MONTREAL: Montreal, arguably, is Canada’s number one party town. Visitors and residents alike will find plenty of food, drink, and fireworks to help them celebrate célébrer le Canada, or Canada Day. Fête du Canada, for Northern Americas, is a national day of celebration And the one place to celebrate is Old Montreal, the Old Port, and The Hotel William Gray.
The Hotel William Gray
If you are visiting or living in the city, try to capture a room at the Hotel William Gray, a marvelous boutique hotel with luxury service in the Old Quarter of Montreal for the festivities. Make sure you request a room with a view of the Old Port.
The property is actually two historical buildings – the Maison Edward-William Gray and the Maison Cherrier. Each building dates back to the 18thcentury and they are both historical monuments. The 127-rooms were reimagined by Camdi Design and furnished with the works of local artists Alan Ganev and Steven Spazuk.
The property shares its neighborhood with the Old Port, the Notre-Dame Basilica and Place Jacques Cartier.
The original owner, Edward-William Gray was a sheriff and merchant, building two structures, one a warehouse with shops for the auction of goods. The other building was his home. The exterior appearance of the buildings is much the same as it was in when built and they are exquisite examples of 18th Century architecture in Montreal.
Reimagining history at The Hotel William Gray
Montreal’s Béïque Legault Thuot architects have creatively combined the 1818 Maison Cherrier, and the late 18th-century Maison Edward William Gray House with an eight-story high glass tower that houses the hotel’s rooms and offers a variety of views of the city.
The resulting 127-room William Gray is a handsome and modern reimagining of disparately historic spaces. For this, applause also for interiors studio Interior specialists at CAMDI Design used a mix of leather and raw concrete, along with sleek black Cruise Ship architecture (low profile and nestled against the wall) and fabulous direct and ambient lighting to create a dramatic, yet comfortable space.
The property offers convenient valet parking, an outdoor pool, shopping, and plenty of places to people watch, like the Living Room with its billiards tables and floor to ceiling books cases beneath a high ceiling culminating in a light bright, high ceilinged gathering place that features light food service and a full-service bar. Off the Hook, a local independent boutique is stocked with urban fashion brands like Atelier New Regime and Reigning Champ.
Maggie Oaks – burgers to dry aged beef
Meanwhile, the in-house restaurant Maggie Oakes is named after Margaret Oakes Gray, wife of William Gray, who, upon her death in 1825 passed the property to Frederick William Ermatinger, Gray’s nephew and successor as sheriff of Montreal.
The interior of the farm-to-table bistro is filled with soothing cool tones, brass, and a living herb wall. The menu offers five-star cuisine by chef Derek Bocking. A point of pride for the restaurant is their more than tender and delicious dry-aged beef and dishes made from the bounty that is Canada. You will enjoy dishes such as a Montérégie region duck breast and cassis demi-glace halibut from Nova Scotia. If available during your visit, absolutely try the sea scallop crudos seasoned with Meyer lemon and lavender.
However, it is the terrace outside Maggie Oakes that is perfect for watching people as they meander between the Old Port and Rue Notre Dame Est. Once a thoroughfare, the cobblestone street is now for pedestrians only and it is filled with street buskers, restaurants, and taverns. Sitting street side at Maggie Oakes to enjoy one of their generous and juicy Maggie Oakes burgers, served with bacon jam, crispy onions, Kumato tomatoes, cheddar cheese and homemade fries.
Watching the Fireworks
The William Gray boasts the Terrasse Rooftop Bar will be very, very busy as people jostle for a place to watch the fireworks over the Old Port. Access to the rooftop is never guaranteed, but if you can score a place, there could be no better place to watch the celebration.
Or take a short walk to the Old Port, but get there early. Visiting for the lighting of the Jacque Cartier Bridge in 2017 for the 250th anniversary of Canada, the crowd at the Old Port sent us back to the William Gray for fabulous views from our hotel room, which luckily looked out over the Old Port.
Most of Old Montreal was declared a historic district in 1964 by the Ministère des Affaires culturelles du Québec. The borough of Ville-Marie is the oldest area in the city of Montreal. Originally the area was bordered on the west by McGill St., on the north by Ruelle des Fortifications, on the east by rue Saint-André and on the south by the Saint Lawrence River.
Today Old Montreal includes rue des Soeurs Grises in the west, Saint Antoine St. in the north and Saint Hubert Street in the east as well as the Old Port of Montreal.
Things not to miss in Old Montreal includes the Bonsecours Market, a public market that has served Montreal for more than a century. Today it is a place for local artisans and shops catering to the tourist trade.
Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel – The Sailors Church
Another not miss site is the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel (chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, “Our Lady of Good Help”) one of the oldest churches in Montreal.
The first chapel was built in 1771 over the ruins of an earlier chapel that can still be viewed on the self-guided tour of the Church. The tour starts with the steeple with its incredible views of the port, harbor and Old Montreal, before traveling back in time to the 18th century.
