It’s a question that’s probably going to start a few scuffles between any Canadians who overhear you when you ask it. However, it’s long been assumed and asserted that even though it’s not the biggest or most populous, Montreal is the commercial and cultural capital of the whole of Canada. It’s a big claim, but does the truth side with it? That’s what we’re going to look at with some of the city’s biggest cultural attractions.
When you think of culture, your first thought might go toward the arts and there is certainly no shortage of it here. It carries many of the same North American traditions of jazz, with at least two festivals throughout the year dedicated to the music of the soul. But perhaps one of the main musical attractions is the seamless music performed by the Montreal Philharmonic, one of the most globally revered ensembles. It’s not just music, either. The Montreal Fine Arts museum is just one of the many and is acclaimed across the country. Meanwhile, there’s the World Film Festival for all the movies buffs out there. There’s always some music, film or arts festival on, so you don’t have to stick around for long to get a taste of it.
That’s not to say that everyone in Montreal simply stops to appreciate art all the time. If you’re looking for a city with some sporting activity, you might not expect it in the chilly north, but you’re certainly going to find it. As you might imagine, one of the most popular venues in the city is the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens. If you’re not all that fussed on seeing them relive their rivalry with the Boston Bruins, however, then you might prefer something a little higher octane. To that end, the Montreal Grand Prix packages make for some of the most attractive trips to the city. Spectators from around the world gather when the weather is at its peak and the cars are at their fastest.
You can’t talk about the culture of a place without talking about some of the fine tastes on offer, particularly of the alcoholic variety. Tasting the wine of France is a big draw of Paris to many, just as a taste of sake is a familiar custom for tourists in Tokyo. In Montreal, it’s all about the beer. Not just any old draught you can find elsewhere, but from the extensive list of homebrewers and microbreweries dotted all over the town. Montreal folk love their craft beers and you’re sure to catch a taste of something you like, whether it’s a try at a hearty original taste or one of the more creative sorts like the Les 3 Brasseurs.
When you’ve had a taste of beer and you’re feeling in more jovial spirits, perhaps that exactly when some of the gorgeous sights of the city might hit you at their most powerful. There are plenty of them, as well. One of the most indomitable sights is Saint Joseph’s Oratory, a place of spirituality and hard stone, but surrounded by some gorgeous greeneries. The Underground City makes for a fascinating stop to newcomers, too. It’s a huge commercial sector underground with shops, spas, and even accommodation. Perfect if you’re planning a trip for the winter but you’re not quite sure you can handle it. Which leads us to our next point.
There’s no reason to lie here, winters in Montreal can be brutal, often dipping down to the single digits. Snow and ice rule the streets at this time of year. But that’s not going to stop the people of Montreal from enjoying themselves. This is when one of the most popular and famous of all the town’s festivals happen. Igloofest is a mix of eclectic styles of music, many of them electric. There’s also the Art Souterrain, hosting some of the biggest names in the underground art scene of the city, the kind that only comes out when it’s nice and dark, as opposed to the more mainstream fests in the spring and summer. It demands some resilience, facing Montreal in the Winter, but it’s worth it.
Montreal is a different kind of city from many others. It has its big city glitz, sure. But the calendar of festivals, the sheer joy of music, art, and sport, and the amount of opportunities that the people will take to get together blow many cities out of the water. Not just in Canada, but in the world.