Story by Lin Stranberg
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — One of my favourite times to be in Montreal is fall, when festival frenzy winds down and Montrealers come out to catch the last wave of warm weather. The beat of the city is lush and mellow: flowers are still in bloom, there’s time to linger over dinner at a restaurant terrasse, and the mood is one driven for pleasure.
Montreal is a distinct place. Its geography is a marvel of feng shui. The city sits on an island with a mountain in the middle; no matter where you are, the mountain is behind you and the water is in front, which is said to be the ideal situation for positive energy flow. And it has clout. Canada’s second-largest city is also the second-largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris, and a centre for art, design, and outstanding cuisine.
When the weather is mild, Montreal’s signature joie de vivre busts out all over town, and this year’s high-spirited 375th anniversary celebrations are lingering on.
Next-level Light Shows in Old Montreal
The popularity of Montreal’s big birthday light shows have led them to become permanent installations. The illumination of the Jacques Cartier Bridge and the spectacular three-act Aura multimedia show at Old Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica light up the city at night.
Vibrant Street Scenes Draw You In
On the street level, international and provincial flags frame the fine art along La Balade pour la Paix — an open-air museum that will run until October 29. The art-focused walk along Sherbrooke Street West is bookended by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) on the western edge and the McCord Museum on the east. It’s a stress-buster just to stroll this attraction designed as a salute to the 50th anniversary of Expo ’67.
At the east end of the promenade, “Fashioning Expo 67” is at the McCord Museum until October 1. This show delivers the late-1960’s fashions and futuristic outlook of the hugely popular 1967 world exposition themed “Man and His World.” Expo ’67 was Montreal’s global coming-out party and 50 million people visited.
For more time-tripping back to the ’60s, complete with a killer soundtrack in sync with what’s on display, you can catch the MMFA’s “Revolution” exhibit (until October 9).
Festivals Suited for Fall
Montreal attracts 10 million visitors every year, many of whom come to party at one or more of the hundred-plus festivals that go on from January through December.
Fall is a low-key time, a laid-back valley between the twin peaks of summer blockbusters like Just for Laughs (comedy) and Osheaga (music and art) and winter’s showy Montréal en Lumière. That makes autumn a smart time to take advantage of lower hotel prices and smaller crowds and still catch a festival vibe.
For example, while the famous Montreal International Jazz Festival reigns as the biggest event of its kind in the world, the smaller OFF-JAZZ Festival (October 5-14) puts local talent front and centre.
Neighbourhood Crawls Highlight Cuisine
Thrill your travelling foodie friends with forays into Montreal’s lesser-known neighbourhoods and old favourites. New bars and bistros (try Le Serpent for creative ambiance and a new twist on Italian) are coming up in industrial-chic Griffintown, and the exquisite pastries of Maison Christian Faure can be now savoured in the original café on Place Royale, plus new downtown and Eaton Centre locations. On Saint-Laurent Boulevard, they’re still lining up for smoked meat outside Schwartz’s Deli.
Saint-Laurent, a long north-south street known as the Montreal Main, is also the demarcation line between the city’s east and west. It was part of the ethnic neighbourhoods immortalized in Mordecai Richler’s novels, and Leonard Cohen kept a house there. Before the cold weather comes, walk on and around the street to take in a growing collection of fabulous wall art, much of which got there in June during the Mural Festival of international street art.
Farther north, the Jean Talon Market is more than ever a vibrant go-to for the freshest farmed and foraged foods. And St. Viateur Bagel, now 60 years old, is open 24/7 for fresh bagels made on-site in its wood-burning oven.
What makes a Montreal bagel so different from other bagels? First of all, the dough is boiled before it’s baked. And then there’s the taste of honey in the water. Like fall in Montreal, these bagels have a flavour all their own — smooth, subtle, and sweet.
More About Visiting Montreal
Website: See Tourism Montreal’s website for help planning your trip.