Tag Archives: Montreal

Windy Peg

Sunday 25 September 2022 – We might have done with Montréal, but Montréal (and fate) had not done with us. As I mentioned in my last entry, the itinerary we’re following has evolved over the course of three years and, as a result, has produced some wrinkles. The order of cities was one; the timing of this morning was another. We had grown rather alarmed at the prospect of an 0530 pickup at the hotel – particularly when we saw that the flight that this was to take us to was not at 0800 as originally specified, but 0855. So we had a bit of a back-and-forth with Discover Holidays, who are in charge of local details, and they agreed that an 0630 pickup was OK. 0630 is not good, but it’s a whole lot better than 0530.

0530, however, was, of course, the time we had to set the alarm for. Having done so, and heaved ourselves up to face the rigours of the day, a text arrived at 0553 from those nice people at Air Canada, telling us that our flight was delayed until 1045, “due to a technical problem with the aircraft”, and would be departing from Gate A9.


It was too late to change the timing of the pickup, so we got ourselves ready and checked out before 0630. Unsurprisingly, we were alone in the hotel lobby, apart from the receptionist and a chap in a cap. Equally unsurprisingly, it turned out that he was our driver, André (an Italian-Canadian ex-truck driver with a New York accent), and he took us out to the car.

Perhaps a bit OTT for two people and two suitcases to go to the airport, but, hey,

it perks the day up a bit. So did the sunrise.

Our hopes that perhaps fate was making up for the mix-up with the early start were at first slightly lowered when the Air Canada machinery wouldn’t take our checked-in bags and then dashed when we headed for security.

You’ll remember (of course) that we were heading for an A gate, and you can just make an A out in the distance. When we got near it, though,

we saw that there was a huddled mass of humanity between us and it. This was Montréal, we thought, having the last laugh. Actually, it was only about a 35-minute queue and then we were free! Noticeboards were still talking about our flight leaving at 0855 from gate A1, but we smiled, knowing that Air Canada had given us the skinny of the new gate and time. So we sat at Gate A9, not worrying at all about our almost total isolation because We Knew The Score.

At about 40 minutes before the scheduled departure, though, we began to worry that We Didn’t After All Know The Score, so we hurried off to Gate A1, where AC371 (yes, our flight) was still showing as departing. A lady at an adjacent Air Canada desk saw us and the uncertainty we were radiating and shouted out that the flight was no longer going from Gate 1, but was just about to board at Gate 15. So nice of Air Canada to contribute to our exercise regime.

The rest of the journey was fine, involving as it did a decent but not excessive amount of gin and Pringles. It was a little bumpy towards the landing

due to a not insignificant wind. We arrived in Winnipeg (for that was the correct destination) at around midday; by the time we arrived at the carousel our bags had just appeared and we had just a short (but slightly puzzling) walk to our airport hotel, the sumptuously named Lakeview Signature by Wyndham (which is not sumptuous at all, and has a view only of the airfield, but otherwise appears to be perfectly workmanlike). Our room was ready, and the organisers of this next segment of our holiday were obviously on the ball, as there was a board in the hotel lobby telling us where we had to be and when for the introductions and briefing.

So. Why are we in Winnipeg, a westward step in our otherwise eastward progress, significant enough to warrant a change in time zone?? You’ll find out if you keep reading these pages.

In the meantime, we had some hours to kill, and Jane had spotted that Winnipeg airport is home to the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada. This seemed to be only a couple of minutes’ walk away, but the hotel reception virtually insisted that we take the hotel shuttle bus. I think this was to make the driver feel part of the team, because it was a ridiculously short drive. We were greeted by a charming lady called Hedie and welcomed to the museum.

Which was not huge, but really interesting.

Assembled here is a collection of those things that are significant in Canada’s aviation history, particularly in the development of the bush plane. For example, the first purpose-built example, the Fairchild AC71

had great capabilities for all those things that bush planes needed to do (e.g. land on and take off from water). It suffered a little from the fact that the pilot’s ability to see forwards was very limited because the cockpit was set so far back, so it never entered commercial production.

The museum also gave me a chance to show you another one of them Fokkers, in this case a Super Universal.

There are many curiosities on display: an example of a sesquiplane, something I’d never heard of before – a plane with one and a half wings;

a nuclear bomb, which I’m glad the organisers rendered inert before displaying;

a replica of the Avro Canada VZ-9 Avrocar, a top secret US Air Force funded attempt to create a supersonic fighter capable of vertical take off and landing (it was underpowered, unstable and cancelled, having never got more than a metre into the air);

the Froebe Helicopter, designed in 1937, built from salvaged truck parts and featuring design points that are still in use on today’s helicopters,

but underpowered and hence also not able to rise higher than one metre from the ground; the Vedette, the first attempt at a boat that could fly;

and – my favourite – the Canadair CL-84 Dynavert.

