Summer in Montreal, dance and laugh all night

Montreal is for lovers. Before some people dance all night they say ‘I do’. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Whenever the sun chases away the last grim bits of blackened snow the lyrics of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer in the City ring through my mind:

Hot Town, summer in the city

Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty

Been down, isn’t it a pity 


Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city

 

All around, people looking half dead

Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

 

But at night it’s a different world


Go out and find a girl

Come-on come-on and dance all night

Despite the heat it’ll be alright

 

And babe, don’t you know it’s a pity 


That the days can’t be like the nights 


In the summer, in the city 


In the summer, in the city

 

If there’s any city dedicated to grabbing someone to dance all night it’s Montreal. On an average year they host back-to-back events, concerts, exhibitions. But for 2017, Montreal is celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial

Montreal’s streets are full of great people watching. This couple arrived independently of each other and posed for pictures for strangers. (Allan Lynch Photo)

AND the 375th anniversary of the city’s founding. It’s fun on steroids. They scheduled 375 events for the anniversary, which mean expanding their calendar and starting in 2016.

With 9.5 bars and 64.9 restaurants per square km, Montreal is right up there with New York, LA, London and Miami for nightlife. The city has 200 theatre companies, 50 dance groups, and, curiously, is the tango capital of North America. Montreal is also home to three circus companies, including Cirque de Soleil.

I think of Montreal as Canada’s big apple. It’s been home to both massive fortunes (in its heyday, the residents of The Golden Square Mile owned 80 percent of Canada) and an uncharacteristic boldness for Canada. These two factors impacted the city by bequeathing great architecture and cultural amenities. Fifty years after hosting Expo 67, this Olympic city does not shy away from grand schemes or big ideas. And given the massive back-to-back redevelopment which took place for both Expo and the Olympics like the underground city, artificial islands, and reinvention of whole neighbourhoods someday Montreal may well be studied as a prime repository of mid-20th century architecture.

An iconic Montreal landmark, the Olympic Stadium. (Allan Lynch Photo)

But for now, let’s focus on fun. Montreal is French, so it has that focus on food and fashion. And to flush out the alliteration, let’s not forget festivals. For its 375th anniversary, Montreal is the epicenter of fun.

Montreal is the one of only six cities – with Rome, Paris, London, San Francisco and New York – that Gourmet magazine ever devoted an entire issue to. Editor Ruth Reichl said Montreal is “an absolutely extraordinary city. Here, it seems all the best aspects of the French, English, Greek, Italian, West Indian and Jewish traditions that have gone into the making of this city are treated with equal reverence. No wonder the markets are so rich, the restaurants so pleasurable. No wonder so many artists and musicians have chosen to live here. And no wonder Montreal is now becoming a tourist mecca. The fact that it is so affordable is another big bonus.”

Reichl added, “spending time in Montreal was perhaps most exciting of all. Everyone knows that these other cities are great places to visit; you have a good idea what you’ll find there. But Montreal is filled with surprises.” She concluded by quoting one of Gourmet’s other editors who says, “These people have really figured out how to live.”

Farmers’ market food presentation is an art. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Traditionally my visits to Montreal have included a Saturday morning at the Atwater Market for killer pastries at Boulangerie Premiere Moisson and salivating at the 750 cheeses on offer at la Fromagerie Atwater. I wanted to broaden my experience, so on my most recent visit I went to the Jean-Talon Market. Montreal’s markets are amazing because the vendors turn vegetable displays into art works. They make a cluster of cauliflower look like a great centerpiece. And they are manage to support specialists, like the Olive & Olives shop where the olive addict in me happily loaded up on so many cans of olives in lemon and olives in red pepper that I risked going over my airline baggage limit.

These markets are worth a visit for the colour, spirit, a late breakfast or lunch or to get the fixings for a picnic either on the Mountain or Expo islands.

Buckminister Fuller’s Geodesic dome which housed the United State’s pavilion at Expo 67. (Allan Lynch Photo)

I didn’t get to Expo 67, so the artificial islands created when the underground city was dug fascinate me. They’re great, green spaces close to and easily reached from downtown. If the city closes in on you or gets hot and gritty, a bus or a subway can whisk you to this watery countryside in minutes. There’s something awe-inspiring about seeing Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome rise over the treetops on Ile Sainte-Helene. I find the idealism of that period and setting calming. The islands are home the La Ronde amusement park, treed lanes and restaurants and places to picnic which overlook the city. Another option is to cross over to Ile Notre-Dame for a flutter at the Casino de Montreal, which is housed in the old French pavilion from Expo.

An office tower shows the faces of the performers who have appeared at the Montreal Jazz Festival. (Allan Lynch Photo)

What I appreciate about Montreal is its small footprint, which is something else it shares with Paris. Both cities are big, but for what a visitor wants each has a relatively compact geography. Centre-Ville, Quartier Latin, Le Village, Quartier International and Vieux-Montreal are all cheek-by-jowl and serviced by 16 metro stations. So with a metro pass, and maybe the odd cab, you can easily explore the city without the need for your own vehicle.

For more animated experiences, I took in four festivals in four nights: the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, the Festival of Fire, an African music festival and circus festival!

Montreal’s gay village goes pink for Pride. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Lots of people were out for these events, but the only time it was crowded was going to La Ronde for the fireworks festival. The subway, buses and park were packed, but it was a short-term experience and even then people were orderly. And if you are an out-of-towner looking to avoid the crowds many downtown hotels host fireworks watching parties on upper floor lounges.

On my first night I attended the opening night of International Nuits d’Afrique Festival at the Metropolis Theatre. I came expecting tribal music, but was entertained by exciting African jazz artists with a type of calypso under-beat.

