Bonjour-hi! Welcome to Montréal, a vibrant city characterized by an eclectic nexus of opposites: a dynamic metropolis that boasts intimate European charm, a cultural tradition that erupts with the avant-garde, a bilingual population that celebrates community.
Much of the island of “Montréal” constitutes the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehá:ka people, and we recognize and acknowledge this history in honour of the Indigenous populations who call this land home. You can read about McGill’s own land acknowledgement here: https://www.mcgill.ca/edu4all/other-equity-resources/traditional-territories
To learn more about Montréal and Quebec’s rich First Nations cultures, and to get a list of museums and centers that celebrate this heritage, please follow this link:
Montréal is named after its major geographical landmark, Mount Royal. More a large hill than a small mountain, Mount Royal boasts a beautifully landscaped park, designed in the 1860s by Central Park’s own Frederick Olmsted. The wide walking paths that wind through the woods were specifically constructed to encourage the carriage-drawn aristocracy and the pedestrian working class to occupy the same space. The lookout offers stunning views of the downtown cityscape against the river backdrop, while the grassy expanse adjacent to Parc Avenue hosts tam-tam gatherings every fair-weather Sunday.
Downtown Montréal clusters around the main thoroughfare of the rue Sainte-Catherine, which runs East-West, parallel to rue Sherbrooke. On this street you will find the salient shopping destinations, as well as the major access points to Montréal’s famous underground city. Café Parvis (http://www.cafeparvis.com) on rue Mayor and Dominion Square Tavern (http://www.tavernedominion.com) on Metcalfe are two excellent options for drinks (caffeinated or otherwise) and dining.
The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts (https://www.mbam.qc.ca/en/) sits west of the McGill campus on rue Sherbrooke, and is well worth a visit. From here, meander down rue Bishop or rue Crescent for some of the city’s sophisticated bars and clubs… as well as an abundance of more affordable options.
North-East of McGill, make like a local and wander the boulevards Saint-Laurent and Saint-Denis (which run north-south) to discover “the plateau,” home to the city’s trendiest restaurants and chicest cafés. This area practically demands a nice long break on a “terrasse,” complete with a pitcher of local beer or sangria and a good book. While the best way to experience this neighbourhood is simply to wander, a few favorites include Lola Rosa (http://lolarosa.ca/en/) just a few minutes-walk from campus on Milton, Darling Café-Bar (so new it doesn’t have a website yet) on Saint-Laurent, La Banquise (http://labanquise.com) on rue Rachel for over twenty different kinds of poutine, and of course the famous Au Pied de Cochon (http://aupieddecochon.ca/?lang=en) on avenue Duluth for some of Montréal’s true haute cuisine (be sure to make a reservation well in advance!).
Follow boulevard Saint-Laurent to the South and you’ll find yourself in bustling Chinatown. To tour the famous Old Port, head even further South on Saint-Laurent and turn left on rue Saint-Paul Est, where the city’s oldest buildings and cobblestoned lanes will transport you to another time; while the Old Port’s main square, Place Jacques-Cartier, certainly deserves a quick look, don’t be tempted by its many restaurants – head down the smaller streets for the best eats: Barroco (https://www.barroco.ca) on rue Saint-Paul, le Club Chasse et Pêche (http://www.leclubchasseetpeche.com/en/) on rue Saint-Claude, or Le Bremner (http://crownsalts.com/lebremner/) on rue Saint-Paul.
If you’re feeling adventurous enough to explore further, check out the Atwater Market in the southwest corner of the city for some of Montréal’s freshest from-the-farm produce and goods. Pick up a basket of fresh strawberries and head down to the Lachine Canal for a picturesque stroll. Not far from Atwater Market on Notre Dame are Montreal’s famous sister restaurants: Joe Beef and Liverpool House (http://www.joebeef.ca), the latter of which found Barak Obama and Justin Trudeau dining together a couple months ago.
Montréal’s public transit system, the STM (http://www.stm.info/en) can get you pretty much anywhere you need to go cheaply and (construction-depending) easily. You can purchase passes at the airport and at any Metro station. The best free app to map your routes and consult bus schedules is called Transit (https://transitapp.com).
About the language: Montréal is a bilingual city and the vast majority of the people you will encounter will be able to communicate with you in English… but they will take to you far more kindly if you blunder through some français first. The only phrase you need to learn is: “je m’excuse, je ne parle pas français.” – I’m sorry, I don’t speak French. Stumble through these words with an apologetic smile and marvel at the difference in service.
Wishing you a most delightful stay, et à la prochaine!
By Evan Wisdom-Dawson