As Classic as the Two-Cheek Kiss: L’Affichiste picks our Top 10 Montrealisms

This month on posterromance we are going to look at iconic and classic posters, but before we do that, I thought – since, we are, after all, in Montreal – we should look at Montreal classics and icons… it’s a completely personal list, made up of the things which we like/love and those which are just so identifiably Montreal that they couldn’t be left off.

We aren’t all Celine Dion fans (although occasionally she comes up with something that we can listen to), but when she got married Ms. Angelil chose the biggest and best known church in the city:

1. Basilique Notre-Dame

The most significant landmark of Vieux-Montreal is this mammoth Gothic Revival undertaking designed by Irish architect James O’Donnell and built between 1824-9. This thriving Catholic church has a stunning medieval-style interior that features walnut-wood carvings, exquisite stained-glass windows, 24-carat gold stars in a vaulted blue ceiling, as well as one of the largest Casavant organs in North America. Don’t miss the fine art paintings in the nave and the impressive Chapelle du Sacre-Coeur hidden behind the altar.

(Here’s a very special video which recounts the Celine/Rene love story)

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2. Poutine

Poutine just might be Quebec’s signature food. The messy pile of fries, gravy, and cheese curds isn’t new, but in recent years it’s experienced a renaissance, spreading across Canada and beyond. Gourmet versions have appeared in trendy gastro-diners and even the New York Times has jumped on board, celebrating poutine’s arrival in Manhattan.

The traditional take is still best for poutine newcomers. That means picking up a basic version—thick-cut, home-style fries, homemade gravy, and fresh curds. Montrealers each have their own favorite poutine stand or – now – restaurants (there are some which even specialize in serving only poutine: spaghetti poutine, smoked meat poutine, pizza poutine. The mind boggles, but for us, the best poutine is the basic, artery-clogging variety with lots of gravy, and lots of cheese.)

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3. Outdoor markets: One of the things which visitors to Montreal often marvel at is out outdoor markets. They can be found in every neighbourhood of the city, year round, and they offer fresh fruit, vegetables, maple syrup, cranberries and all sorts of specialties (which differ from market to market). The biggest, most popular public markets are Jean Talon, Atwater (especially known for its extensive flowers and greenery), Maisonneuve, and Lachine. All of these Montreal markets offer fine foods and related products and have a bakery or other places to eat. They are open year-round every day of the week except for certain holidays. Sometimes unexpected things happen at the market….

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4. The Tam Tams So, you’re taking in the sights and sounds of our beautiful Mount Royal, when all of a sudden you hear the unmistakable sound of drums. Lots of drums. Welcome to the Tam Tams. Als one tourist blog writes: “One of the most original musical events in Montréal, this free festival takes place on Sundays, near the monument to Sir George-Étienne Cartier and in Mount Royal Park’s surrounding green spaces. A colourful gathering of drummers, dancers, vendors and their admiring audiences. For twenty years, Montrealers and visitors have come to play music and dance, or just watch and listen.” And sniff… oh yes, evidently to play the Tam Tams well requires a little – sometimes a lot – of marijuana. Makes it sound so much better. Or so I’m told.

 

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5. The Canadiens Even if you don’t play – or watch – hockey, every Montrealer is at their core a Canadian’s fan.

The Wikipedia entry for the Habs (short for the Habitants, the original French name for the team), reads, in part, as follows: “Founded in 1909, the Canadiens are the longest continuously operating professional ice hockey team and the only existing NHL club to predate the founding of the NHL, as well as one of the oldest North American sports franchises. The franchise is one of the “Original Six” teams, a description used for the teams that made up the NHL from 1942 until the 1967 expansion. Following the departure of the rival Quebec Nordiques in 1995, and the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C. in 2004, the Canadiens remain the sole team of the four major sports leagues of Canada and the United States that is based in the province of Quebec. The team’s championship season in 1992–93 was the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup.” Every year we collectively hold our breath and hope for the best, and on occasion, when we lose, as we often do, bad things happen. Best not to be out on the streets on the night of the Stanley Cup final… (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gY1HN93t1Ig)

6. Shopping – Frommers says: you can shop in Montréal until your feet swell and your eyes cross. Whether you view shopping as a focus of your travels or simply as a diversion, you won’t be disappointed. Among natives, shopping ranks right up there with dining out as a prime activity. Many Montréalers are of French ancestry, after all, and seem to believe that impeccable taste bubbles through the Gallic gene pool. The city has produced a thriving fashion industry, from couture to ready-to-wear, with a history that reaches back to the earliest trade in furs and leather. More than 1,700 shops populate the underground city alone, and many more than that are at street level and above. It is unlikely that any reasonable consumer need — or even outlandish fantasy — cannot be met here. Here’s their list of where to go.

(Holt Renfrew, a high-brow department store, also has a fine restaurant … yummy bread, handsome wait staff and a great wine list. You can shop and eat – two of our favorite pastimes – in the same place. Heaven.)

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A yummy plate from Kazu. Be prepared to stand in line – spring, summer, fall or winter – and to squeeze into your seat. But take our word for it, it’s worth it

7. Which brings us to food. There are just about as many restaurants as there are inhabitants in Montreal, something for every taste, every budget and every hour of the day. You must try our famous smoked meat – either at Schwartz’s or at Wilensky’s, the above-mentioned poutine, and some of the great Quebec micro-breweries (they have their own page on Wikipedia, but my favorite is Bierbrier). Aside from that, we have put together a list of our favorite restaurants (tourist ALWAYS ask us), which includes: Holder, Le Filet, 400 Coups, Kazu, Lemeac, Dolcetto and others … Everyone has their favorites and their not-so-favorites: in Montreal, eating is a passionate sport.

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8. Lachine Canal -The Lachine Canal runs 14.5 kilometres from the Old Port to Lake Saint-Louis. The Canal is more than an inland waterway, as it is also an accessible urban park that astonishes with its rich history. Rollerbladers in the summer, cross-country skiers in the winter, dragon boaters (yes, really) when its warm enough, the Canal is full of life, all year long.

The canal gets its name from the French word for China (La Chine). The European explorers dreamt of finding a route from New France to the Western Sea and there on to China and hence auspiciously the region where the canal was built was named Lachine. (And if you dig deep enough…just kidding…)

The activities and facilities at the Canal give you the opportunity to learn about the history of this site of significance to Canadian industry and navigation, all while enjoying a unique urban environment.

9. Culture Montreal boasts a rich cultural scene for francophones, Anglophones and those phones who cant choose … Theater, ballet, opera, festivals (even one in the dead of winter called the Montreal High Lights Festival which sees crazy people going out all night long in -40 degree weather….), jazz, blues, rock, classical and heavy metal music… You name, we got it. Here’s an English site for Montreal Culture, and a French one too.

10. L’Affichiste! Did you really think we’d leave ourselves off the list??

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