travel

9 Things You Didn’t Know About Montreal

Apparently, I am becoming “that author who writes about Montreal.” I’ve come across very few books set in the city, and even fewer in English.

In THE SPIDER’S WEB, the city is almost another character in the story. When I lived there, I found the atmosphere so invigorating and inspiring, it was one of the reasons I started writing the book. Contemporary Montreal is a fascinating city, full of culture and excitement. But it also has a really fascinating history, which I’ve been exploring in ALL FOR ONE, my current work in progress (more on that some other time). (Yes, I know, Foggy. I’m writing as fast as I can. :P)

  1. European explorers first started exploring the Saint Lawrence River in the early 1500s. Jacques Cartier first claimed the Gaspe Penninsula on June 24, 1534, beginning the conquest of what we now know as Canada by Europeans. 108 years later (May 17, 1942) , a small group of missionaries established Ville Marie on the island of Montreal. This neighborhood still exists, though it’s usually referred to as The Old Port or Vieux-Port de Montréal. The most distinctive part of this area is the number of stone buildings dating back to the 1600s. The streets are cobbled, the buildings close together. It feels like an old-world European neighborhood dropped right in the middle of a North American metropolis.
  2. One of the most famous landmarks in the Old Port is is the Notre-Dame Basilica, notable for its resemblance to Notre-Dame de Paris. Unlike most churches though, the stained glass windows don’t show biblical scenes, but images from the religious history of the city. It was the first home of the Diocese of Montreal in 1821, and after construction was completed it was the largest church in North America until the 1890s.
  3. In Montreal, there is a law that all apartment leases must start and end (with few exceptions) on July 1. Don’t drive in Montreal on this day–the roads are clogged with moving vans and pickup trucks, and there are people everywhere loading and unloading. It’s a major hassle; movers have to be reserved at least a year in advance. Personally, I think this is the Quebecois sticking it to the country at large. July 1 also happens to be Canada Day (their version of the 4th of July, for you Americans), but the more popular holiday is Saint-Jean-Baptiste day, June 24, which celebrates the founding of Quebec. Personally, I didn’t mind too much when I was there, since this also happens to be my birthday, and it was nice to have a day off from work and a fireworks display. 🙂
  4. Speaking of provincial weirdness, Quebec is full of it. There are a lot of laws that are written “Do this, this and this everywhere in Canada. Except Quebec. Then you need to do that, and fill out these six forms while you’re at it.” One example would be the Vacances de la Construction, which starts the 2nd to last Sunday in July and lasts for 2 weeks. Basically, by law, all construction work in the province stops for two weeks so the workers can take their family vacations (I believe this started so that construction workers could take trips with their families, without having to take their children out of school). While it is aimed at the construction industry, it’s the most popular vacation time in the province with many other people taking off as well.
  5. While Montreal is most famous for its French heritage, it also has a long history of Irish and Scottish immigration, which is the core of the English speaking population. Basically, if you were Catholic in the 1700-1800s, Montreal was the place to be!
  6. Montreal has the highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada, and 3rd in North America. This was torture when I was a broke student living on nutella sandwiches and Kraft Dinner (that would be the Canadian version of our Mac & Cheese)! A few things Montreal (and Quebec in general) are known for: poutine (that’s fries with gravy–usually a combination of chicken/turkey gravy–and white cheese curds–usually cheddar–on top, though many variations exist); steamers (steamed hot dog in a toasted bun topped with what basically amounts to coleslaw in a vinegar dressing); smoked meat (a form of pastrami); and bagels.
  7. Many of these foods can be linked to the large Jewish population in the city. Outremont in particular was a refuge in the 1930s and 40s. In THE SPIDER’S WEB, this is the neighborhood Evie and her aunt live in, and Evie describes the many languages she hears when out for a walk.
  8. I actually found out that this was the last construction project my great-great-grandfather worked on before he drowned, while building one of the bridges over the St. Lawrence.

    No building in Montreal can be taller than the cross at the top of the mountain. It was erected in 1924, and given to the city in 1929. While it is usually illuminated in white, in 2004 the cross received a major overhaul and cleaning, and an updated electrical system that included 158 new LED lights that can turn any color. It is usually purple between the death and election of a new pope.

    The cross itself is in remembrance of a cross erected in 1643 after the city’s founder prayed to the Virgin for deliverance during a disastrous flood.

  9. The city of Montreal has its own flag.

Want more Montreal? Don’t forget to check out THE SPIDER’S WEB, available in ebook and paperback, and look for my other titles, which will be out later this year. The ebook edition is still free to read on Kindle Unlimited.

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