Discover the many facets of Montreal. It's a short drive to the Notre-Dame Basilica -- a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture, built between 1824 and 1829. The magnificent interior in wood and the boldly modern design of the Notre-Dame-du-Sacré-Coeur Chapel captivate hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Paintings, sculptures and stained-glass windows illustrate biblical passages as well as 350 years of parish history. Mont Royal towers above the city and is simply known as 'the mountain' to the locals.Enjoy a panoramic drive through the downtown core, which blends a rich historical past with a bright future, keeping Montréal on the cutting edge. You’ll see the city's main shopping artery with its elegant boutiques, department stores and shopping complexes.Old Montreal, -- the Old Town area -- offers one of North America's most remarkable architectural ensembles with an enchanting concentration of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century buildings.Notes:This tour is available only to guests returning to the ship.
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Our tour of Montreal Old and New departed from the cruise terminal where Marie, our guide, told us that the street signs signified different portions of the city and its outskirts. Red signs meant we were in Old Montreal; white rectangular signs, in New Montreal; oval signs, and scalloped signs in different suburbs.
Marie, a fount of information, explained that Montreal had been the financial capital of Canada until the locks were built allowing ships to sail all the way to Lake Ontario. When the Quebecois decided they wanted a separate state from Canada in the 1970s, the English-speaking Protestant businessmen moved to Toronto. Montreal went into a financial decline that lasted until only recently. Many of the banks and financial houses stood empty. Now they are being reconfigured as condominiums or department stores.
Montreal is a city of churches as the missionaries were sent to convert the First Nations in the 1600s. The residents of Quebec Province are predominantly Catholic. Mark Twain remarked, “You cannot throw a stone in Montreal without hitting a church.” He was right. Therefore, the history of the Notre Dame Basilica, which we visited, began as a small wooden church in 1642 built by the Jesuits. As the congregation outgrew the original structure, it took until 1824 to begin building the current stone building. James O’Donnell, a Protestant New York architect, oversaw the work on his English gothic design for the next five years.
The interior is French gothic modeled largely on the Saint-Chapelle in Paris. Everything is intricately carved oak covered with 23 carat gold leaf. The work actually began in 1874 and was completed in 1880 once the plans were approved. The scenes depict bible stories from the Old and New Testaments. The organ has 7,000 pipes and four keyboards. While we were there, we watched a man changing light bulbs at the top of the chapel 250 feet above the altar. He had to use a lever and pulley operatus to hoist himself up and down on a small bench attached to the ropes. Two workmen spotted him as he ascended and descended for more than half an hour.
We also went into the smaller chapel of Notre Dame du Sacre Coeur (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart). The chapel had been burned down by an arsonist on December 7, 1978 and took three years to rebuild. Like Vigilund’s sculptures in Oslo, it depicts the various stages of life: birth, adulthood, old age, and death where man ascends to heaven. The breathtaking bronze sculpture was created from 32 panels cast in England and assembled in Montreal. The organ has 1648 pipes.
The stained glass windows on the first floor of the church were commissioned to mark the centenary and depict the history of Montreal rather than biblical scenes shown in the second and third floor windows.
We drove through the rest of the city with Marie pointing out the various buildings and significant landmarks. The Sun Life Stadium was built for the 1976 Olympics. Its 200-foot tower rises at an angle of 45 degrees and affords a view of the city. The stadium itself houses seven aquatic pools as well as multi-sports facilities. Most impressive was Westmount, a strictly residential area without restaurants or any commercial establishments. It housed fabulous mansions and private schools.
From there we had a rest stop in Mount Royal Park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed Central Park in New York City. The mountain gave the city its name of Montreal. We saw the 98-foot cross atop the mountain as a promise by Montreal’s founder Maisonneuve. He promised to carry a cross to the top of the mountain if the young colony survived flooding. We saw Beaver Lake surrounded by a chicken wire fence where only ducks swam. It seems ridiculous to have an inaccessible lake in the summer, but Marie told us that skaters use it in the winter.
Our last stop before returning to the ship was at the Kondiaronk scenic outlook where we saw an overview of the city and the St. Lawrence River.