My hotel was only a short walk from Vieux-Montréal (Old Montréal), the historic center of the city. As I walked out the front door, the first building I noticed was Gare-hôtel Viger. Built in 1898, this grand structure was once a railway station and a hotel built as a series of chateau style hotels by Canadian Pacific Railway (like Château Frontenac in Québec). It has since been redeveloped into offices.
I made a quick stop at Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours for the Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum, but unfortunately it’s closed on Mondays. The museum contains a history exhibit and an archaeological site revealing artifacts from natives who camped at the site over 2400 years ago. You can also get a look at Vieux-Montréal from the tower of the chapel.
Next, I walked past Marché Bonsecours, the main public market in Montréal for over 100 years. It was built in 1844 and also served as parliament for one session in 1849. Today, it’s used as office space, restaurants, and banquet rooms.
A short walk uphill is the Hôtel de ville de Montréal, the city hall originally built in 1872. It burned down in 1922 and was completely rebuilt shortly after. Charles de Gaulle gave a controversial speech from the balcony in 1967. I popped my head in for a quick look.
Across the street is Château Ramezay. It was built in 1705 as a governor’s residence. One interesting fact is that Benjamin Franklin stayed there one night in 1776 while trying to raise troops to fight in the American Revolution. It’s now a museum of Montréal history. The CAD$11 admission (as of September 2016) is well worth it.
Next to the Hôtel de ville is a small square, Place Vauquelin, which has a monument dedicated to Jean Vauquelin, an 18th century French naval officer, unveiled in 1930. The other building on the square is the Vieux Palais de justice de Montréal (Old Courthouse), built in 1856.
Behind Place Vauquelin is Champ de Mars, an old military parade ground that was the site of the fortifications of Vieux-Montréal. The fortifications were destroyed after Hôtel de ville was constructed. Champ de Mars was later turned into a parking lot but was restored as a park in the 1980s.
The focal point of Vieux-Montréal is Place Jacques-Cartier, lined with shops, restaurants and street vendors. It’s located on the site of Château Vaudreuil, which was built in 1723 and burned down in 1803. The site was turned into a public space called New Market Place (renamed to Place Jacques-Cartier in 1847 after the explorer who claimed Canada for France in 1535). The oldest public monument in Montréal was erected there in 1809, Nelson’s Column.
From Place Jacques-Cartier, I wandered down Rue Saint-Paul and the side streets and admired the architecture until I found my way to Place d’Armes.