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Montreal Walkabout

By Margaret Piton

Montreal is one of North Americaís most historic and picturesque cities, and the best way to explore it is on foot.  Fortunately, most of the main attractions lie within a relatively small area.

Any walking tour of Montreal should start where it all began, in the old city on the bank of the St. Lawrence River.  Montrealís ornate  City Hall   stands at the top and slightly east of Place Jacque Cartier, named for the French explorer who was the first European to visit this island in 1535. He claimed Montreal and its surroundings in the name of the King of France, and in 1967 another French leader, Charles de Gaulle, made his famous declaration ďVive le Quebec libreĒ from the balcony of City Hall,  urging Montrealers to return to their roots.

Just across the street is an older lower stone building, the Chateau de Ramezay, built in 1705 for the French governor of Montreal.  In the winter of 1775 American troops led by Benjamin Franklin invaded the city and made their headquarters here.  They were as unsuccessful in rousing Montrealers to revolutionary fervor as de Gaulle was nearly 200 years later.  Today, the Chateau is a museum open to the public, and is the only one of the chateaus from the old regime still standing.

Place Jacques Cartier itself is flower-filled in summer and lined with outdoor cafes where Montrealers enjoy their favorite sports, eating, drinking and people-watching.  The statue atop a column at the north end of the square commemorates Lord Nelson, hero of the battle of Trafalgar.

After exploring the Square  and catching a glimpse of the Old Port at its foot, (donít miss the laneway where local artists sell their works,) walk west on Notre Dame Street a couple of blocks to St. Laurent Boulevard, which divides east from west in this city.  Traditionally English Montreal lay to the west, French Montreal to the east, and Jewish merchants owned most of the small shops on St. Laurent.  In the new vibrant, multicultural Montreal these distinctions are less apparent.  Montrealís modern court house sits at the intersection, and you may see black-gowned lawyers plying their trade.  Turn the corner and start walking north on St. Laurent Boulevard.  Or better yet, jump in a taxi at the taxi stand or onto bus 55.ócash fare is $2.50 Canadian.

Just north of Old Montreal lies Montrealís small Chinatown, where the streets are lined with Chinese restuarnats and stores selling oriental souvenirs and handicrafts as well as exotic foodstuffs.  Another couple of blocks north at the corner of St. Laurent and Ste. Catherine, is the traditional heart of Montrealís tenderloin district, seedy  but safe.

Get off the bus or out of your taxi at Sherbrooke Street  The two blocks between Sherbrooke and Prince Arthur contain some of Montrealís most glitzy restaurants and night clubs, and are sure to be full of beautiful Ė and bars stay open until 3 a.m.  Prince Arthur east of St. Laurent is a pedestrian street popular with students and street performers and noted for its restaurants. There is always something happening at night on the street during summer.

Turn west on Prince Arthur and walk toward University Street, through the McGill University student ghetto.  At the corner of Park Avenue you will encounter a multi building high rise commercial and residential complex that is one of the largest complexes in the world designed by a woman, Hungarian architect Eva Vecsei. But most of the buildings in this area are charming Victorian houses that have been converted to fraternity houses or condominiums and cooperative housing.

Turn left on one of the streets west of Park Avenue and go one block south to Milton.  Turn right on Milton and cross at University to enter the leafy campus of McGill University, Montrealís oldest and most famous institution of higher learning.  It was founded in 1821 by Scottish fur tycoon James McGill.  The neoclassical arts building in the center of the campus was for many years the only building.  Sir William Osler, Sir Ernest Rutherford , Dr. Wilder Penfield and Stephen Leacock are just a few of the famous names associated with McGill, which is particularly noted for its science and medical faculties.

Turn left and walk down toward the Roddick Gates of  McGill on Sherbrooke.Street. Pause to admire the flower beds and  flowering trees on McGill College Avenue, which ends at Place Ville Marie.  Turn right and continue to Stanley.  On the northeast corner stands the Mount Royal Club, Montrealís most exclusive club, in an Italian Renaissance style building designed by Stanford White .  Continue one more block to Drummond, cross Sherbrooke and de Maisonneuve and continue until you reach the Mount Stephen Club, built in 1883 for  Lord Mount Stephen, one of the founders of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Try to get a look at the magnificent wood paneling inside the building.

Turn right on Ste. Catherine and continue to the next block, Mountain Street., home to Montrealís two finest department stores.  Ogilvy sits on the corner of Ste Catherine and is particularly noted for its beautiful crystal chandeliers and designer boutiques.  If your favorite designer isnít there, walk two blocks north to Sherbrooke and enter the Art Deco building housing Holt Renfrew, Canadaís premier upscale retailer.  Between the two stores you may want to check out the wares at Chateau díIvoire, a top jeweler.  Then continue one block west to Crescent and check out the action on this famous street.   The Sir Winston Churchill Pub is particularly popular with locals and visitors alike, or try the authentic Irish atmosphere and beer at the Claddagh.  After all that walking, you deserve it..