As soon as I saw this beast I thought “Bell Boeing Osprey” (for those of you not familiar with it, here’s a picture of one I took at Farnborough Air Show some years ago)

FIA 2012 - Bell Boeing Osprey

and, indeed, the Dynavert was a predecessor – well ahead of its time, having first flown in 1965, a quarter of a century before the Osprey (though it never found a buyer so was cancelled in 1974).

I particularly like the little helicopter rotors on the tail.

There were many other, more serious, exhibits as well, but I found these the most engaging and we spent a happy hour at the museum in one of those lovely bits of serendipity that contribute so much to life’s pleasure.

Rather than attempt to call up the hotel’s shuttle bus for a return journey, we dared the walk back unaided – the hotel is just under the control tower, so it wasn’t exactly a major expedition. So we stepped out – into an astonishing wind – and fought our way home against it. Apparently it’s been windy here all month.

And this brings you bang up to date. The sunset here is as interesting as the sunrise this morning back in Montreal

and we have about 90 minutes to wait until we get our briefing on the next few days. All we know is that we have to be up, packed, checked out and breakfasted in time to leave the hotel at 0700 tomorrow. So there’s no chance I will report back today about what we learned at the briefing and what we’re up to over the coming days – you’ll have to come back tomorrow to find out more. See you then!

The Nelson Column

Saturday 24 September 2022 – As expected, Jane had formulated A Plan for the day – a walk in the Old Town, followed by a stroll beside a canal which led to the Old Port.  Accordingly, we hopped the Metro to Champ-de-Mars (because we’re seasoned users of the public transport now, you see), and attempted to follow a self-guided walking tour that Jane had found on the interweb. This part of the day, overall, was not a success, partly because the route given by the website was either not very good or incoherent (possibly both) and partly because Montreal Old Town is, well, not really very interesting.  Perhaps it would have been more rewarding if we’d been able to organise a guide to regale us with fascinating historical and contextual nuggets, but, as it was, we didn’t find much to wow us.

There are some prominent buildings there, such as the Bon Secours market building, with its distinctive silver-coloured dome, which I assume is a tin roof with big ideas.

It looks like the sort of building that should house something monumental or religious, but actually inside it is a modernish market, with boutiquey shops.  Even the tourist tat is done quite nicely.

Other major buildings of interest, such as the Town Hall and the Basilica of Notre Dame, are shrouded in scaffolding and other paraphernalia of reconstruction, which renders them less easy on the eye.  Next door to the market building is the Notre Dame de Bon-Secours Chapel,

inside which, we were delighted to find, was a chamber trio playing at the far end – rehearsing for a concert, we guessed.

The chapel dates from 1771; it was a popular place of worship for sailors coming to port from the St Lawrence river and it became widely known as the sailors’ chapel. It has a lovely interior

with replicas of ships hanging from the ceiling as a reminder of this heritage.

And, er, that’s it for the Old Town, really.  We wandered about the rest of the area trying, and, we eventually realised, failing, to follow the self-guided tour.  It had one lighter moment when I spotted an illusion that the figure on top of the chapel was trying to operate a punt,

but beyond the Wheel and the Clock Tower (with the geodesic dome of the Montreal Biosphere museum, designed by Buckmaster Fuller for the US pavilion at the 1967 Expo, visible in the distance)

we couldn’t find anything particularly to detain us beyond this general kind of street scene

It was at this point that we found out that the “Galleon” by the Wheel was a kids’ adventure park.

Having exhausted what we could see of the entertainment possibilities here, we decided to go for Part 2 of The Plan – the Canal.  To do this, we hopped the Metro again, to Place Saint Henri, and then walked down to the Lachine Canal, which connects Lake Saint-Louis to the Old Port, our target for the walk.  The canal gets its name from the French word for China (la Chine). The European explorers sought to find a route from New France to the Western Sea, and from there to China and hence, optimistically, the region where the canal was built was named Lachine.

Jane had read that the canal had been the subject of some gentrification (not unusual for waterside locations with an industrial history).  Initially, there wasn’t much evidence of this, but before too long we saw the unmistakeable signs of what would once have been a warehouse or similar.

This turned out to be Merchants Manufacturing, a mill which has a reasonably chequered history, including being expanded to be the second largest cotton factory in the country.  Further investigation showed that it was now a very substantial and not unattractive apartment complex.

The canal then displayed signs that we were approaching another nexus of civilisation

and then we found ourselves at Atwater Market, which is quite substantial and was quite busy.

Just as Jean Talon’s market had introduced us to aubergines and cauliflowers of unfamiliar colours, this one showed that squash can come in a variety of colours

as well as the more common orange of the pumpkin.

Every year I’m astonished by the ubiquity of pumpkins in this season.  Surely you can only eat or carve so many?  What happens to all the rest?

