When exploring a city as beautiful and as full of life and history as Montreal, the best way to absorb what the city has to offer, particularly throughout Old Montreal, is on foot. Guidatour provides walking tours highlighting the sights, sounds, and history of both the West and East side of Old Montreal in a 90-minute leisurely tour. The Guidatour guides are personable and friendly and a fount of information about Montreal and its population, happy to answer any of your questions. The tour includes multiple stops throughout with both indoor and outdoor segments, which means the walk is not strenuous and you’ll be accessing buildings you may not have thought to enter before. Get your cameras ready along with your comfortable footwear for a truly unique experience.
The Montreal West tour begins where all Guidatours begin – at the entrance of the gorgeous Notre Dame Basilica. Your ticket for the tour also grants entrance into the Basilica for a set period of time before and after the tour, which is absolutely worthwhile. The interior of the Basilica is breathtaking from the altar to the stained glass windows. Its truly something to admire regardless of your spirituality, and depending on when you enter, you may be treated to the church choir performing a concert as we were. (see video clip below)
The first stop of the Montreal West tour is the Place D’Armes Square which features a monument in memory of Paul de Chomedey, one of the founders of Montreal. This square features, alongside the Basilica, the Saint-Sulpice Seminary, the Aldred Building which is nearly identical to the Empire State Building in New York City, and the headquarters of the Bank of Montreal.
The guide for our tour, Jean-Michel, told us a fascinating story about two statues on either side of the square representing the Francophones and the Anglophones of Montreal. A man and a woman, both quite well dressed, turning their noses at each other while their dogs, an English poodle and a French bulldog, turn longingly at each other wanting to play.
The tour continues into the headquarters for the Bank of Montreal, a stunning building with Greek columns. Inside stands a proud statue of Patria by James Earle Fraser commemorating the fallen soldiers of the First and Second World War. Something I learned during this tour – individual banks used to print their own money and as we descended to the lower levels of the bank, we toured the money museum and saw old Bank of Montreal branded currency.
While exploring St-Jacques Street, Montreal’s own ‘Wall Street’ as the former financial capital of Canada, we stopped in front of the historic Molson Bank and then entered the headquarters for Royal Bank. The interior looks like a church and is similar in style to that of Penn Station in New York and Union Station in Toronto. Jean-Michel explained that banks were often competing with churches in aesthetics to gain favour of the people.
We entered the Centre de Commerce Mondial de Montreal, Montreal’s own World Trade Center, which, quite notably, houses a section of the Berlin Wall donated to the city as a piece of public art. At this stop, Jean-Michel commented on how this area is an access point to the Montreal’s Underground City, a series of subterranean tunnels connecting office towers, shopping centers, hotels and banks, convention centers, and even residential areas. This means that if you are familiar with the area, you can live most of your life without needing to go outside. Otherwise, it’s easy to get lost.
Continuing on the tour, Jean-Michel pointed out the old firehouse built in 1903 and reflected on Montreal’s love of recycling old buildings as now the firehouse is the Centre d’histoire de Montreal and the sign for the museum sits carefully over the old sign for the firehouse.
The final stop for the Montreal West tour was at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum at the outdoor observatory on the upper level of the tower. This perfect end to the tour offered spectacular panoramic views of the city from up high, including the St-Laurent River, Montreal Island, and, in the distance, the Biodome. The walking tour ticket also grants patrons a discount for entrance to the museum until the end of December 2018.
Guidatour walking tours occur daily through the end of October with departures at 1:30 pm. Tickets are $26.50 for adults, $24 for students and seniors 65+, $15 for children ages 6-17, and free for children 5 and under. Tours can be combined with the Montreal East tour, check the website for more details and for how to book.
This tour increased my knowledge of Montreal and its history exponentially and the opportunity to explore the interiors of some of these buildings, most of which I normally would have never even thought about entering, is worth the price of the ticket alone. Of course, the staff and guides make the tours lively and entertaining. Your visit to Montreal won’t be complete without a Guidatour.
Review by Samantha Wu
Photos by Yehuda Fisher