They Exported Celine Dion

Montreal (14 – 16 July 2013)

The Westjet flight from Edmonton was quite interesting, and all because I sat next to a rather precocious 5 year old boy. He was flying with his grandmother to Montreal to be with his mother. We had quite a nice chat and I found out that he had not heard of “Everybody Loves Raymond” (I was watching that) and he liked the song “We Are Young” by Fun. He was absolutely friendly to me but very rude to his grandmother. There were several Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde moments when he was friendly to his left and then immediately after that rude to his right.

The hotel I had booked was quite run down. The ratings on Tripadvisor for that hotel were not fantastic but it was the only one within the range I was willing to pay in the area so I had to suck it and stick with it. At least breakfast was brought to my room every morning, although it consisted only of a croissant, tea, and a juice box.

Montreal is the largest primarily French-speaking city in the world and many people seem to praise it for its European-ness. The honeymooning American couple I had met in Dubrovnik were among them and because of what they told me I did go there with certain expectations. I have no idea how that became a compliment and in any case, after 2 months in Europe, it was hard for me to see Montreal as anything European. It has European features, but so does Singapore, and Macau, and anywhere else in the world that had been colonised by the Europeans. The city definitely felt different from Europe and very North American to me!

Bonsecours Market

Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel old port side

Place Jacques-Cartier

Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, formerly the Erskine and American United Church

The weather in Montreal in July is so very like Singapore’s. I never knew that it could get this hot and humid so far north. That made my visit quite uncomfortable and I kept clamouring for air conditioning.

I enjoyed the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. But then again I have always enjoyed looking at art. There was a special exhibition of Napoleon’s possessions and this was really fascinating. Seeing his face in his death mask was a little strange and I kept expecting to see his eyes open.

Napoleon’s clothes

Napoleon’s death mask

The museum restaurant served pretty good tables d’hôtes. The selection was definitely better than Macdonald’s that I going to because I was lazy, although I liked the fact that they offered poutine besides regular fries. It took me a while to understand what a table d’hôte was and it did not help when my server told me that a table d’hôte was a table d’hôte. Anyway I caught on soon enough that it was a set meal.

There are 4 minor basilicas in the city. The cathedral, the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, is one. Another is the St Patrick’s Basilica.

Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral

Inside Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral

St Patrick’s Basilica

St Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal occupies a huge compound and happens to be the largest church in Canada. It made for an interesting visit. The original oratory, a tiny little chapel really, still stands in the compound although no longer on its original location. People often visit the oratory to seek the intercessions of St Joseph and St André the founder of the church. I walked all the way there from the city centre, a whopping distance of about 6 kilometres, in the heat and humidity. I wonder if that would help make my prayers more likely to be answered.

St Joseph’s Oratory

Inside St Joseph’s Oratory

Chapel of Origin

Inside the Chapel of Origin

Prayers answered, no more crutches

But the most beautiful one has to be the Notre-Dame Basilica with its gorgeously colourful interior. Celine Dion got married there.

Notre-Dame Basilica

Inside Notre-Dame Basilica

Pews of Notre-Dame Basilica

Altarpiece of Notre-Dame Basilica

The other crazy thing I did despite the heat and humidity of summer in Montreal was to climb all the way to the summit of Mont Royal. I still cannot explain why I did that. Maybe the heat did get to me after all. But the hill was pleasantly green and would have been a good place for a walk if not for the heat. I saw a bunch of people torturing themselves that day, running around and leopard crawling up the stairs at one stage. It was practically boot camp. Maybe the heat got to them more than it did me.

The cross on Mont Royal

During my time in Montreal the Juste Pour Rire Festival was held. There were street performances and everyone was out eating and drinking and enjoying the performances. It was a real festival but in the weather at the time I mostly did not want to be near anyone at all. In some places there was this really weird smell in the air that I could only attribute to sweat. I did wish though that I could have found something in English to watch.

Just for Laughs

Watching a performance, en français

At the festival

Montreal did seem like a place to enjoy urban city life at. I like the fact that there are festivals to attend in summer although I did not enjoy the heat and humidity. I was also amazed at how cosmopolitan the city seemed. People seemed to imagine that I lived Montreal and that demonstrated to me that the locals were used to seeing faces of different races. Someone along St Catherine Street tried to sell me tickets to a performance in French. I was approached twice for directions when I was walking to St Joseph’s Oratory and feeling as lost as they were. The folks at Chinatown felt somewhat foreign however and yet a little too Asian but that was quite alright. Everyone on the streets looked generally happy I think, which meant that the city was a healthy one. I would not say that Montreal was a very exciting tourist destination, but it was definitely a liveable city.

The paifang on Saint Laurent Boulevard


Old Montreal looking new

New Montreal looking old

Place d’Armes

Brilliant jazz performance on the Plaza d’Armes