Over the Easter Holiday Weekend we decided to get out of town and head up north across the border to Montreal. We’ve been to Canada several times, but never Montreal. This comes on the heels of Andrew and I heading up north with a friend when the border re opened without testing for those who are vaccinated. We went up for a day to Kingston, shopping in a little district area (including an independent bookstore- finally!) grabbing some lunch and enjoying the beautiful waterfront that Kingston offers. After that little day trip, our plans for a longer weekend were solidified. We’ve always loved Canada and wanted to see more, and it’s gotten a bit easier for us to do that.
First off, for full transparency, Covid protocols…you’ll want to check the Canada website HERE for a full breakdown of the most up to date rules. When we headed across the border by car, there were no testing requirements for fully vaccinated. The rules apply to all those age 5+, but there is some verbiage for families traveling together with young children who may not be fully vaccinated, but the adults are (it involves testing). Regardless of the protocol at the time, you will need to have downloaded and filled out the ArriveCan documentation, which is super simple and straightforward. You’ll input your passport info, vaccination or testing info, and travel info. Specific requirements will also vary depending on what province you travel to. For instance, when we went to Kingston (in Ontario) masks were not required to be worn inside, but in Montreal (which is Quebec) they were mandatory. You’ll need to check the specific province and city you are heading to as with any other travel. Beyond those two items, traveling to Canada was much the same as it was when we went three or four years ago.
So, our weekend in Montreal. Where do I begin?
We arrived around dinner time on Friday evening and immediately got settled in our hotel. We stayed at the Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel Montreal which was every bit of incredible. Located right behind the Notre-Dame Basilica Montreal it is located almost in the heart of the Old District of Montreal. It is also conveniently located right near the river, with the Rue St. Paul (the pedestrian shopping street of Montreal) just a 30 second walk away. We had a “ground floor” room with a window looking out on the street below.
Once settled we decided to just take a quick walk around the district to get some of the road trip energy out for the boys before dinner. I will say that reservations are very much a thing in the city. Most restaurants will still be able to seat you, but if you have something in mind, I would definitely get on their books ahead of time. This was something we ran in to twice, once with a restaurant and once with the Biodome and Botanical Gardens. So, reserve, reserve, reserve. This is something that we normally do, but the lead up to this trip was a bit hectic between sickness and family visits. Anyways…
We didn’t have any definite plans while we were in Montreal, just a few general ideas. A spot we really wanted to see was the Biodome, botanical Gardens, and Olympic Complex, but we were not able to get the reservations in time (good thing Montreal is only a few hours away, so we could go back if we really wanted to). Instead, we decided to just sort of walk/wander the city- which is one of our favorite ways to see new cities. Our first stop was breakfast, and we really wanted some crepes to start our day. A quick stop at Chez Suzette for some truly delicious crepes and mimosa’s and we were set for the day. We started at the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal.
This church dates back to 1672 when a small stone church was built. The church was quickly outgrown and the church as we see it started in 1824 after a long period for approval of the plans. As many cathedrals, it took quite a while to be built into the massive church we see today. In 1982 it was declared a minor Basilica by Pope John Paul II and in 1989 it was recognized as a national historic site. The crowning interior was designed and created by Victor Bourgeau and features a variety of pieces, including 4 scenes from the Old Testament at the altarpiece. The organ is a feature piece of the church currently featuring 7,000 pipes. There is also an incredible Notre-Dame du Sacre-Coeur Chapel in the back of the cathedral which features a bronze altarpiece. The altarpiece is said to represent humankinds overcoming life’s hardships in the march to the Holy Trinity. It was incredible to see.
From the Basilica, I made a quick stop to Le Petit Dep, which is a small marche with several locations. Known for its bright green storefront, delicious coffees, and wide selection of local artisanal goods it was a nice little spot to grab a coffee or tea. Quick word of advice though- go during the “off” time of day unless you are prepared to wait. I grabbed a tea and a mug and was set to go- it was truly a charming little stop.
