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I think, therefore I harm

Let’s Visit Montréal

A few weeks ago, Here There Be Spiders showed us her town. The very next weekend, out of boredom, I took a ride in Montréal. Looking at the people and places, and with Spiders’ post in mind, I regretted not having brought my camera. Last weekend though, I was bored again and went for a ride. This time, I made sure to bring my camera. I took over a hundred pictures that day, out of which I picked a few that went out good and which I thought may be interesting to you.

Montréal is the only metropolis in the province of Québec, the second largest city of Canada, and the fifteenth largest of North America. Montréal is an island, stuck in the middle of the Saint Laurence river, the largest river of the province which crosses it from east to west, taking the Great Lakes as the source and dying in the Atlantic ocean. Obviously, those who founded Montréal over 350 years ago, in 1642 under the name Ville-Marie, were not aware that their little village would catch on and become this large. A metropolis on an island is a bad idea for several reasons. There is a lack of space which prevents any further expansion. Also, going to work is a nightmare when you must fight your way through one of the few accesses, be it the tunnel or one of the bridges.

Nearly two million souls live on the island, but during week days there are an estimated five million workers there. That is, three million people must fight their way in and out of the island every day, causing monster traffic jams on each of the bridges. I don’t live in Montréal, I couldn’t stand the lifestyle of the metropolis. I live on the South Shore, an agglomeration of several medium-size cities which hold two million more souls. I work in Montréal though, and as such I am among those fighting their way in and out every day. This has been my daily routine for the last three years.

Without any further boring information, let’s begin our tour. Before anyone complains about me carelessly taking pictures while driving, please note that many of these pictures were taken while waiting at a red light. Many others where taken randomly while not looking at the camera screen, and only a few of these ended up good. Finally, some pictures where taken while slowing down as there were no cars behind. No cat was crushed while taking these pictures.

Please note that you can click on any of these pictures to enlarge, to get about double the size. All comments are below each of these pictures.

Gate to Montréal

I like to call this the Gate to Montréal, a name I came up with soon after I arrived here, three years ago. The elevated road creates a wall which hides Montréal from view on a long distance. The gate leads to Jacques-Cartier bridge, the one I use at least twice a day.

Montréal’s main language is French, like for the rest of the province. It is the second city with the most French speakers in the world, second only to Paris. We are not closed to the rest of the world though, and most everything is posted in both French and English in Montréal. Isn’t it convenient that sentences are reversed when comparing French to English? Like this sign leading to the bridge, you will often see the French caption in front of the name, with the English caption after it. This method makes grammatical sense in both languages, and also follows the rule that French must always come first.

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Jacques-Cartier bridge, named after the French explorer who discovered Canada in 1534, was inaugurated in 1930. The construction was a joint project between Montréal and South Shore. They each came up with their own design, which explains why both halves of the bridge are so different. The bridge was built very high because back then boats had tall sails. The curve right in the middle was necessary because the center of the bridge had to rest on St. Hélène island, a small island in the St. Laurence river, host to La Ronde (visible on the right through the fence), one of Six Flags’ theme parks and second largest theme park in Canada. Not visible on the picture, on the left of the bridge is Notre-Dame island, an entirely artificial island built as an extension to St. Hélène island to host Expo ’67, the 1967 world fair. Notre-Dame island now hosts Montréal casino and Gille-Villeneuve Formula One racing track, two features visible from the bridge.

On the horizon and to the left, you can see Mount Royal, a small mountain – really a big hill. Right in front of it, part of Montréal downtown is visible, with its skyscrapers.

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A better view on downtown highrises, still from Jacques-Cartier bridge. In the mirror, you can see one of the two towers which give pedestrians access to St. Hélène island below.

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Right out of the bridge, you are offered this scenery, a reminder that Québec is one of the greener urbanized area of the world, though trying to drive on this five-lane street in peak hours may leave the scenery unnoticed.

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This picture was taken very shortly after the previous one. This is really a large city after all.

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This is a typical avenue in Montréal. Please note that our street types are different from what they are in the rest of the world. The definition of an avenue in Montréal is a small street in a residential area, usually one-way, with even numbered avenues going one way and odd numbered avenues going the other way. This said, many streets are named avenue or boulevard though they aren’t really of that type, something which may be confusing to tourists. This one is not very typical in that it is large enough to accommodate a bicycle lane on each side, whereas most avenues are so narrow that you can barely make it without hitting a parked car.

