on April 22, 2006
Vieux-Montréal (Old Montréal) is the city’s oldest quarter. Its limits roughly match the boundaries laid out by the old city walls, the remnants of which are viewable on the Champ de Mars adjacent to the Hôtel de Ville. The neighborhood is somewhat of a mix of centuries. In some areas, the narrow, cobblestone streets lined by well-kept old storefronts give the appearance of a quaint French village (or perhaps even a very clean version of New Orleans’ French Quarter). In others, the neighborhood takes on a more Victorian appearance. And in some places, Vieux-Montréal looks much more modern. Due to a devastating fire, and Montréal’s former role as the economic hub of Canada, very few buildings exist in Vieux-Montréal that predate the Industrial Revolution. Still, there are some structures that are among the oldest in North America, if you know where to look. Portions of the historic Séminaire de St-Sulpice were almost a century old at the time of the American Revolution. The neighborhood can be rather touristy; at times it may even seem a bit like an amusement park’s version of French Canada. All this aside, the area has a certain romantic, and historic, charm, and it’s hard not to fall in love with it all.Vieux-Montréal is home to some of the city’s most famous attractions. The stunning Basilique de Notre-Dame is here, along with the posh shops and galleries of the Marché Bonsecours, and the city’s most popular outdoor festival and marketplace, Place Jacques-Cartier. Place d’Armes, site of a historic battle between French settlers and native Indians, is surrounded by buildings representing almost every period of Montréal’s history.More than any other part of the city, this is a place to leave the car behind and get out and walk. Vieux-Montréal’s narrow streets and limited amount of parking make getting around by any method other than foot very inconvenient. It’s not very far from one end of the neighborhood to the other, so any place in the area can be reached easily by walking. I spent almost half of our first day in Montréal strolling the neighborhood’s streets, stopping in shops that looked interesting. Because we were visiting somewhat off-season, the old city was not as crowded with tourists as it is during the summer. This eliminated the wait in restaurants, and shopkeepers seemed to enjoy taking the time to chat with the few people who were out on the street.The main street for shopping and dining in Vieux-Montréal is the cobblestone-paved Rue St-Paul, which winds through a narrow canyon formed by rows of interesting façades of buildings from the last two centuries. At night, these buildings come alive in light; Montréal has embarked on a project to illuminate the old city with a variety of lighting techniques that highlight the neighborhood’s interesting architecture. It’s worth coming back to Vieux-Montréal in the evening to see the buildings all lit up.For maps, and more information, see the Vieux-Montréal website.
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