7 AUG 2018: I used to visit Montréal frequently in the 80’s and 90’s for both business and pleasure.  I would check out the film and jazz festivals, explore Old Montreal, hit the bars on Crescent Street and devour my share of smoked meat sandwiches. But I haven’t visited the city in the summertime in many years, so Tourisme Montreal’s new marketing campaign, “Never Grow Up,” called out to me and I went.  

Montreal has an abundance of interesting museums, ornate churches and art galleries.  Nothing wrong with that but this trip was more about being a kid at heart.  This visit I wanted to get beyond the main streets.

TOUR BY SCOOTER

I found the perfect guide in David from Dyan - a scooter and bike rental company that provides scooters (with or without a guide).  

David, originally from Trinidad, takes visitors on group and individually guided scooter tours but also is a hip-hop and reggae music producer.  Experiencing a more authentic Montreal and not just the tourist and upscale areas, appealed to me.

My scooter handling experience was limited but after a few minutes we were dashing in and out of alleyways, construction zones and traffic like movie action heroes in a chase scene.

I was having a blast as David filled in interesting details about the different neighbourhoods, the people who live there and the architectural styles.  We travelled through Jewish, Italian, Portuguese, English and, of course, predominately French neighbourhoods.  Each had its own distinct personality and charm.  Leaving our scooters we headed down back alleys revealing petite but colourful gardens, painted terraces, birdhouses and assortment of flower boxes.  

Back on the streets I was mesmerized by the artistry reflected in the dozens of murals that adorn buildings, restaurants, cafes, boutiques and bars.  Everything from strong social welfare messages to comic book illustrations.  Murals and graffiti, when done right add cultural and community richness, that can truly showcase a city’s soul and spirit.   It brings the grittiness of the streets alive.

The Virtual Reality Universe

I’m a virtual reality virgin.  I don’t get excited with the latest version of Xbox as I have rarely played a video game.  But along with a fellow writer from the UK checked out the virtual world of Centre Phi.  Located in Old Montreal it’s a multi-disciplinary arts, culture and virtual reality hub.  The current exhibit, Particles of Existence has various VR installations with themes of space travel, climate change, and mass migration.

I donned the VR gear to go through the different VR experiences which can last from three to twenty minutes.   A couple of the VR experiences were ho-hum and then one, The Chalk Room, was a journey that was equal parts adventurous and mind-blowing.

My British colleague had to stop and take the gear off, as she began getting motion sickness.  That experience was distinctly different - an almost serene-like forest setting in a rainstorm.  VR did strike a chord with me but I still favour the real thing.  

Expo 67 Revisited

I was only five years old when my parents took me to Expo 67 at Parc Jean-Drapeau across the St. Lawrence River from downtown Montreal on St. Helen’s Island.  Fifty million people came to visit the 100 themed pavilions with 62 nations participating.   Expo 67’s multicultural spirit still resonates with annual cultural festivals like the Weekends du Monde Festival with different countries taking part.

Fast forward 51 years and here I am again swaying to the beat of lively music from Brazil, Colombia and Tunisia while filling my tummy and soul with their food and culture. The beat goes on.  

The party atmosphere is clearly evident on a Croisières AML dinner/fireworks cruise. The four- hour scenic cruise along the St. Lawrence (departs from the Old Port) takes you by stunning skylines, idyllic islands, sailboats and massive cargo ships.  

Taste buds are in for a treat with delicious three-course gourmet meals – all cooked on-board and served with your favourite cocktail or beverage. The night was capped off by a spectacular fireworks show illuminating the Montreal sky.   

Montreal at night is dazzling, picturesque and romantic.

Boutiques For Staying Not Shopping

In the last few years there has been a flurry of new boutique hotels opening up in Montreal.  Hotel Monville, which opened in March 2018, is located on the cusp of Old Montreal and is a few minutes’ walk to the Old Port and Metro. The stylish hotel offers the latest technological innovations and is the only hotel in Canada that delivers room service by a robot.

The 269-room hotel with 54 suites encapsulates the sights, sounds of spirit of Montreal through art and photography both in the guest rooms and in the lobby.  Photographs of hockey legend and city icon, Jean Béliveau, are prominently on display.     

Montreal is undergoing a renaissance as observed in street landscaping on major thoroughfares like Saint-Catherine and Saint-Laurent, and in the beautiful walking and biking trails in the Old Port area.  

I felt a real energy and passion that I didn’t feel on some previous visits.  The 375th anniversary in 2017 seems to have instilled a spirit that has transformed the city.  It has become a city of festivals with Just For Laughs, Cirque festival and even a festival for murals.  You name it they will celebrate it.  

Henri Matisse’s masterpiece, “Bonheur de Vivre” also called, “Joy of Life” was a pivotal painting that introduced European modernism to the art scene in 1906.   It reminds me of Montreal.  The painting’s vibrant colours, with people whimsically dancing and freely rejoicing and relaxing in nature.  

Simply put – enjoying life.     

Matisse’s painting and joie de vivre is being experienced every day in Montreal – and there’s nothing virtual about that reality.  

Tourisme Montreal.  See mtl.org   https://www.mtl.org/en



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Chris Ryall

An industry insider with strong, outspoken opinions that readers enjoy, whether they agree, or take issue with his point of view.

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