Montréal is a city that evades classification: a bilingual city, it’s not quite European but not quite North American, as famous for its art and culture as for its nightlife and gay and clubbing scenes. Montréal is not the capital of the francophone province of Quebec, but whereas the latter—Quebec City—houses many of the old-world charms and architecture of French cities, it is in Montréal that one finds the soul of the French, Acadian, Canadian and international cultures that created this city and allow it to flourish today.
“I think a lot of what Montréal is all about is rooted in the social and political history of the province of Quebec and the city itself,”
says Pam Macdonald, manager of Le Petit Prince Bed and Breakfast in downtown Montréal.
“It was an important North American terminus, and the financial and corporate capital of Canada. As that, it drew people from all over the world. Mix in the French/English history of Quebec (…) Montréal evolved quite differently from other centres, both in Canada and in the US.”
B&Bs like Le Petit Prince cater to this vibrant and varied community; Le Petit Prince in particular offers—in addition to a quiet, 4-room atmosphere for travelers looking for a home away from home—an important key to the vibrant art community of the city.
Montréal is home to hundreds of museums and galleries, the majority of which offer free entrance. The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts is just one of the many that should merit a visit during your stay, currently celebrating its 150th anniversary with exhibits as varied as the Opéra de Montréal (until May), contemporary Chinese art in Montréal (until June), and the fashion world of Jean-Paul Gaultier (until October). A plus is its proximity to Le Petit Prince, which, in turn, brings this art community to the traveler’s temporary home, displaying and selling the works of local artists on the walls of the cozy inn.
Le Petit Prince allows visitors easy access to both the city and to the people who make it what it is; it is one of the only B&Bs located within downtown Montréal, offering a sanctuary just south of Crescent Street, home to several famous car racing events such as the Grand Prix festival in June and the Ford Racing Festival in August.
Even without the excitement of races, throughout the year, Crescent Street is the hub of a commercial, vibrant neighborhood, where nightclubs, restaurants, boutiques and art galleries abound. Some say the art galleries on Crescent Street rival even those found in Old Montréal, once touted as the artistic center of the city.
Le Petit Prince offers a nearby sanctuary from the hubbub of the city and the homey touches of freshly made breakfasts and fireside chats with locals: Pam and B&B owner Robert are happy to give advice to travelers about their stay as well as discuss the art and artists that they feature around the inn.
Le Petit Prince is not the only Montréal B&B to offer an insider’s look at the art scene: Joel Prevost, co-owner of La Loggia Art and Breakfast, moved to Montréal from Vancouver in order to take advantage of the city’s culturally diverse community; he created a unique B&B experience to cater to those who came to visit him in order to learn the art of sculpture. Today, La Loggia offers the comfort of a small, five-bedroom B&B, the unique concept of a “gallery boutique” with art pieces for sale, and the enticing possibility of learning both about the city itself and hands-on lessons in art from an established sculptor.
Joel uses Montréal’s spirit and artistic vibe to create both his own art and a learning opportunity for others.
“I came to Montréal as a sculptor because, in this city, we are surrounded by artists in many fields,” he says. “Montréal is a creation laboratory, and as a bilingual center is at the cutting edge and avant garde in many fields.”
Joel took this “creation laboratory” and turned it into a creation of his own, something that, while quite impressive in its innovativeness, is not surprising in a city teeming with such cultural diversity and creative energy.
“Montréal is a cosmopolitan city with a highly educated bilingual population, if not trilingual,”
“Montréalers look at you directly in the eyes when they talk to you. Just smile, be kind, and they will take good care of you.”
This seems to be the consensus when it comes to the locals of this melting pot city, who are friendly and helpful with visitors, not that tourists need that much help upon arrival.
The downtown core is filled with activity, with over 300 cultural festivals registered within the city each year celebrating everything from Irish pride to film to underground art.
A festival devoted to the latter is currently gracing the halls of Montréal’s famous Underground Pedestrian Network (a welcome escape from Canadian winters). The festival displays the work of hundreds of contemporary artists along 6 kilometers of passageways between the Place des Arts and the Complexe les Ailes in downtown Montréal.
According to a press release by the festival, its goal is to
“change perceptions of the general public vis-à-vis the new contemporary art practices and to unite the visual arts milieu by identifying and bringing together its principal figures.”
A noble goal, if ever there was one, not that Montréalers seem to need any help as far as openmindedness in the face of novelty or contemporary art is concerned.
“Montréal has always been a very particular melting pot of influences, languages and styles that could only thrive within a culture of tolerance,”
says Alexandre Bessette, director of Inn Between, a bed and breakfast on the eastern boarder of downtown Montréal.
“One needs only to stroll through Montréal’s Jazz Festival on a warm summer’s evening, listening in on French, English, Portuguese, Arab or Chinese conversations; where black, yellow and white bodies grooving to the same beat.”
Indeed, it’s perhaps not only Montréal’s history and art scene that make it so special, but its tolerance, developed over years of conflict amongst the many facets that have finally come together to create the fusion of cultures, languages and beliefs that is Montréal.
“My sense of Montréal in general is that it is unique,” says Pam Macdonald. “It has a European flavour and joie de vivre unlike most other North American cities. Perhaps it is because it is a place where anglophone and francophone communities converge and adopt bits and pieces from each other.”
©: Copy Right Protected Work. All Rights Reserved. Texas Travel and Leisure.com 3-01-2011. by -Emily Monaco, Travel Writer