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Monolithic Montreal

Roger St. Pierre spotlights the endless appeal of Montreal – French Canada’s biggest city


Cosmopolitan Montréal is a truly international hot bed where business and pleasure mix seamlessly and with constant vigour. Once Canada’s largest metropolis, Montréal was outgrown by Toronto back in the mid-1970s but for most visitors it still rates as number-one.

With a metropolitan area population of 3,635,571 at the time of the 2006 census, Montréal ranks as the 15th largest city in North America and 74th in the world but its heart is as big as any.

This is the capital of Quebec, the province of the French language and a stridently Francophone culture, yet at times its feels more like London than Paris and always more European than North American. French is clearly the lingua franca but everyone understands English, be it the British or American version.

With a good public transport system, including an extensive metro (68 stations on four lines), convenient buses (169 daytime and 20 night-time routes), inexpensive cabs, safe streets and a round-the-clock ambience, it’s a great place to do business. Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport is a short drive from downtown and a grid-style street layout makes finding your way around easy – especially since most of the places you will wish to access are within a couple of metro stops or a short walk.

The user-friendly infrastructure extends to the famed subterranean shopping malls, some 32km of them, offering undercover access to 1,600 shops, restaurants, offices, museums and transport hubs, spread over a 12 sq km area known as Underground City – taking the bite out of winters that can be savage, with more snow than in Moscow.

A compact business district, distinct eating-out areas such as historic Old Montréal, Chinatown, Little Italy and the Latin Quarter, and short travel distances to such other key centres as Quebec City, Toronto, Boston and New York all add to the potent mix.

Though a financial disaster, the 1976 Olympic Games cemented Montréal’s place on the world stage, for both business and pleasure.

Today the city hosts a wealth of international fares, conventions and arts festivals. Cinema, jazz, comedy and North America’s native tribes all have their own vibrant annual celebrations here. The latter event, known as The First Peoples’ Festival, celebrated its 17th edition this June, showcasing the art, culture, cuisine and contribution to Canada’s evolution of its original inhabitants.

For major business events, Montréal Palais de Congrés is a world-class facility set not far from the river. Face-lifted at a cost of $240m it now provides 330,000 sq ft of meeting and exhibition space.

There’s a wealth of other exciting meeting spaces available city-wide while not-to-miss visitor attractions include the magnificent domed cathedral of Marie-Reine-Du-Monde, a profusion of churches, attractive squares – including Place Jacques Cartier with its own replica of Nelson’s Column – cobbled Old Montréal streets, superb museums and galleries, lush parks and gardens, imposing public buildings and world-class shopping.

Come rain or shine, there’s a delightful al fresco café society feel to neighbourhoods across the city – and clubs, bars and restaurants for every taste and pocket. There are more restaurants per capita than in almost any other city worldwide.

The centre of downtown is set on the island of Montréal, at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa rivers, and the port of Montréal is sited on the mighty St, Lawrence Seaway, the river gateway that links the Great Lakes into the Atlantic Ocean.

Once an industrial powerhouse, old factories close by the river have been converted to swish condos, imposing former banks and shipping offices have been transformed into trendy boutique hotels – urban regeneration has gone big-time.

There are some impressive skyscrapers, reflecting the city’s role as a major financial and business centre but, by law, none of them may reach higher into the sky than the parkland covered Mount Royal, whose summit provides the best overview of the city.

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