Our Visit to Montreal and Quebec City
I was never big on history at school. Canadian history was the worst: I mean who cares about the key players in building the CPR Railway? I guess I should’ve paid more attention: Mom said I passed Social Studies by the skin of my teeth. What a coincidence that our summer holidays ended up in none other than Montreal and Quebec City, two Canadian cities dripping in history.
There I was, standing on the Plains of Abraham, looking over the grassy slopes where the British and French duked it out for less time than most of us take to eat our dinner, in the meantime killing off 1,000 men, including their own generals. Later that week the heavy metal band AC/DC would be rocking out to a sold-out crowd on the same spot. I saw the glistening water of the St. Lawrence River along which the British travelled silently in the dead of night, and the steep cliffs they scaled to surprise the unsuspecting French soldiers who were dead asleep. I saw the Martello Towers perched on the cliff’s edge, and the Citadel of Quebec, built by the English army to keep a look out, not for the French, but the Americans.
I walked atop the ancient wall surrounding the Old City, and saw the Chateau Frontenac, a magnificent hotel originally built by the CPR Railway to lure people of wealth and stature into travelling by train. The inside was incredible. Mom couldn’t get over the chairs: the bar was done in black with white fur cushions, but her favorite was a bench outside the women’s washroom done in gold leather and black fur. We ate out dinner at the outdoor café, and I broke my eat-a-poutine-a-day-while-away pledge, and had chicken strips with fries. There was a French folk singer named Regent Leclerc, singing songs only Mom and Dad knew the words to. After dinner we walked to Dufferin Terrace on the St. Lawrence and watched the fireworks. Normally I’m all over fireworks, but these were so close I couldn’t stop myself from taking shelter under a nearby overhang.
Just when we thought we’d seen Quebec City, Dad took us down a flight of stairs called L’Escalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck Stairs) built in 1635. (You’d think they’d come up with a better name). It was here we discovered the Lower Town, not to be confused with the Upper Town located at the top of the stairs. I’m not sure whether it was the winding cobblestone streets, the buildings made of stone, the bright flowerboxes on the second level, or the vibrant outdoor bistros, but I could’ve sworn I was in Europe. It was love at first sight for Mom. We literally had to stop her from running into the French linen shop. Jen and I liked the Upper Town; sadly all it took to win us over was a sweets store selling sushi rolls made of candy.
My favorite night was out last one: we ate dinner outside at Pizzedelic on Cartier Street. The street was lit up by lamps with beautiful painted shades. We capped off the night with a delicious dipped soft ice-cream cone at Les Chocolats Favoris. These were not your garden-variety dipped cones: mine was white chocolate, Mom had lemon white chocolate, Dad had milk chocolate, and Jen wimped out with a scoop of sorbet. The cones were dipped in the chocolate for so long the ice-cream never broke through the chocolate casing, so you didn’t have to worry about the ice-cream oozing out of the side of your, running down the side of it, and ending up on your hand. We found ourselves sitting outside with two dozen other people listening to a guy singing French folk songs, licking the most delicious soft ice-cream ever known to man, and wishing we had a few more days to spend.
As we drove back to Montreal the next morning I overheard Mom talking to Dad about Quebec City. Mom said she loved it—it was perfect—almost too perfect. If you ever saw the inside of our house, you’d know what she was getting at. All I can say is, C’est la vie.
It turns out Mom’s loyalty to Quebec City didn’t last long: one day was all it took for her to fall hook-line-and-sinker in love with Montreal. Luckily she hasn’t changed her mind about Dad, at least not so far. I’m not exactly sure what won Mom over: it could’ve been the outdoor cafés, one-of stores, art galleries, fabric store district, vintage shops, maybe even the large size women’s shoe store (Mom has size 12 ½), but it was probably the singing swings (21 Swings public art installation) that lit up at night. I have to admit, it was pretty cool trying to get as high as I could and playing a song at the same time.
