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Oakes Weekly - June 30, 2005
A Quick Visitor’s Guide to Montreal
June 30, 2005
Written by Oakes
Oh yes, I’m going back to Montreal. I really vibe off that city. When living in Toronto, a lot of people I knew would go up there just to party. I suppose meeting people and drinking beer could be construed as partying though for me it’s more like business as usual. Toronto was always a better city to live in than to visit, as it takes time to absorb the multitude of amazing neighbourhoods that drives life in the 416. Montreal is a place you can absorb fairly quickly, as most of the residential portions I’ve seen are not laid out in dense, mixed-use neighbourhoods. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but that’s what I’ve seen.
Montreal is an old, lived-in city. In contrast to Canada’s other large cities – Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary especially – Montreal really hasn’t grown that much in the past few decades. Twenty years ago, Montreal and Toronto had almost identical populations. Today, the latter has stacked on an extra couple million people.
Montreal is located on an eponymous island in the St. Lawrence River. An interesting fact that the lists of most populous islands in North America and largest islands seldom if ever intersect. So Montreal ranks in population alongside Manhattan and behind Long Island. Traditionally, the island was divided into dozens of small suburbs that surrounded the million-strong City of Montreal. These have recently been amalgamated, but the change is so recent that the individual character of the original municipalities remains. Some of these, mainly the English-speaking communities, have voted to “de-merge”, a move that will take place in 2006.
The city has been referred to in terms of three predominant cultures – the French, the Scottish and the Jewish. Rue St-Laurent is considered the dividing line between the French side of the island (east) and the English side (west). Much of the Ratebeer events will take place in and around the Plateau district along Rue St-Denis on the French side. In addition to the three traditional cultures, immigrants have added to the mix, from French-speaking parts of the world like Lebanon, North Africa, and Haiti, as well as a healthy mix of Latinos, Greeks and Italians.
In contrast to other Canadian cities, most people in Montreal live in apartments. The density lends life to city streets and helps to fuel an energetic street culture. Walking down St-Denis from Amère à Boire to DDC, you’ll see what I mean.
Transport is relatively easy. Cabs are plentiful and cheap. The Métro (subway) is somewhat limited given our itinerary, but can be useful in getting around the downtown areas. Major points of interest outside the beer world include Vieux-Montréal, a somewhat touristy old town by the river, but not without some charm; and Mont Royal, the hill for which the town in named. Good views can be had at the top of the hill, which you can drive to. On the northern slope of the hill sits St. Joseph’s Oratory, the largest church in Canada, with a dome bigger than all others save for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Biodome is also a popular draw, where you can see all manner of wildlife from defecating penguins to fat, lazy capybaras in imitations of natural settings.
Montreal is also known as a culinary centre, and you’ll find more French restaurants here than most places in North America. It is a good place to try a little cheval, if you haven’t already. I had some in Kazakhstan, so I’ll take a pass. Most likely, though, unless you make a point of seeking out the fancy stuff, the most local food you’ll be exposed to is poutine - fries covered in gravy and cheese curds and Montreal’s famous bagels, which are thin-ringed, thick and chewy, eaten without accompaniment fresh from the oven. There’s a great 24-hour place near DDC. You’ll probably also want to try some of the local tipple, and Quebec is famous for its ice cider. A great place to find local cider, cheese, beer and other goods is Marché des Saveurs du Québec, which is located at Marché Jean-Talon.
Since you’ll be shopping for beer, here’s the rundown. In terms of bottled micros, probably the best would be Bièropholie and Charlevoix. Unibroue’s best stuff is generally exported and their domestic production (Irresistable, U, U2) is not their finest work. They do, however, have a re-make of the old Seigneuriale beer. McAuslan Oatmeal Stout is an awesome local brew. Some of their other stuff is worth a look, if you’re into English-accented beers and Ringwood yeast. Amongst other products, La Barberie and Schoune stuff can be good, but quality is variable. The Cheval Blanc bottled beers are no longer related to the brewpub beers but can be enjoyable, though they’re generally in the middle of the road flavour-wise. Boréale beers are clean but less interesting, as is the Belle Gueule line. The Breughel stuff is best avoided, unless you’re practicing brewing flaw identification for the BJCP.
One last note – tipping in Montreal is done with each round, not at the end. This sort of thing is probably optional back home, but it’s specific in Montreal. If you don’t tip on that first round because you’re saving it for the end, it will affect the calibre of service you receive.
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Rue St-Laurent is considered the dividing line between the French side of the island (east) and the English side (west). Much of the Ratebeer events will take place in and around the Plateau district along Rue St-Denis on the French side.
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