North America | Canada | Quebec | Montreal – The French in Montreal
I arrived in Montreal, Canada, and found that the streets and people are French. Montreal appears to pride itself on its French heritage, and just by being on some of the older streets, one could almost mistake it for Paris. However, upon closer inspection, I detected the differences that separated it from its Parisian counterpart. For instance, you don’t risk your life crossing the street for crazy drivers, the residents will quite willingly speak to you in English, and there’s less dog excrement on the sidewalks.
Apart from the French-sounding names, the city centre is what you might find in any large city. The grid layout and the metro make it easy to travel around.
The better part though, is Old Montreal down by the port. This is the more historic part of town, where the narrow streets are paved and the small shops have swinging signs hanging above the doorways. I walked through this area and had an interesting time looking into the art galleries, boutiques, and cafes that populate the area. There seems to be an abundance of souvenir shops selling the usual collection of Canada T-shirts, mugs, tea spoons, hats, ornaments, and key rings. Inevitably, there are also maple syrup and moose products.
Walking the streets
I did a lot of walking during my time here. On one particular day, I walked all the way up Rue Saint Denis, passing the multitude of tiny outdoor cafes and restaurants along the way. The food on offer is diverse, ranging from Tibetan to Chinese to Italian to Portuguese. Just as I was marvelling at this conglomeration of the world’s ethnic culinary offerings, there, blending in among them and looking almost part of the environ, was a McDonald’s and a Starbucks. Yes America, we hear your desire to permeate your ‘culture’ into every possible corner of the globe.
Just off Rue Prince Arthur I walked around looking at the old French houses which are, oddly, brightly coloured. I saw a girl walking out of a gate, toting a unicycle as if it was a normal thing to do around these parts. She got on it but kept falling off. I was standing there looking at her, and she must have known I was waiting to see if she succeeded. After a few attempts she let out a frustrated sigh. She glared at me as if it was my fault and returned to her house with her unicycle, conceivably to select another mode of transport with more than one wheel.
Mont Royal and cloud watching
Having walked along the road for some time, I then walked west along Avenue Mont Royal, and came across… Mont Royal. This imposing mountain dominates the city, rising up in the middle. It is also a large park with several tracks running through it. I decided to take a walk through the park, and found that not only did it steadily climb uphill, but wound around for a few kilometres in its attempt to kill my feet. But I was rewarded when I came to the grassy meadow by the lake and flopped down for a rest, looking up at the clouds forming dragon shapes. It occurred to me that I don’t know when was the last time I laid down in a grassy meadow looking at shapes in the clouds.
The smoked meat sandwich
When it comes to food, I wholly recommend the smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz’s Deli. This tiny establishment, found on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, was recommended to me by some people for its famous meat sandwiches. Established in 1930, I almost walked past it, such was its non-descript exterior.
The deli is always crowded at lunch time. I squeezed between two patrons, sitting at the bar in a narrow room that is styled exactly like a classic diner, complete with red vinyl bar stools, ’50s decor and Heinz ketchup. I ordered one of the smoked meat sandwiches, a side of fries, and a cherry coke. Vegetarians and cardiac patients, stop reading now. The sandwich was two thin slices of bread with about two inches of layers of succulent sliced meat in between. The meat has been marinated for twelve days with a blend of secret herbs and spices, and then smoked on the premises. There is a lot more meat than bread; in fact, I think the bread is just there to lend it its official status of a sandwich.
It was also the first time at the diner for the guy sitting next to me. So overjoyed he was when his sandwich arrived that he shed tears of joy, and had to call someone up on his cell phone to proclaim the glorious mound of meat before his eyes. He told me he came all the way from Vancouver. But then I told him I came from Australia, and he agreed that it was definitely worth the trip, man.
Churches and other things
Montreal also has an adequate complement of churches and museums. Saint Joseph’s Oratory is an imposing church with a large dome, sitting high up a hill. The climb up the stairs is worth it for a look at the grand building up close, not to mention the view from the balcony. I also went out to the Olympic park one day to take a look at its Star Trek space ship-like stadium (the Olympics were held in 1976).
With its shopping malls, outdoor port area, cultural diversions, and friendly locals, Montreal is a laidback French city that makes for some relaxing sight-seeing. And all this without encountering any real French people; not that I mean to insinuate anything by that.