Mom wants me to consider going to Concordia University when I graduate from high-school. Dad says McGill is one of the best universities in Canada. Both just want an excuse to visit Montreal again. I’m in. I mean how many universities do you know of that have a fluorescent indoor mini-golf course literally across the street—Concordia does. Not only that, Concordia is right on a major shopping street (St. Catherines), where one of my favorite skateboarding stores happens to be on. Need I say more?
Jen’s not such a pushover like Mom. It takes more to turn her head. What hit the ball out of the park for her was The Underground City. That place cost me 25 cents: that’s how much I bet Dad it didn’t exist. An unimaginable 1,700 shops inter-connected in a massive underground maze needs to be seen to be believed. The day we were there it was pouring rain. It was the perfect way to spend a soggy afternoon.
One day Dad wanted to take us to Vieux Monteal. He said we would be going, “a la pied,” and then started to chuckle. You have to live with Dad for a long time before you can understand his humor. Anyway, as it turned out, he wasn’t joking. In the end, walking wasn’t so bad; Montreal is the kind of place where every time you turn around there’s something new staring you in the face. We walked by Place des Arts, a huge performing arts complex where I dropped $25 on five helicopters with luminescent wings that shot way up into the sky. Mom, Dad, and Jen went into Notre Dame Basilica. I didn’t because I didn’t feel like waiting in line. Jen couldn’t wait to show me the pictures. Anyway, I’d seen the inside of enough churches when we were in Quebec City. Quebec City has so many churches, they don’t know what to do with all of them—some are even up for sale. One was converted into a bar (I wonder what God would have to say about that).
We walked along the pier and discovered an outdoor market, with an adventure playground and indoor maze. At first Jen wouldn’t have anything to do with the maze, so I had to talk Mom into going with me; but then, at the last minute, Jen changed her mind, and so Mom dodged a bullet on that one. The maze turned out to be the most fun Jen and I had. We had dinner at Place Jacques-Cartier in a restaurant with birds flying around inside it. The whole time we were there I was waiting for someone to scream out that a bird had pooped in their food, but that didn’t happen—maybe they train the birds no to go inside the restaurant; although, on second thought, can you even train a bird?
Another day we went to the Biodome, a place where you can walk through four different ecosystems, each having its own plant and animal habitats. My favorite was the Tropical Rainforest. It’s not every day you see a sloth sound asleep while hanging upside down from a tree. Mom says I have a lot in common with sloths. Right next to the Biodome is an Insectarium, Botanical Garden, and Planetarium. If you’re into science, it’s definitely worth a stop. You also can walk through the site where Montreal held their 1976 Olympics. Apparently the stadium is nicknamed “The Big Owe,” because it cost lots of money to build and the retractable roof never did work properly.
One morning Mom and Dad came back from their early morning walk with a surprise. They went to Schwartz's Deli, the famous deli that sells smoked meat sandwiches, and brought me back one. I woke up to the smell of smoked meat wafting in the air and Mom telling me to get out of bed before my sandwich got cold. Say what! Mom and Dad have a thing about lining up, which is okay by me; but do I have to eat a corned beef sandwich first thing in the morning?
The cool thing about Montreal is it feels different from any other city I’ve ever been to in Canada. As Mom says it’s full of color and life, and you feel inspired while you’re there. I’m not so much into walking, but in Montreal you can easily go from one distinct neighborhood to the next, and never have to get on a bus or take the subway. Speaking of subways, we took it a couple of times and none of us could believe how clean they were.
If Mom has her way we’ll be going back to Montreal next summer. For once I have to agree with her.
Details: You have to take a plane to get to Montreal (or if you don't mind a 4 or 5 day drive, by car). We took the Air Canada midnight flight from Vancouver and we arrived at 8 am in the morning.
Area: Montreal and Quebec city are located in the largest province in Canada, Quebec.
Season: Late Spring, Summer and Autumn are the best times to visit.