Free Montreal / Montréal gratuit

maison st gabriel

Museum Day at Maison St Gabriel: crafty ladies make traditional ceintures fléchées. Photo: Patricia Maunder

History has been a lifelong interest of mine, so it didn’t take me long to discover Montreal’s annual free Museums Day when I moved here. While enjoying the 2016 edition the other day, I was reminded what a great gift to the city it is, and also thought about the many other free things on offer. From guided walks to park life, festivals to fireworks, there is so much to do and see in Montreal that doesn’t cost a bean, whether you’re a local or a visitor. Step this way to discover some of the best.

I’m happy to pay to see cultural artefacts, but May’s Museums Day is a great way to save money and also get motivated to check out places I haven’t yet made a beeline for. It couldn’t be easier as there are regular, free shuttle buses to all the venues, where there are often special things to experience on this already wonderful day. Continue reading

Step back in time / Reculez dans le temps

One of Old Montreal's treasures, Notre Dame basilica on Place d'Armes. Photo: Patricia Maunder

One of Old Montreal’s treasures, Notre Dame basilica on Place d’Armes. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Last Sunday was the annual Montreal Museum Day, when 30+ museums around the city offer free entry. I took the opportunity to visit three institutions in Old Montreal, or Vieux Montréal, which is a bit like a big, living museum itself. One of North America’s oldest continuously inhabited places, it was settled by French fur traders in 1611.There’s not much left from the next 150 years under French rule, but the British, who took over in 1760, let the locals keep doing their Gallic thing to some extent. So, despite the tribute to British hero Admiral Nelson (like the one in Trafalgar Square, but smaller), the historic heart of Montreal is a bit like a French town.

It’s not as pretty, nor as intact as Quebec City just up the St Lawrence. It would also hugely benefit from a much greater emphasis on pedestrian-only streets, given it’s such a popular spot with tourists and summertime alfresco diners. Even so, coming from Melbourne where the oldest buildings are mid-19th century and distinctly British colonial, I find it charming. So, what a fine day it was, strolling around, looking and learning, then spending some of my Museum Day savings at a sunny rooftop bar overlooking Old Montreal’s historic spires and towers … Continue reading

Merry Christmas! / Joyeux Noël!

Christmas cheer in Old Quebec. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Christmas cheer in Old Quebec. Photo: Patricia Maunder

I have always loved Christmas: the pretty lights, shimmering decorations and jolly songs, the happy gatherings, gift giving and receiving, and carte blanche to eat and drink all my favourite things. For me, it really is the most wonderful time of the year. Growing up in Australia, this northern hemisphere tradition was a little out of kilter, however, as we sweated over hot roasts on summertime Christmas days, listening to songs about dashing through the snow (in recent years Aussie Christmases have – sensibly – headed more toward barbecues, seafood and salads, but I remain a Yuletide traditionalist!). Now I’m living in Montreal, where the snow has been piling up in recent days, the season is even more delightful because the traditions are in the right context; and because there’s no better way to brighten these short, cold days than colourful lights, warm mulled wine and good company. Continue reading

The garden of earthly delights / Le jardin des délices

One of many colourful creations at Garden of Light 2013. Photo: Patricia Maunder

One of many colourful creations at Garden of Light 2013. Photo: Patricia Maunder

The first time I visited Montreal’s Botanical Garden last year, I was surprised that there was an entrance fee, and a steep one at that – I think it was around $15 for Quebec residents. It’s a very different arrangement to my beloved Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, for which entry is free. The fee very quickly made complete sense, however, as I started walking through these 75 hectares of natural beauty guided by human hands, a vast space of themed gardens and glasshouses, demonstrations and special events. In a city full of wonderful experiences, this is perhaps the most wondrous. I’ve been three times now, yet there’s so much still to be seen at Le Jardin Botanique. Continue reading

It’s a series of tubes! / C’est une série de tubes!

A gift from Paris: the Art-Nouveau Square-Victoria Metro entrance in Montreal. Photo: Patricia Maunder

A gift from Paris: the Art-Nouveau Square-Victoria Metro entrance in Montreal. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Firstly, thanks to late US Senator Ted Stevens for today’s headline: this is how he described the internet in 2006!

Something I immediately fell in love with when I moved to Montreal was the Metro. It still surprises me that locals complain about it, because by and large it’s got to be one of the best subway systems in the world. Certainly it’s better than Melbourne’s train system, where even inner-city dwellers waste a lot of time waiting for trains (especially if you need to transfer to another line), and the three-station subway (yes, three!) is so overwhelmed that it goes in one direction in the morning, grinds to a halt, then goes the other way in the afternoon … except for some lines that must bypass it entirely!

But back to Montreal’s Metro. An entrance never seems far away, especially in the downtown area. It’s dry and quite clean because it’s all underground (in fact, many downtown stations connect to the famous ‘underground city’, the 30km of malls linked to offices, restaurants etc – great when the weather’s mean!). If a train doesn’t arrive as I step on the platform, there’s usually one there in a minute or two (so it’s rare to see someone running for a train). The station names are a fascinating snapshot of Montreal’s history. The trains run on rubber wheels and have wooden brake pads. What’s not to like? Continue reading

Specky! / Un “specky”

"Hey, is that Montreal's Aussie Rules Football stadium?" (No, it's the 1976 Olympic stadium the city only just finished paying off!) Photo: Patricia Maunder

“Hey, is that Montreal’s Aussie Rules Football stadium?” (No, it’s the 1976 Olympic stadium the city only just finished paying off!) Photo: Patricia Maunder

While I resist the temptation to continue describing my fascination with the seasons in Quebec … here’s a little something that, rather bizarrely, unites my old and new hometowns.

As the play-offs unfold for Canada’s national obsession, hockey (surely I don’t need to explain whether I’m talking field or ice hockey?!), I discovered this amusing local report about Australia’s most popular sport, Australian Rules Football. Apparently there’s a (rather humble) Aussie Rules competition here in Quebec, which surprised me no end, especially given how difficult it is to explain even the basics of the game to locals. Continue reading