As we went back to the canal, we passed a “flowerbed” which actually contained only edible plants – a nice touch.

We passed another suburb which had a canal-side chess den

and seemed to be preparing for some kind of local festival.

Evidence of the industrial past increased as we neared the city.

We passed one of the hydraulically-operated locks

which, I was pleased to note, was being kept clear of leaves and other debris by the lock-keeping staff,

something which I wish could happen in the UK, where the appearance of many otherwise charming locks is spoiled by accumulated crud, both natural and man-made.

We also discovered that the canal path was part of the Trans-Canada Trail, the scope of which is absolutely vast – 

28,000km in total, meandering all over the vastness of Canada’s interior.  To give this some context, the circumference of the earth is just 40,000km.

Further evidence of previous industrialisation mounted as we carried on.

as well as of the gentrification process which is making this walk so much more pleasant.

There is a clear cycle path which is sometimes separate from and sometimes on the same ground as the walking path, thus requiring vigilance on the part of pedestrians wanting to cross the path e.g. to take photos.

The landscape clearly shows what a massively industrial area this once was.

Looking left, we could see the part of the city where our hotel is – you can just spot the dome of its next-door neighbour Basilica among the tower blocks.

There’s a boat converted into a spa

and a clearer view of Habitat 67, a project designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie and built for Expo 67, a World’s Fair held here from April to October 1967.  It comprises 354 identical prefabricated concrete forms, arranged in various combinations and divided into three pyramids (I’ve only shown two here because there was a stack of containers in the way of the third).

Safdie’s goal for the project to be affordable housing largely failed: demand for the building’s units has made them more expensive than originally envisioned.  Good old market forces, eh?

And then, there we were, in the Old Port

which gives some views over the city

and even makes the Old Town look reasonably attractive.

By this stage, it was nearly 3 o’clock, and so we decided that an early (for us) lunch was the order of the day.  There’s a square in the Old Town, Place Jacques Cartier, which features several restaurants, so we headed there, and Jane suggested we try Jardin Nelson, a restaurant on the ground floor and courtyard of the erstwhile Nelson Hotel – all of which, I suppose, take the name from the version of Nelson’s Column which stands at the top end of the square.

This turned out to be an inspired choice, as we were led to a table in the flower- and greenery-bedecked courtyard

which allowed us to hear the really very good jazz trio who were performing

without being overwhelmed by their volume.  We had an excellent poké bowl lunch and then tottered back to our hotel, once again via the good services of the Metro.

And that was it for Montréal, really – a city whose undoubtedly charming scenes just fail to overcome the downside of the scruffiness, graffiti and quotient of beggars and derelicts of the place. It occurs to me that we visited these eastern cities in the wrong order, largely as a consequence of our itinerary evolving over the space of three years, getting modified every time the trip was rescheduled.  Our route (you’ll remember, because you’ve been paying attention) has been from Ottawa to Québec City to Montréal.  I think a better (and more logical) route would be Ottawa – Montréal – Québec City, where the charm of the final destination might erase the less-than-distinguished memories from its predecessor.

Tomorrow sees an interruption to our eastward peregrination, as we head back to Winnipeg as part of ticking an important tourist box.  It involves an early start. To find out more, please join us over the next few days.  See ya later!

Taking Steps in Montréal

Friday 23 September 2022 – For our first full day of exploring Montréal, we settled on two aspects we wanted to prioritise.  Neither of them was particularly likely to be in evidence near our hotel, and walking to them would have taken too much time, so we decided to use the Metro to get us about. Apart from anything else, we both feel that using public transport in a strange place gives one a greater feeling of connection with it; Montréal is really the first place on our long trip through Canada where using it has made sense, so we were glad to take the opportunity.

The hotel is connected to RÉSO, as is the nearest metro station and it only took a small amount of blundering about to enable us to find it. We bought 3-day passes, which would give us unlimited use of the system whilst we were here.  I tried to use the transaction to split a 50-dollar note, as we were running short of smaller denominations, only to be told that the transaction was card only – something I suspect is true in many places across the city now.

The Metro here is not a particularly intricate network – just three lines – but the Orange line suited our needs.  I am quite impressed with what we’ve seen of the Metro.  It’s clean,  reasonably frequent and has modern trains which run, like many Paris Metro trains, on rubber tyres.  There are some nice design points in the way it operates, too.

Station announcements are clear, lights tell you which side to disembark, and they also warn you when the doors are about to close by turning red.  There’s a mobile signal throughout and altogether it seems a very good system.

Acting on recommendations from the esteemed Ian Burley, we aimed for Jean Talon, which features a well-established market.  The area is well out into the suburbs and does have the same air as some of the (nicer) banlieus of Paris.

