The bells of the Basilica of Notre Dame were in full Easter voice as we made our way to Old Montreal at noon on Sunday. The square in front of the church was thronged with worshippers, and we happily joined the crowds to explore the oldest neighborhood in Montreal. It was a perfect early-spring day, warm and sunny.
The oldest area of Montreal is located just between the downtown business district and the waterfront. It’s easily accessible by Metro and not a long walk if you are staying at a downtown hotel. On Easter Sunday it seemed that the entire city had thronged to the area to stroll, look in the shops, enjoy a coffee or drink at a sidewalk café, or have Easter dinner in one of the area’s many restaurants.
If the Basilica represents the soul of Old Montreal, then certainly its heart must be the Place Jacques Cartier. This open cobblestone plaza is closed to vehicular traffic. In addition to the throngs of visitors—residents and tourists—you’re likely to find artists and artisans with their work on display, musicians, photographers, magicians, acrobats, and mimes. There’s something new to experience everywhere you look.
The plaza is dominated at its upper end by City Hall. Although it was built in 1872, it is one of the most modern structures in the area. Both sides are lined with restaurants and sidewalk cafes, perfect spots to stop for a while and enjoy the passing scene. You can also enjoy a ride in one of the many horse-drawn carriages that seem to inhabit the area.
Just two blocks down the hill from the Place Jacques Cartier is Montreal’s Old Port. Here you’ll find the city’s science center I-Sci which boasts exhibits for all age groups, a kid-magnet of a shop, and a simple cafeteria if your young folks begin to starve. The IMAX theater offers films in both French and English at different times of the day. You’ll want to check its schedule first and time your visit according to your preferred showing.
Stroll down the broad sidewalk behind the science center and you’ll arrive at last at the waterfront. Many of its attractions were closed during our early-spring visit. But the view of the St. Lawrence River is delightful and includes the fascinating Habitat—an avant-garde housing complex built for the 1967 World’s Fair. The Clock Tower, an unmistakable landmark, is the location for catching one of the many tour boats during the warmer months of the year.
We were reluctant to end our Sunday afternoon in Old Montreal, so we wandered a few blocks through the narrow streets to revisit Bonsecours.