Montreal: Canada’s Epicenter of Arts and Culture.

Canada has become of my favorite travel destinations. It is clean, safe, diverse, and offers visitors plenty to see and do. The proximity to where I live, and the friendly locals make it easy to travel there. Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world with a total population of about 36 million people.  In comparison, the United States is the 3rd largest country in the world with a population of 291 million people.

Outdoor enthusiasts are offered a wide range of unforgettable scenery throughout Canada. There is the spectacular landscape of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, glaciers, secluded lakes, and lush forests.  Some of the most popular outdoor activities include skiing, hiking, fishing, golfing, biking, kayaking and river rafting. Canada has more coastline than any other country. 

Spectacular Canadian RockiesSpectacular Canadian Rockies

Canada has several cosmopolitan and multicultural cities.  The most familiar ones are Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal to name a few.  Each city has their own unique character. Last spring, I attended a business conference in Montreal. The first mistake I realized I made on arrival was not allowing myself enough time to explore all that it had to offer.

Montreal is the 2nd largest city in Canada located in the province of Quebec.  Montrealer’s are proud of their city which is well-known for its excellent cuisine, exciting nightlife, and cultural diversity.  The city is also renowned for hosting many different festivals.  Montreal is the 2nd largest French speaking city in the world.  While English is also spoken, I would recommend learning a few key words and phrases as a courtesy.  You will find that the locals will appreciate your effort.

Montreal and Old QuebecMontreal and Old Quebec

My time to explore in Montreal was limited because my conference went from morning until early evening and I did not see anywhere near what Montreal had to offer.  My hotel was conveniently located a half a block from the Notre-Dame Basilica. One evening on the way home, I decided to go for a quick visit at the recommendation of the hotel concierge. I must admit, I was skeptical at first since I had been to Notre-Dame in Paris. Upon entering the church, I was stunned at how beautiful it was inside. There is a reason this is referred to as the “crown jewel of Montreal’s heritage.”

The church was built in 1656 and is the oldest parish church in North America. Unlike other Catholic churches with biblical pictures along the wall, Notre Dame has stained glass windows recounting the history of the city. I arrived just in time to take a tour and watch the spectacular light show inside the church. When visiting Montreal this is a MUST.  The lightshow takes place every evening between 6-8 pm.  You can check the website for details on the times and ticket prices.

Notre-Dame BasilicaNotre-Dame Basilica
Inside Notre-Dame BasilicaInside Notre-Dame Basilica

Montreal has been referred to as Canada’s foodie capital because it offers extensive dining options. There are more restaurants and bars per capita in Montreal than any other city in North America. One iconic food to try is Poutine which originated in Quebec. Poutine is a dish of French fries, topped with cheese curds and then finished off with a hot brown gravy.  Poutine originated in Quebec in the 1950’s.  It became so popular with locals and tourists alike; it is one of Canada’s signature dishes.

PoutinePoutine

Poutine means ‘mess’ in French and there are many different versions of how this dish started. The most common version seems to be that a resident of Warwick Quebec requested cheese curds on his French fries from a local diner he frequented.  At that time, French fries were served in paper bags and the owner told the customer that it would make a mess (“poutine”) but he did it anyways.  The dish soon became popular with other customers but ended up leaving a mess of hot cheese strings on the table, so the owner decided to serve it on a plate. Customers began to complain that the dish became cold too quickly, so the owner added brown gravy on top and the rest as they say is history.

Montreal has several markets if you want to buy fresh produce and local products. Since, I work in the agriculture industry, I enjoy visiting both supermarkets and farmers markets to see what is available in different countries.  I like to walk around the store envisioning what foods I would buy if I lived there.  The supermarkets in Canada have huge produce departments with such a wide range of different fruits and vegetables.

One of the most famous farmers market in Montreal is Jean Talon Market which is in the Little Italy district. It is the oldest and largest public market in Montreal dating back to 1933. During the peak season (May through November) there are as many as 150 vendors in this market. In addition to fresh fruit and vegetables, you will find flower shops, spices, fish mongers, butchers, cheese shops, olive stalls and even a cookbook store.

Marche Jean Talon MarketMarche Jean Talon Market
AvocadosAvocados
Spice ShopSpice Shop
Inside the marketInside the market
Cherry TomatosCherry Tomatos
OrangesOranges

While I was at the Jean Talon Market, I came across a Maple syrup vendor.  Maple syrup plays an important role in Canadian history dating back to the indigenous people. They called it “sinzibuckwud” which means ‘drawn from wood’ The first commercial maple sugar production began in the 1700’s and is one of the oldest businesses in Canada. Today, Canada produces more than 80% of the world’s maple syrup and Quebec is the largest producer in Canada. This important commodity is the reason for the symbolic Maple leaf on the Canadian flag. So, while you are in Canada, be sure to bring home some Canadian Maple syrup.

canadian flag
maple syrup

Montreal is a vibrant and lively city and I am looking forward to my return. On my next visit I plan to stay a few extra days to experience more of what this city has to offer. The architecture, the food, the history, and shopping make this city a fascinating travel destination.