It seems that no trip to Montréal would be complete without a visit to the old town. Vieux Montréal is a real treat to experience, the true historic center of town. It’s where Montréal was born in 1642, and is the city’s second oldest public site. As a history buff, I can never get enough of anything with a story, and there were plenty to be had here, that’s for sure.
I started out at Place d’Armes (well actually I started out at a nearby Starbucks, but I felt the fuel was necessary), where all the eras of Montréal’s past are gathered.
Place d’Armes gained its name because it was a site of military manoeuvres, and the central Maisonneuve Monument is dedicated to the city’s founder, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve. It commemorates his defense of the young French settlement against the Iroquois, against whom his allies the Hurons were fighting.
Its surrounding buildings not only span historical eras, but also architectural forms. La Basilique Notre Dame may be the city’s most famous building, dating back to 1642. The red Scottish sandstone building on the left is the New York Life Insurance Building, built in 1888. It was Montréal’s first “skyscraper” at 8 storeys high! Next to it is the Aldred Building (1929), with an Art Deco style designed to emulate the Empire State Building.
I just loved Notre Dame – what a beautiful building. Who couldn’t love that Gothic Revival architecture? Very dramatic. Contrary to the old tourist tales, however, the basilica is not modeled on Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It does lay claim to the weddings and christenings of the rich and famous in the city though, and Celine Dion actually had her child baptized here back in 2001.
Opposite the basilica, across the square, is the Bank of Montréal, Canada’s oldest bank. It’s a grand, colonnaded building that is modeled on the Pantheon in Rome. More amazing architecture, located on the road that was formerly known as the Wall Street of Canada!
A little way along from Notre Dame is Rue de l’Hopital which was named after a hospice set up there by nuns back in the 17th century. No nuns there now, but it does house the Lewis Building, former head office of the Cunard Shipping Lines. Its front is adorned with all kinds of mischievous gargoyles!
Just down the end of that road you run into the magnificent Montréal Stock Exchange Building, yet another Roman-style edifice in the town, with lovely stately columns – no longer the Stock Exchange, but instead home to the Centaur Theatre.
Just a block south you run into the Old Customs House on Place Royale, the square where the city’s first settlers supposedly landed. Its design is very neoclassical, and the building apparently connects by tunnel to the nearby Musée d’Archéologie et d’Histoire de Montréal, Pointe-à-Callière.
Today it serves as a gift shop for the museum, and I loved the stark contrast in design between the old classical design of the Old Customs House, and the strikingly modern appearance of the museum.
So there you have just a taste of some of the fabulous architecture and heritage of Vieux Montréal. I was lucky that the weather was a wee bit warmer for this part of my trip too, and the sun even made an appearance for a short while! Although I love snowy skies for adding some drama to photographs, you can’t beat a blue sky!