In DepthIn bilingual, multicultural Montréal, two societies live side by side. This coexistence, however, is defined by linguistic tensions sparking endless political battles.
Looking for gold for King François I, French explorer Jacques Cartier set out in 1534 to find a shortcut to Asia and came upon an island in the St. Lawrence River he called Mont Royal. In 1611 Samuel de Champlain arrived at the island and established a fur-trading post.
Following fighting with the Iroquois, in 1716 the French built a wall roughly following the boundaries of today's Old Montréal. Decades of prosperity behind the wall ended when the English sought a North American foothold. In 1763, the Treaty of Paris ceded Canada to the British. Surprisingly, British governors accepted the culture and guaranteed use of the French language and Roman Catholicism. Nevertheless, local demographics radically changed.
The 1800s saw Montréal's city limits expand. The old city walls were demolished, and by the 1900s the Canadian Pacific Railway boom fueled a building frenzy. Fabulous mansions bloomed throughout the “Golden Square Mile”—bordered by boulevard René-Lévesque, rue Guy, avenue des Pins and rue University. The harbor became another architectural showpiece.
As Montréal basked in its Golden Age, wealthy residents moved away from the town center, inching up Mont-Royal. Ethnic neighborhoods sprang up as the population exploded with Irish, Chinese, Greek and Italian emigrants. Hungarian bakeries, Portuguese gift shops and a commercial mix along diverse “La Main” (boulevard St-Laurent) echo this influx.
With economic inequality increasing, the gap between the French and English widened. Canada's economic focus shifted from St. Lawrence River ports toward Toronto and the Great Lakes. The result: Following World War II, Québec was left an isolated province where the church dictated public policy. The “Quiet Revolution” reawakened the masses and unveiled the Montréal visitors see today.
Many believed a culturally French Québec shouldn't have to endure a federalist government that didn't protect its uniqueness. Talk turned to separatism, and the Québécois acted to effect religious, political and social reform. After Parti Québécois came into power in 1976, French was voted the official language. The fight for sovereignty continued, though voters twice turned it down.
Today the “two solitudes” described by Canadian novelist Hugh McLennan in 1945 have created two parallel communities within one modern city. While most residents are bilingual, the Francophone and Anglophone communities rarely interact. Each group knows it is a vulnerable minority—the French a minority within Canada, Anglophones a minority within Montréal. Although Montréal is bilingual in practice, it is a multicultural city with a throng of visible ethnic communities. Recent immigration has changed the city's face as newcomers from Asia, Africa and the Middle East make Montréal their home.
Loyalty to its Gallic roots gives Montréal its individuality and personality. But it's not merely sidewalk cafés and croissants that make the city très cosmopolitan. Montréal is a colorful canvas of grand boulevards and twisting alleys, Gothic cathedrals and vast beer halls, Bohemian artists and haute couture, and considerable joie de vivre, all of which you'll savor on your next trip to this captivating destination.
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15 m/49 ft.
Canada levies a 5 percent Goods and Service Tax. Québec's provincial sales tax is 9.975 percent on goods and services. The Montréal area hotel room occupancy tax is 3.5 percent per night.
Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital (Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont), (514) 252-3400; Montréal General Hospital (Hôpital général de Montréal), (514) 934-1934; St. Mary's Hospital Center (Centre hospitalier de St-Mary), (514) 345-3511. These can be reached at (514) 890-8000: Hôtel-Dieu, Notre-Dame Hospital (Hôpital Notre-Dame) and St. Luke's Hospital (Hôpital Saint-Luc).
1255 rue Peel Montréal, QC H3A 3L8. Phone:(514)844-5400 or (877)266-5687
Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL), formerly Montréal-Dorval Airport, 22 kilometres (14 mi.) west of downtown in Dorval, handles commercial flights.
Nearly all major rental-car companies serve Montréal, and desks are inside airline terminals at the Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.
Amtrak, (800) 872-7245, and VIA Rail Canada, (514) 989-2626, operate from Central Station, 895 de la Gauchetière beneath Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel. Part of the underground city, Central Station is connected to the Métro subway and to Windsor Station at rues Peel and de la Gauchetière.
Adirondacks Trailways runs to New York City. Orléans Express operates inner-city service within Québec. The Gare d’autocars de Montréal (Montréal Coach Terminal), 1717 rue Berri, serves Canada and the U.S. Megabus buses link several Ontario cities, and connect to Buffalo, N.Y.
Cabs are plentiful in Montréal; you should have no problem hailing one. Taxis are metered, and fares generally are fixed at $3.45 to start, plus $1.70 for each kilometre (.6 mi.) traveled as well as 63c for every waiting minute. Major companies are Diamond, (514) 273-6331; and Taxi Co-op, (514) 725-9885.
Société de transport de Montréal (STM) provides bus, Métro (subway) and commuter train service throughout greater Montréal.
Large vessels put in at Montréal's docks. Port d'escale du Vieux-Port de Montréal (Bassin Jacques Cartier), 333 rue de la Commune Ouest, charges $18 for a minimum 3-hour stay, plus $6 per additional hour for vessels less than 18 metres (59 ft.) in length, or $66 for a minimum 3-hour stay, plus $22 per hour for vessels measuring 18 to 24 metres (59 to 79 ft.). Overnight rates $2.30-$4.15 per .3 metre (1 ft.) per day, depending on the season. Rates may increase on weekends, and there are discounts for stays of 7 or more days; phone (514) 283-5414 to verify pricing.