain. At the summit of Mont Tremblant, an incredible panorama unfolds. A rolling carpet of green stretches towards the horizon framed in the distance by a range of blue mountains. Spectacular billowing cloud formations hug the peaks of the Laurentians with the inky blue sky as a backdrop.
Atop the summit are paths leading to various vantage points. One path leads to a thirty foot high tower. As winds howl and gradually diminish, and as the clouds roll by overhead, a brilliant sun illuminates a landscape of rolling hills and valleys stretching endlessly toward the horizon. Contemplating this majestic panorama, one is gripped simultaneously by a sensation of awe of puniness.
The Just For Laughs Festival is the world’s largest and most prestigious comedy event. The Festival consists of 1,600 shows, including 1,200 free outdoor performances, theater, stand-up performances and street entertainment. 1,700 artists come from 19 countries. Over two million spectators attend this unique Festival. It is held July 5 till July 31.
Montreal Fashion and Design Festival is Montreal’s premier fashion event. The Festival features the latest fashion shows and live performances from well-known artists. There are also parties in bars and lounges and a shopping event in the city’s trendiest boutiques. The Festival will be held Aug. 3 to 6.
Montreal’s Italian Week Festival celebrates the proud Italian heritage of the Italian Canadian community. The festival provides a wide array of activities throughout the city celebrating cultural diversity, sporting prowess, fashion, gastronomy, world-class music, the great outdoors, children, arts and Italian heritage. The Festival will be held Aug. 5 until Aug. 14.
The Hellenic Flame Festival celebrates Hellenic culture. The Festival highlights an array of activities, portraying the colorful and rich culture of Montreal’s Greek population. It is designed to spotlight the customs, music and traditional dishes of Greece, and provides cultural activities for all ages. The Festival will be held Aug. 14 to Aug. 16.
The Montreal Jewish Music Festival, which will be held August 28 to September 1 along Boulevard Saint-Laurent, transforms the historic Jewish neighborhood into a holiday of song and dance. The downtown streets reverberate with the sounds of traditional klezmer and folk music, as well as rock, Sephardic, hip-hop and jazz from top local and international artists in Jewish music.
Montreal is a city of museums and exhibitions. Visitors can get the Montreal Museums Pass, a cultural passport that opens the doors to thirty four museums in the city. There are museums for every kind of interest.
The McCord Museum, located in the heart of Montreal, is home to one of North America’s finest historical collections, including the most comprehensive collection of clothing made and worn in Canada. The Centre D’Histoire De Montreal captures the entire city’s turbulent history and multiple identities in one place with three floors of permanent and temporary exhibits. And the Biosphere, located in Jean-Drapeau Park on Sainte-Helene Island, displays unique and spectacular technologies, exhibitions, and tours of green technologies and environmental protection.
Many of Montreal’s museums can be reached through the city’s underground. The underground city consists of twenty miles of walkways lined with stores, shops, eateries, hotels, and downtown attractions all connected to the Metro transportation system. Montreal’s underground city is immune to inclement weather and cold temperatures.
Montreal also showcases unique exhibitions. Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology is a fascinating exhibition that displays the vast and exclusive collection of props, models, drawings, and concept and set designs used in the movie for Indiana Jones. It is also on a wealth of historical and cultural facts. The exhibition is open until Sept. 18.
Harold Gellis is an authority on international travel and geopolitical events and trends.
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