Quebec City, Thursday 27/08/15

Montréal is a city with a split personality. To the French speakers it is “mon-ray-Al” with the accent as above, whereas I was accustomed to calling it “mon-tree-all”. Classically French architecture, such as the Hotel de Ville . . .

 stands in the same neighbourhood as buildings that would not look out of place in London.

The Bank of Montreal.

Modern tower blocks, seen in this view from Mount Royal/Mont Royal,

mingle with steepled churches. In a city that has harsh winters and piles of snow, they put stairways on the outside of the buildings.

 It’s an entertaining place, with plenty to explore.

I admired the wooden interior of the Basilique Notre Dame de Montreal, but also noted a statue of Jeanne d’Arc in pride of place next to the main altar.

  All of this, of course, reflects the history of the Province of Quebec, which I explored at the Musée d’archéologie et d’histoire at Pointe-à-Callière, the first area to be occupied by Europeans.

The short video which opens the visit to the museum complains early on about the attacks on the new settlement by the Iroquois and the need to build a palisade to protect the inhabitants. However, it was the Iroquois who frequented what is now Quebec, so it is hardly surprising that they would react in this way.

The French inhabitants are said to have traded with others of the First Nations and used them as guides, culminating in the Great Peace Treaty of 1701, between the French and 40 different tribes. By this, the Iroquois, who had previously sided with the British, declared themselves neutral.  This part of the world was by then known as New France.

Though the French built a wall to keep the British out, hostilities continued. Famously, during the Seven Years War, Voltaire referred to this struggle as being over “a few acres of snow” in his book Candide, a first edition of which is held in the museum.

Eventually  the British took over Montreal in 1760. So now we’re all friends.

Well, of course it is all very complicated. Queen Elizabeth 2 still appears on the money, but conceded true autonomy to Canada by the Constitution Act of 1982.  For those of you who are thinking this is of little consequence (and I hope not thinking it’s all too boring for words), this took place at the time that the British were sending troops and arms to a group of little-known Islands we call the Falklands.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Anyway, there’s a whole exhibition about snow in the museum, the clothing, types of transportation and snow clearing equipment. There’s also the history of the ski-doo, so called because of a typing error and invented by J-A Bombadier.

So now you know.

Some of the things I like about Montréal:

The Gay Village

 The swings, for children of all ages, that play tunes as you swing.

 The vegetables.

 The plant displays, (of which more in a later post).

 A fantastic art display by David Altmejd of which this is just an example.

 This is huge and totally mind-blowing.

I will be going back to Montréal, but I also wanted to see the nation’s capital, Ottawa. It is only a short bus ride away.

My first day there, my Servas hosts, Peter and Donna, two marvellous people, took me out to a friend’s rented cottage by a lake, an hour and a half drive away. Very quiet, very good company and food and a thoroughly relaxing day out of the city.
Ottawa is small and very attractive, with a canal, the river and lots of parks. There are beautiful buildings, but unfortunately there is only a brief summer in which to do repairs to them, as well as road works, so getting good photos can be difficult. Particularly pleasing though, was the lack of traffic, even at 8.30 in the morning.

I went to the Parliament.

 They have their own Changing of the Guard ceremony. I’m afraid this always seems a bit Monty Pythony to me, especially as they have to do it on grass, so there is no satisfying crunch of gravel as they stamp about.

There are beautiful views of the city from the top of the Peace Tower, at the front of the building.

 I was lucky to be there while there was a terrific fireworks display over the river and a sound and light show.

 I went to the art and history museums, took long walks and found interesting areas of the city outside of the Downtown area. I am glad that I followed up the recommendations I was given to visit.

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