Notre-Dame-des-NeigesOn the warm and sunny evening following our epic tour of Montréal’s natural history attractions, I hiked up the undulating slopes of Mont-Royal to take a closer look at the imposing might of Saint Joseph’s Oratory (Oratoire Saint-Joseph). On my way, I passed the famous Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery – Canada’s largest cemetery and final home of several important figures in its history (had I know that at the time, I might have lingered there to seek out some of its luminaries).

St. Joseph's Oratory (3)

The Oratory rises up out of the surrounding hills like a spacecraft, and therefore boasts excellent views of the city and surrounding countryside (which is of critical importance to all Assassin’s Creed II players). I approached the enormous main doors, passing a few pilgrims, and was immediately directed into the side door – the front doors are presumably only used for special occasions. In the dimly-lit basement, I encountered a small grotto with spring-water (every good site of religious significance needs one), and thousands of crutches and canes case aside by people who’d been healed. The healer in question, Brother (now Saint) André Bessette, refused to take any credit for his work and directed all enquiries up to Saint Joseph (hence the Oratory). On one of the upper floors is a small memorial to Brother André, including his tomb, hospital bed and preserved heart (somehow stolen in 1973, but recovered the following year) – the smell of formaldehyde was a little overpowering, and I beat a respectful retreat into the surprisingly Spartan main hall.

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The Hockey Sweater

The following morning, we walked over to McGill University and the charming McCord Museum of Canadian History (Musée McCord), as the name suggests an enormous collection of artifacts and documents relating to the long and tumultuous history of Canada. Since I knew next to nothing about Canadian history, we opted for the self-guided tour and were lent an iPod with an excellent museum guide app. Among the ingenious First Nations clothing, indecipherable political cartoons and paintings of colonial unrest we came across something that Amy described as “le hockey sweater”. Inspired by my blank look, she collected a couple of museum wardens and had them give us a quick summary of francophone-anglophone tensions in modern Québec. The sweater in question was Maurice Richard‘s Montréal Canadiens ice hockey uniform, and the subject of a well-known book. We headed out for dinner significantly more knowledgeable.

Raw restaurantMcCord statue

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Montréal botanical gardens (2)

On our first full day in Montréal, Amy and I stayed true to form and made a beeline for the natural history attractions. The Insectarium was closed, but we did manage to tour the Biodôme (housed in the velodrome / Judo dojo from the 1976 Olympic Games) and the Botanical Gardens (founded in 1931 after years of campaigning by Québec botanist Brother Marie-Victorin).

Olympic ParkBiodôme trumpeter

Top left: A flower in the Botanical Gardens. Above left: Olympic Park. Above right: Grey-winged trumpeters (Psophia crepitans). Below left: Ibis, probably scarlet. Below right: An otter, probably river.

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Above left: A small turtle. Above right: A seabird, probably a tern or kittiwake. Below: Unidentified seabirds.

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Montréal botanical gardens (11)Biodôme capybara

Above left: Flowers in the Botanical Gardens. Above right: A capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris). Below: Flowers in the Botanical Gardens.

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Montreal by night (2)

A few weeks ago (yes, it’s been that long since I had sufficient idle time to update), Amy and I took a mini-break in the cosmopolitan heart of colonial Canada, Montréal. Our touristy adventures at various sights will be chronicled in later posts, but I wanted to mention first and foremost what will certainly prove to be the stand-out highlight of our trip.

On our first evening in the city, we sought out dinner at a busy Italian-flavoured place and were rewarded with fresh pesto and bread (things almost undreamed-of with our single-income food budget and my lacklustre cooking skills), along with excellent pizza and salads. We took the scenic route back to our hotel, and Amy almost immediately spotted a “Hey! Join us!” sign attached to an ice hockey stick being waved from the roof of a four-storey building. Never ones to turn down a blog post hook, we yelled up at the waver and were invited up toutesuite (note: for the record, I was mildly incredulous that we would associate with strangers on rooftops but things worked out for the best, as you will read).

Rooftop party (2)

A runner was sent down to fetch us, and we climbed to the upper storey of the building, through a hole in the kitchen’s upper wall and then through a trapdoor onto the rooftop proper. We were greeted enthusiastically by a small group of students who were drinking cocktails out of small bowls and trying to entice more people up onto the roof to enjoy the evening. With music streaming from an internet radio station and another round of drinks forthcoming, we settled down to chat the night away above one of downtown Montréal’s busiest nightlife areas. We had so much fun, we went back the following evening with cider and snacks.

Join usRooftop party (1)

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