Andrew Burke

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Road Trip 2012: Montreal
Posted on: 2013-04-03

In May 2012, my mother-in-law gave us her old car - but we live in Halifax and the car was in Edmonton. So we flew there and drove it all the way back to Halifax. We had great weather and I had a new camera. This is part 13 of a series of blog posts about the trip.

(All of the photos are hosted on Flickr - click on any to see bigger versions and browse the full set.)

We only had one full day to spend in Montreal. While it was a sunny warm Saturday and we saw the city at its best, I wish we had had more time. I've never had the chance to really get to know Montreal. My parents had lived in Montreal in the late sixties when it was one of the coolest cities on the planet, and growing up in Ottawa, it was always the cultural giant looming over us from only 90 minutes away.

I now live further away from Montreal than ever before, but I also know more people there now - so I hope to get the chance to get back there some time soon.

We started at Tim Hortons in what turned out to have once been the Montreal Forum - we had accidentally done the Lost Hockey Temple tour this week. At least this one had the full circle for centre ice and even some bleachers, rather than a red dot near the Spam.

We decided to head for the Old Port area to check out a Star Wars exhibit at the Science Centre, for obvious reasons. Shannon's brother got us passes to use Bixi, the ad-hoc bike rental service. I had seen the stations popping up in Toronto, but hadn't had the chance to use them. The signup process was easy and the bikes were rugged and reliable (although not exactly high performance or sexy).

The bike infrastructure in Montreal made me want to weep. Painted bike lanes on side streets led to a main bike artery on Maisonneuve separated from cars with a concrete berm. I only briefly tried biking in Toronto, but always felt like I was seriously risking my life. With physically separated bike-only lanes, safe from even Montreal's notoriously bad drivers, I would seriously consider biking more often. But alas Toronto is actually removing their bike lines, and while Halifax is talking about it there hasn't been much progress.

We checked our Bixis back in near the museum, and then discovered that the Star Wars exhibit was sold out. Since it was a beautiful day, we decided to take a long meandering walk back to our place through the Old Town and along St Catherines.

Old Town Montreal

Montreal is such a photogenic city: the mix of vintage stone and brick, decrepit old industrial buildings, and funky shiny new constructions, often on the same block, make for great pictures.

Old Montreal

Darling Brothers Second Nature

We wandered by the Gare Centrale and through an office complex that had a skating rink in its atrium. We then made our way up to the bustle of St. Catherine street. I hadn't expected to spend so much time out in the sun, so I ducked into one of the hip clothing stores and bought a dapper straw hat (and a t-shirt).

Every day, news reports all across the country were describing the huge student demonstrations and riots happening in Montreal. We saw no evidence of any of this. It was either highly localized, very tidy, or everything was cleaned up quickly. Just a few days after we left, though, half a million people marched downtown.

We got back to our place, napped briefly, and then headed back out to walk some more, since the weather was so lovely. This time we went south-west down to the St. Henri neighbourhood, an old working-class part of town whose factories were quickly becoming lofts. It's also where the mighty Oscar Peterson grew up, and he used the name for one of his most ripping tracks. We passed by the spectacularly decrepit and graffitied Canada Malt complex:

Beautiful Decay

Right behind it was the McAuslan brewery, which has a hidden patio in back along the canal. This might be one of the best patios I've been on - although I think any patio by a canal on a beautiful late spring Saturday evening attached to a really good brewery in a hip part of Montreal might be equally as good.

Patio!
(Showing off my new hat, too.)

After some food and a few pints and some great conversation and people-watching, we wandered home through the descending evening along the Lachine Canal. This reminded us both a lot of parts of Berlin.

Along the Canal

As we passed back through St. Henri, we saw the lovely art-deco Atwater Market lit up in the dusk - a nice last image by which to remember Montreal.

Atwater Market at Dusk

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