The market is very substantial, and looks like a typical sort of market you find in France,

with lots of wonderful-looking fresh produce, meats and cheeses.  There is a considerable variety of some things,

such as these varieties and colours of aubergines and cauliflowers, the like of which I’d never seen before.

On the way to the market, we saw examples of one of the two aspects of the city we were keen to explore – street art.

Some items are very obviously formal works of art.  Others are more difficult to distinguish from upmarket graffiti.

The city staged a festival of street art for 2022, and Jane had found a website which gave an idea of where to find some examples that were part of this festival, as well as some pieces that have been in place for longer.  And we found lots and lots of examples, one or two of which I’ll share in a moment – just be patient. But, after leaving the market, we also came across the other aspect that we (Jane, particularly) wanted to see: outdoor staircases.

The city has a phenomenon called a “plex” – a building with apartments stacked on top of each other.  In many cases, external staircases are used to reach the upper ones. The basic reason for this is to save space on internal staircases.  There’s an interesting article giving more detail here.

We reached a section of the city called Little Italy,

no, really,

and found that these external staircases can be found in profusion here. So I got my camera out and Took Steps:

The (mostly ironwork) staircases look interesting and artistic on a nice sunny day such as this one; what they must be like to use in the ice and snow of a Montréal winter I dread to think…

Our route towards more examples of street art was the Boulevard St. Laurent, which is a busy and quite crowded main road.  One block to the side of it, though, is Clark Street, which is much quieter and more pleasant, and also contains many examples of these external staircases.

It also has a segregated cycle path along much of its run through Little Italy, which makes stepping off the pavement unwise without checking carefully in both directions. Here are a couple more instances of these interesting cultural oddities.

Even the less attractive ones are interesting to look at.

We also saw a few other oddities as we walked along:  what seems to me a risky way of exercising dogs;

A Catholic church with an unusual architecture, offering services in Polish, Italian and English (only open on Sundays, so sadly we couldn’t peek inside)

and the absolutely massive building which once housed the Canadian Warehouse Company.

But now: the street art.  There is a lot of it – it’s A Thing in Montréal, much more than anywhere else we’ve visited in Canada.  There are all sorts: grotesque;


advertising the business;




and unfathomable.

Sharing all the photos I took here would be too cumbersome, so I have created a Flickr Album with 44 examples, if you’re interested to see more.

The one thing that we noted about every single piece of street art we saw was that they were all, every single one, defaced by graffiti, which I found very saddening.  In fact, there was graffiti everywhere we looked and its utter ubiquity leaves me with a less than favourable impression of the city.  Sure, every city has its graffiti, but there’s so much here that it renders even the attractive bits ugly in my view.

In the midst of all of this (vandalised) street art, we discovered we were (a) hungry and (b) near a deli recommended by the indefatigable Ian Burley – Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen, famous for its smoked meats.  So famous, in fact, that it has its own Wikipedia entry. And so famous that the queue to eat in the restaurant is, well, quite famous.

Jane spotted that there’s a take-out section,.  The queue in there was quite substantial, but very fast-moving.

We got a Smoked Meat Sandwich each, (with a pickle, already!), and actually scored seats at the very back of the shop; I can report that their pastrami is delicious, but you really must make sure to have napkins or tissues to hand, as the portions are vast and tend to leak everywhere.

Clark Street actually runs all the way into the city, and is much preferable to walk along compared to St. Laurent.  It also has some really interesting houses along it.

On the other side of St. Laurent to Clark Street there is a square called St. Louis,

which is also surrounded by some really individual properties.

As you get towards the city, having passed through Little Italy and Little Portugal

you reach Chinatown, which is quite small, but has four gates.  This is the main one (through which you can just see the far gate)

and then, before you know it, you’re by the Old Town, and in our case, near the Basilica Notre Dame,  Like almost everywhere, it was under maintenance –

I guess when you have winters like they have here, you have only a limited window in which to get things fixed, but another thing I found oppressive was the ubiquity of roadworks and other construction projects going on.


We went inside. It’s quite a sight.

It’s another telling example of the opulence of Catholic churches as opposed to the more austere Protestant approach to worship.

You’d have thought we’d have had enough by now, but no – we were near the Old Port and there was The Wheel.

You can’t see something like that on a sunny day and not want to ride round it, can you?  So that’s what we did.  To be candid, there are so many reflections once you’re in a cabin that photography can be quite unrewarding, but we managed a couple of reasonable photos between us as we went round.

The last one of these, the “galleon”, we subsequently found out, is set up as a kids’ adventure playground, with all sorts of places to climb around; a nice idea.

And that really was it for the day.  We headed back to the nearest Metro station and thence to the hotel for a much needed glass of something cold before retiring for the evening.  The day was long but interesting, with many charming aspects of Montréal to balance against its ineffable scruffiness.  We have one more full day here; who knows what we shall do with it?  I’m pretty sure Jane Has A Plan… come back and find out, eh?