I’m a quarter Canadian and have some wonderful cousins in Canada. I remembered my cousins when I found a bargain flight going to Montreal from L.A. – it turned into a a perfect excuse to see them. Plus, it was Grand Prix weekend and my cousin had an extra ticket.
While everyone was at work shortly after my arrival, I took a bike tour of the city. Biking is the best way to see the Montreal, because there is an enormous amount of bike lanes. It’s especially invigorating, since the cityscape is far from flat.
This gorgeous city is situated on the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers. Due to its location, Montreal is one of the biggest container ports in the world.
Montreal’s name – you guessed it – comes from “Mount Royal.” There is a big Catholic cross on the top of Mount Royal – the first cross was placed there by the founder of the city, when he was praying to stop a flood. The present-day cross is illuminated by white lights.
The influence of the early missionaries can be seen all over; there are numerous churches, and St. Joseph’s Oratory is actually largest church in the whole of Canada and is said to have healing powers. Down the road is its opposite – Christ Church Cathedral, an Anglican church that was in danger of sinking until, ironically, a shopping mall was built underneath it.
In spite of any mall, Montreal preserves it beauty. The law does not allow contractors to build skyscrapers too high, so, for example, the cross is visible from almost everywhere.
After an hour biking around, I realized that though I thought my French was pretty fluent, I couldn’t understand the Montreal accent at all! At least I could read the signs. This is a city is bi-lingual and if you move here and only speak English… Well, the city can offer you free French lessons. The first settlers here were French pilgrims, who arrived to convert the New World to Catholicism, so it is natural for French heritage to be strong.
Undaunted by the accent barrier, I took my bike to old Montreal. The oldest street here is St.Paul’s street, the first pilgrim site. It was named after the first governor, but in actual fact, old Montreal was built by the British.
In Place Jacque Dartier, there’s a monument to Admiral Nelson, which is older than the column in Trafalgar Square. It’s interesting to see that around this very British monument, the architectural style is predominantly French.
I drove onto to St. Dennis Street, aka “Party Street,” where most of Montreal’s nightlife attractions can be found. There are great bars and restaurants, including lots of places where you can bring your own wine. You can sample a specialty food, Poutine (french fries in gravy and cheese), but I didn’t stop for some. How could I continue biking after such a lunch?
I biked around McGill University, named after the James McGill, the richest fur trader. Montreal was the center of fur trading, and the style of commerce was more fair than you would think, for that historic period, because the deal was that the Indigenous groups would get a cut of the furs sold.
Today, Montreal is only one of the three original Grand Prix locations left. All originals begin with an – Monaco, Monza and Montreal.
My cousin Ian drove me towards the expo park dome, where the racing track is (I was not about to bike there). Luckily, he had passes because without a pass you have to walk miles to the track. Firemen stood on stand by, in case a car should catch flames and – uniquely to Montreal – many scuba divers waited in the water, in case a car fell into the river. I don’t know much about racing but I was able to spot the recognizable names – Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Mark Webber.
Watching the cars go round and round, I found it strange that a lot of the cars had blank spaces on them, but my cousin explained to me that tobacco advertising in this Grand Prix had been threatened to be cut off, so there was a dispute in the air.
After such a crazy day of racing excitement, we went to the Outremont borough for some ice cream and partied into the night, even throwing in a bit of table dancing, Montreal goes wild for Grand Prix weekend, so why not go wild as well? After all that bike exercise, I felt like I had earned it!