Then we headed off on the Metro to Mont Royal Parc. The Mont Royal is first mentioned in our history by Jacques Cartier, but it was occupied, hunted, and used by Indigenous People (the Hochelaga are who showed Cartier the way) for long before that. However, it was Jacques Cartier, in 1535, who gave it the name Mont Royal. The mountain has been home/location for many things, the site of several cemeteries (which are still in existence- 1852), a religious site, a hospital (1861), a college (1821), and finally, a park. In 1872, after many discussions of what to do with the Mount, the city purchased the land to officially turn it into a park. Frederik Law Olmsted (of Central Park) was brought in to design the park with the goal of it being a refuge from the city at large. In 1876 the park was inaugurated with great fanfare. In 2005 the park gained heritage status and the land itself will be protected from further development.
We hiked up the park using the stair option, which was not only quite a workout, but provided several spots to look out at the city and a peaceful refuge from the city. We stopped at the lookout spot in front of the Mount Royal Chalet. This chalet was built in the 1930’s as part of the Make-Work project during the Great Depression. It hosts historic works of arts, chandeliers, and such and is used today as not only a reception hall, but also a gift shop and restaurant. It was a really pretty spot to stop- not quite the summit of Mont Royal, but still a beautiful view.
From the Chalet we ended up catching the bus over to Saint Joseph’s Oratory. Originally a small chapel built by Brother Andre in 1904 in honor of Saint Joseph. It very, very, quickly grew in both size and worship. In 1914 new plans were approved for what would become the current basilica. The Crypt church dates back to 1917, with the basilica construction starting in 1926. Brother Andre died in 1937, with over a million people visiting his coffin. In 1946 construction of the votive chapel and Brother Andre’s tomb alcove begin, with completion and blessing in 1950. In 1955 the Oratory is marked as a Minor Basilica and it was officially opened in 1956 with construction on the interior being completed in 1967. Fun fact, in 2010 Brother Andre was officially declared a Saint. There is currently construction taking place to make the Basilica easier to access by visitors, but that didn’t stop it from being incredible.
My first thought upon seeing the exterior of the Oratory is that it is Montreal’s very own Sacre-Coeur. It is very reminiscent (though I don’t know which came first…ok just researched-the timelines ever so slightly overlap with Sacre-Coeur be finished as the design plans for the Oratory are released), though they say that they leaned towards the Italian Renaissance when designing. The interior of the Basilica is incredibly modern (even by today’s standards, let alone when it was actually built) and vast- seating 2028 people. There is also the Crypt Church which is located right off the Votive Chapel (we’re getting there). This church features a statue of the Saint Joseph, where Brother Andre would pray right at the heart of the sanctuary. Then there is the Votive Chapel. This is a space that wasn’t included in the original design, but rather added as a space between the Crypt Church (to connect it to the Basilica) and to provide a space for Brother Andre’s tomb. Opened in 1949, one of the unique features of this space is the cane’s/crutches that are hung between the pillars, left behind by pilgrims who visited during Brother Andre’s time. The central lampstand in front of the tomb features 3500 candles, and his tomb (located through a tunnel underneath) is made of black marble. Following a path behind the lampstand and tomb, you are able to see a statue of the Virgin Mary, between the chapel and the mount rock.
It was an incredible site to see and history to learn, to know how this man impacted so many in his life. Once we finished at the Oratory, we caught the metro back to the Old District to find a spot for dinner. While walking through town, we headed in to the Bonsecours Market. This is a two-story domed public market. Located on Rue St. Paul, the market originally opened in 1847. This has not only been used as a marketplace, but also a banquet hall and at one point, hosting the Canadian Parliament for a session. It reached historic site status in 1984 and was a really neat space to walk through and see some local treasures.
We ended the day with dinner at 3 Brasseurs, which features its own brewery and beers. The food and drinks were delicious, and everyone loved their meal. A final wander through Rue St. Paul as we headed back to our hotel and our time in Montreal ended.
Overall, I would say that Montreal is a great, culturally driven city. It’s a great spot to stop for a night or two and just enjoy the “city” life while also knowing some of the history of the area. There’s plenty to do and see AND if you’re an art and culture lover- there is an abundance of galleries to explore.