Its not been intentional but the past few weeks have seen us visit several places connected with the birth and expansion of North America and it really didn't all click with me until we were coming back on the train from Montreal a couple of days ago.
A couple of years ago we visited Nova Scotia and Fort Louisburg, a significant port controlling access to the St. Lawrence River, and only a few weeks ago St. Louis, a city founded by west and southward traveling explorers and fur traders from New France so we've seen quite a bit of the entire landmass that contributed to the birth of this continent (albeit very superficially).
|St. Joseph's Oratory|
|St. Joseph's responsibilities: the Universal Church, workers and sick people. Arduous, I would say. The Oratory grew as a place of healing and remains a pilgrimage destination to this day.|
In fact the guides we met in every place we visited were good. All different and one surprise I had was that the francophone guides were better than the anglophone ones. No idea why. The French in my experience (up until my last visit in 2011 actually) are deliberately obtuse if you don't at least try to speak French and if they realize (not difficult to do) that you are English, they double up on the obtuseness. Not so this time… with exceptions, of course… as firstly they apologized for their poor English and then proceeded to describe things in wonderful, flowery detail even making jokes. As someone who has struggled with French for over 50 years and still can understand words, but not their sense, I am very impressed by this.
|A significant loss of territory for the French. Mind you the English didn't enjoy much of the lower pink bits for long. I hadn't realized we controlled Florida in this time before giving it back again after the Revolutionary War.|
The aftermath saw Montreal grow to dominance in Canada, first outstripping Quebec City as the most important city in Quebec then by maintaining a considerable lead over growing Toronto (Upper Canada) until the separatist movement in the 1970's spooked virtually all investment and industry into moving to Ontario as well as created an unpleasant atmosphere for the large anglophone minority who similarly uprooted thrusting Toronto into its current position as the most important city in Canada. Toronto recently took over as third largest city in North America and is one of the top 5 best places to live in the world (according to a major survey).
One thing that surprised me about Montreal was that it really isn't that French a city.
I thought it would be far more so. For sure French is the dominant language but restaurants aren't all French -- the 'best' ones are good but with a new, more generic cuisine -- and while we ran into some people that could have been lifted straight out of a French caricature -- ridiculous glasses and hairstyle, terrible jeans and scraggly T-shirt inside a shabby jacket… which somehow looks both chic and smart on a Frenchman or Italian. I'd have looked like a tramp. Most people weren't like that at all. Architecture isn't that French either. Of course the Old Town had most of what still remains of the French influence but change the street signs and you could be anywhere in North America.
This said, we did find escargots, cassoulet and creme brûlée… but we had to look for it.
The train ride there and back was pretty neat too.
It costs a little less than flying but without the need to go to and from airports, through security and all that hassle. Factoring all that in and the 4 1/2 hour train journey made pretty good sense. Had we known where the station was in Montreal we'd have walked the 1/2 mile to the hotel there too!
The museums we went to were terrific too. The Pointe a Calliere (architecture and archaeology), Chateau Razeray (home of the Governors), the Musee des Beaux Arts (for the Faberge egg collection) and St. Joseph's Oratory (with the 3rd largest church dome in the world) really brought the city to life for us.
We had a great time. Thanks Montreal!
See my travel blog here on Track My Tour.