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A typical scene in Montréal. A bus, a car, a truck and a cyclist all sharing the same space.

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I didn’t intend to prepare a tourism brochure, so here is one of the ugliest images from Montréal. Not bad actually, as compared to pictures from other large cities. Graffiti are surprisingly sporadic.

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One good looking area, surprisingly in quite a busy area. Though quiet on a Saturday, this particular intersection in a nightmare to go through on peak hours.

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This is the western access to Mount Royal, the small mountain almost in the middle of Montréal island. Since the western flank is almost completely built on, this access takes you almost at the peak already. There is a park on the top of the mountain that is a major tourist attraction, as you can guess from these buses lining up. Wouldn’t it be nice to see the park? Well, it’s behind these buses. Next time I’ll move myself out of the car to show you.

This is a green park with a small lake in the middle called Lac des Castors. Castor is French for beaver, though no beaver was ever spotted there. The myth says that this lake an an ancient volcano crater, though modern science notes that this is not possible. We still tell this to tourists though, it gives them something to say when they get back home.

The name Montréal is a derivative of Mount Royal, as it was spelled in old French – Mont Réal.

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And directly in front of that park is this mind blowing view on the… graveyard. How would you fancy to spend the eternity on top of a mountain? (Do not mind the price tag – you are not the one paying the bill.)

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Past the park and going even higher, this is the view that you get. Hard to believe you are right in the middle of a metropolis. This doesn’t last very long though. I guess this is the closest you get from sitting in a park without leaving the comfort of your car.

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At the top of Mount Royal, and facing east, is this nice little tourist tr… observatory. Do not buy ice cream of peanuts here, you won’t have enough money left for the hotel.

Recently, I came here with my son. He asked to use one of these pay-to-use binoculars. I couldn’t say no, but to my surprise it was the best dollar I ever spent. We both expected that it would last for just a minute or two, so my son rushed to try to see as much as he could. It ended up that we both grew bored of looking into the binocular well before it expired, and we ended up leaving it to a little girl that spoke a language I could not identify. She was still enjoying it when we left.

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Olympic Stadium, as seen from the observatory on top of Mount Royal, standing out in the middle of the eastern half of Montréal. From this distance, you can tell how huge it is. The Olympic Stadium was built for the 1976 summer games, and was later the home of Montréal Expos, a major league baseball team whose name was derived from Expo ’67. The team was sold in 2004 and the stadium is now a financial burden as it doesn’t have any major tenant anymore. Many expositions and concerts are held there every years. Of particular interest is Expo Habitation, an annual events where full size houses are on display.

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Still at the observatory, Jacques-Cartier bridge stands out in between Montréal downtown (below) and South Shore (above).

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No visit on Mount Royal would be complete without the sight of a raccoon. It was a hot day, so this was the only one I saw, but at one occasion I saw an entire family of 18 individuals (I am an inventory clerk, counting is a second nature). It is forbidden to feed them, but they stay around as mostly nobody read signs.

Yes, it was this close, I did not zoom. I’d really love to pet one.

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Down from Mount Royal and back in the city again. Now going to the eastern half of Montréal.

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At the bottom of the mountain is a very large park, a popular gathering place on sunny summer days and even evenings. Only a small fraction of the park was captured on this picture.

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And here is Mount Royal from a distance.

A wooden cross was installed by one of Montréal founder soon after the founding, but the current cross was installed in 1924 and is illuminated with bright LEDs. Usually lit in white, these LEDs can take any color to mark special events.

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If you want to see people, there is no better place than Mont Royal Avenue, conveniently named for the mountain to which the street leads. Any day, weekday or weekend, this street is a popular place to walk and shop.

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One typical intersection on Mont Royal Avenue. Are you aiming to turn? Think again. The light will turn red again before the flow of pedestrians clears the intersection.

Car is not a good mean of transportation to get on Mont Royal Avenue. You will probably not find a parking. If you do, know that it will cost $6 an hour.

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Now going downtown. A view any SimCity player would dream of.

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My camera didn’t screw, this picture actually came out well. This building really looks this strange. This building is owned by La Vitrine (meaning showcase), a private company who pretends to be the leading source of information regarding culture in Montréal. They also conveniently sell tickets for the cultural events they advertise.

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This is one busy area during the summer. Right to my left was Place des Festivals. Festivals line up, week after week, at this place during the summer months without any idle weekend.

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Past downtown and now heading toward Vieux Montréal – or Old Montréal. The tallest building in the back is Montréal City Hall.

