on November 14, 2010
Mount Royal is a hill that raises in the middle of Montreal and after which the city was in fact named. Natives call it "the Mountain" despite the fact that it's less than 150m high, but this reflects its importance in national psyche as much as the actual elevation. It is now covered by a park (or rather tamed woodland, designed in the 1870's by the same man who designed the New York's Central Park), criss-crossed with walking and cycling paths, with some water features and winter sports facilities, and inhabited by hundreds of squirrels. As a park, it's a good walking area and if you don't feel like climbing up, there is a bus that goes up "The Mountain" via the car-park near the top, but the main reason for the tourist to visit Mount Royal is the view. There are two major lookouts on Mount Royal, the main one known as Kondiaronk Belvedere, looking south towards the river and another known as the Camillien-Houde belvedere which gives views to the east and the Olympic Park. Beyond the semi-circular plaza of the Kondiaronk Belvedere raises a large structure known simply as the Chalet, or Kondiaronk Chalet, named after the Huron chief who signed a peace accord with the French in 1701. The chalet was built as part of public works initiated during the depression to provide jobs for the unemployed. It's a large structure constructed of wooden beams, decorated with what seems like heraldic beasts but which prove to be squirrels on closer examination, and there are paintings inside depicting the history of the city. It is an amazing place, not so much because of its architectural beauties (though it's quite pleasing to the eye) but because this vast, empty space remains heated and manned throughout the year, providing shelter from the elements for the people walking in the park and using the lookout, as well as toilet facilities and some information. There is no commercial concessions inside, apart from (at the time of writing in 2010) a hot drinks' vending machine, so it's pure public service – and so welcomed in the Quebec winters. Quebec is a major producer of hydro-electricity and it shows in this welcome disregard for frugality! In the summer, the plaza is a venue for many cultural events, but it's worth visiting at all times of the year as the lookout provides unsurpassed views over the city, past the high-rise skyline of its central business district, towards and beyond the St Lawrence River – and all for free.
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