The chapel Notre Dame de Bon Secours is dedicated to St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, the first teacher in the colony of Ville-Marie. Sailors leaving the port last sighting would be the steeple atop the dome and they would pray to the Virgin Mary and St. Marguerite for their safe journey.
While at sea, those sailors would ship’s models, which they presented to the chapel as an offering of thanks for their safe return. The chapel is often called the Sailors’ Church and boats are still hanging from the rafters of the chapel.
In 1849, Mgr. Ignace Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, gave the chapel a statue of the Virgin as Star of the Sea, which was placed atop the church overlooking the harbor.
Marguerite Bourgeoys’s mortal remains were returned to the church in 2005, where she now lies in the sanctuary.
The Basilica Notre Dame
The Basilica Notre Dame, a remarkable example of Gothic Revival architecture, is grand in its architecture and decoration. Vaults that line the side of the main chapel are decorated in deep blues and gold, while the sanctuary is replete in blues, azures, reds, and purple.
The basilica’s stained glass windows tell the story of Montreal’s religious history.
Unique to the basilica is the Casavant Frères pipe organ which dates back to 1891. The mammoth organ features four keyboards, 92 stops using electro-pneumatic action and 7000 individual pipes.
It is altogether imposing and remarkable and worth taking the time to visit and marvel at the intricacy of every corner of this space.
The Sacré-Cœur Chapel.
The original chapel was commissioned in 1889 by the priest Léon-Alfred Sentenne. Baptized “Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur”, it is inaugurated on December 8, 1891, the feast day of the Virgin. It showcases a gothic revival style, rich in carved motifs. This smaller chapel was rebuilt following an arson in 1978 and the original gothic impediments and vaulting have been replaced by more modern elements.
As remarkable as the main sanctuary is, so is the Sacré-Cœur Chapel. The altarpiece in this chapel makes a striking impression with its great luminosity and the numerous decorative details. The altarpiece by Quebec sculptor, Charles Daudelin, consists of 32 bronze panels weighing some 20 tons.
Overall the piece if five meters in width by 18 meters in height. Easy to miss, make sure you walk behind the main sanctuary to see this remarkable space.
The organ, of a French style, with mechanical traction, comes from the Guilbault-Thérien firm of Saint-Hyacinthe. It has 1648 pipes. The console has 25 sets on 2 keyboards, with pedal board.
Dining in Old Montreal
Old Montreal features a number of excellent restaurants, to be expected in a town that treats food as a national past time. But two favorites stand out the Café Stash and Holders.
Café Stash was a welcome find after more than a week of duck confit, frites, and poutine. As a companion lamented “No more French food” we looked up, seeing the sign for the cafe and smelling the kielbasa and pierogies, both of which were excellent. Also enjoyed were stuffed cabbage rolls and potato pancakes, with sour cream and applesauce.
The dishes were excellent enough to make my teściowa (mother-in-law) proud. Upon asking, we were assured that someone’s babcia (grandmother) was not being held captive in the kitchen.
An excellent example of Montreal’s modern dining scene is Holders. Brunch is more than a meal between breakfast and lunch, its a time for celebration and while at Holders for that early day meal there were multiple bridal parties and one group of men, from the U.S.A., celebrating the upcoming nuptials of one of their crew.
The restaurant self-identifies as a “great European brewery” is a favorite of Montrealians. IN keeping with Montreal’s great architecture and interior spaces, architect Luc Laporte designed the interior with floor to high ceiling windows that infuse the room with light and allow for people watching.
Coming in after a sudden spring storm, we were met with plenty of clean, white kitchen towels and cups of rich coffee. And not a nose was lifted over our dripping, drowned-rat désorde (disorder). A traditional eggs benedict was anything but ordinary with large yolks and a smooth as silk house-made hollandaise served on a fresh English muffin accompanied by roasted potatoes and fresh fruit.
And a never-ending cup of freshly brewed coffee.
Old Port Montreal
Walking through Old Port Montreal is like taking a time machine to 18th Century France. In 1922 the Old Port was the most important grain port in the world. Today the port serves cruise ships and pleasure boats in addition to commercial shipping.
The areas along the port have been turned into a linear park with creative shops built into reused shipping containers, a permanent Cirque de Soliel performance tent, shops, playgrounds and grassy areas.
Also along the Old Port is the Clock Tower, built around 1920, the 45 meter, or nearly 150 feet tall, the historical edifice is at the entrance to the harbor where it also serves as a commemorative monument to merchant seamen who have disappeared at sea during major world conflicts.
Known for its precision, early navigators would set their chronometers by the clock tower and, with its bright lamp in the tower, was used as a beacon for ships entering the harbor.
Climb the tower’s 192 steps for some of the best view in Montreal.
Jazz Fest – July 3
Montreal’s best party, in my humble opinion, is Jazz Fest. This year the fest runs June 28 to July 7, leaving plenty of time to enjoy this remarkable street party. Check out the schedule and join the fun, food and music.