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No, I didn’t visit London. This is an authentic London bus, complete with driver on the wrong side. Several of these buses are used for guided city tour.

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This is the main street of Old Montréal. Some of these buildings are over a century old, though modern features appeared over years of maintenance. Visible modern buildings behind show just how close we are to downtown, thought these two areas are completely different.

When I was little, this street was made of old style rounded bricks rather than asphalt. I suppose the overwhelming cost of maintaining these streets made them give it up over the years, as only small portions of Old Montréal still exhibit this style.

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Want to visit Old Montréal the old way? By the time you are told the price for the ride, it is already too late to go back. But just imagine how romantic that must be.

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These are amphibious buses. The tour begins on land, but ends on the river. These buses float on water. You can see a propeller at the bottom.

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Stuck in tourist traffic, I saw these two young people getting emotionally involved toward each other. This is just how romantic Old Montréal is.

Sorry for the bad framing, I had to cut out the odd old man wearing no shirt.

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I like the contrast of times here. Century old building occupied by modern stores – Couche-Tard, province leading convenience store chain, and Café Dépôt, Québec version of Starbuck. The streets shared by horses and trucks. The half-a-century old couple wearing two decade old clothes.

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Montréal City Hall was built in 1878, making it a century older than I am. It was burned down in a fire in 1922, and the interior was rebuilt. However, the exterior was intact and was kept. I did try to take better pictures, but this one is the only one that didn’t end up all blurred. Here is a better one from Wikipedia.

There was more to see in Old Montréal, but unfortunately my battery ran out.

This was a quick tour of Montréal. Thanks for visiting. Which pictures did you like the most?

6 comments on “Let’s Visit Montréal

  1. heretherebespiders
    July 29, 2013

    That was really cool! Do you know that between Montréal and South Shore you have almost the whole population of Ireland? Now you know why I like it here, my traffic jam is caused by a slow tractor or a cyclist on a narrow road and lasts only a few minutes 🙂

    I like all the photos! I’d read about the ‘mountain’ in a book, Kay Scarpetta maybe? I forget. She’s a ME who works between SC and Montréal. As I have family in SC and now have you up there, it’s more of interest to me to hear about the local ‘scene.’

    The London bus was a surprise. But I think maybe my favourite pic is the first one, because it is something you see every day and you had a chance to look at it though a stranger’s eyes.

    • Tom Duhamel
      July 29, 2013

      Hi Spiders, and thanks for you kind comment. I wasn’t aware of Ireland population, Wikipedia says 6.4M, and an extremely low density. Yes I can get it, no traffic problem there.

      The entire province of Québec counts just over 7M people, but 90% of the people live in or near Montréal. The city I lived in before was calm. At 140k population, it was still the 6th largest city of the province. When it took me more than 20 minutes to get home, I was really angry. I was aware of the traffic problem when I accepted to move here for the job, so while I am allowed to complain, I do it moderately. But really, on a normal weekday, it can take anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes just to get on the bridge, on even counting getting there. This week is a calm week, as 25-30% of the workers are on holidays. Only 10 minutes to get on the bridge today. This is why I take my vacations later, in August, when people are mostly back to work.

      My personal favorite was the second one, with a really good view on the JC bridge. As you may guess, this one was taken by chance, as I couldn’t not slow down or anything. I think I took 10 pictures or so on the bridge, this one was the one that came up really good. It’s the view I get every morning, though on normal weekdays there are a lot more cars there. My second favorite was the one in downtown which I compared to SimCity. Well, I loved the racoon too, I loved how it came up really good.

      I love these London buses. They are such a stereotypical element that absolutely everyone recognize.

      You’ll note that absolutely none of these pictures were retouched, other than resizing to fit the blog. The only exception is the one with the couple hugging. It wasn’t just a joke, I really cut out a guy that was troublesome to me.

      I’m glad you liked it. I know I didn’t do this for nothing. If there is anything you’d like to see, let me know, I can take special requests from you. That might be like a special mission to me 🙂

  2. Lidia
    August 18, 2013

    That raccoon, oh my god!

  3. westseventhfreelance
    October 1, 2013

    Thanks for the tour…I was last in Montreal 25 years ago and only remember the racoons, rain, and a really odd innkeeper who had little notes everywhere reminding us what we should turn on/ off, flush/ not flush, etc. We had a really nice visit. Really. I happen to like Montreal…but it was so long ago-

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This entry was posted on July 28, 2013 by in Culture, History, Pictures and tagged , , , .
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