It was interesting because the crowd wasn’t enslaved to silence. They chatted, drank and enjoyed the music, but treated this as a cabaret not a concert.

My second night was back at Metropolis for the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival’s Nasty Show.

The Just For Laughs Comedy Festival is everywhere is the city. (Allan Lynch Photo)

My third evening took me to the Olympia de Montréal in the gay village for

You never know what will take the stage at the circus festival. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Festival Montréal Complètement Cirque. It was like Ed Sullivan meets Cirque du Soleil. It’s a witty evening marrying art, music, circus discipline and story telling. Alas, for unilingual me, it was mostly in French and while the audience howled with laughter at the dialogue I had to make due with the physical acts, which were astounding. It is a prime example of how vibrant, inventive and interesting Montreal is.

My final night was at the International Fireworks Competition. Over nine nights during the summer pyrotechnic artists from around the world present an evening where they use the night sky as their canvas to paint a picture of their homeland. These are great nights because rather than just seemingly random ooo-and-aaahh-inspiring explosions, they present a theme built on national identity. My first exposure was a decade ago in Montreal when I saw Spain’s night. The sky was washed in vibrant reds and yellows exploding to flamingo music. This visit I saw Australia’s night. The fireworks, like the country, were brash, bright and bold, and accompanied by the didgeridoo.

The nice thing about summer evenings in the city is that it was warm enough to sit outside for a late meal and/or drink and people watching. At a cafe next to the Musee Contemporary Art I sat under a Mountain Ash watching children, out with their parents, happily squealing as they cooled off running into the changing coloured lights of a fountain.

It was also then I realized that because so many downtown streets were closed to traffic to facilitate performances, the city was astonishingly quiet. The primary sounds were splashing water, children, conversation, laughter and music.

Montreal is a complete package when it comes to a city holiday. It has style, surprise and fun. And since it hosts more events than any other community in Canada so you’ll never be bored and always find something targeted to your taste and interest.

Montreal is an art-filled city, including the numerous installations in the subway. (Allan Lynch Photo)

For current information on Montreal’s 375th anniversary events, click on: http://www.375mtl.com/en/

 

 

10 ways to rock winter in Canada

Voltaire once dismissed Canada as “a few acres of snow”.

We’re more than a few. But contrary to the clichés about cold, snowy Canada, we are not a permanently frozen wasteland. Most Canadians live within a 100 miles of the Canada-U.S. border. If non-Canadians want to know what the weather is like, look to comparable places in the U.S. Vancouver’s weather is like Seattle’s. Montreal, Toronto and places in Eastern Canada can be similar to New York and Boston. (Tho’ in Atlantic Canada, thanks to the ocean, we don’t that their humidity.)

Canada has the traditional four seasons – except Montreal. Montreal has three: summer, winter and pothole season.

As a winter country, we embrace the opportunity to play with the snow, ice and vast terrain.

Here are my personal top ten ideas for winter fun in Canada:

The hockey addiction starts early. These players are at the birthplace of hockey, Long Pond, Windsor Nova Scotia. (Allan Lynch Photo)

1. Skating. If you’re not a Canadian you should know Canadians don’t “ice skate” just as we don’t play “ice hockey”. We skate and play hockey. It’s done as God meant it to be done, on ice. The only modifier for hockey is “road hockey” played in driveways, lesser-used neighbourhood streets and empty far corners of parking lots. A relatively recent embracement of retro ideas has spurred a resurgence of “pond hockey”. That’s playing outside on a frozen pond, lake or river. The premo place for this is Long Pond, Windsor, Nova Scotia, which is the birthplace of hockey. For more on the history of hockey check out: http://canada150.rocks/2017/01/24/celebrating-the-origins-of-hockey/

I think most small-town Canadians grew up going to the local rink for weekend skates. Many schools also reserved an afternoon for skating. Those public skates involved everyone skating to music in one direction. The music changed and everyone turned and skated in the opposite direction.

Bonhomme skates with young admirers at Quebec Winter Carnival. (Allan Lynch Photo)

A real joy is to find a frozen pond or creek. You have to be certain that the ice is thick enough, but it turns the fun of skating into an adventure.

I have a friend who lives in Stanley Bridge, Prince Edward Island. The bay outside her house freezes and that becomes a massive rink at her doorstep. One year, the wind was blowing so much she got inventive, took out an umbrella and let the wind drag her across the frozen bay. She laughs that she probably looked ridiculous, but it was more fun than usually prescribed to someone our age.

2. Sliding. The song speaks of ‘slip, slidin’ away’. Snow and ice

Sliding down one of Quebec City’s ice runs. (Allan Lynch Photo)
are great facilitators. My introduction was tobogganing. I had an aluminum toboggan which was really light to carry and super fast on snow. I had a beagle and he liked to crawl into the curved front for the race downhill.

Like most kids of my era I had a couple of hills where I met my friends. There was the ‘church hill’ and ‘research hill’.

The church hill was great because it was two-faced. You slid down from the sidewalk to the bottom, ran up the other side to the longer hill which was tall enough that I could get enough of a run on to slide part way up the other side. Sadly, it’s been filled in and paved to meet the needs of one of the few parishes with a growing congregation. The research station hill still exists and has been named Burger Hill. I don’t understand the name connection, but generations of kids still get to race down it on their toboggans, flying carpets and flying saucers.

Our friends in Quebec have taken tobogganing to new heights. A 30-minute drive from the Quebec City

One of the smaller slides at Valcartier. (Allan Lynch Photo)
is Village Vacances Valcartier (https://valcartier.com/fr/glissades-hiver/). This is a resort complex that has 35 slides, with such comforting names as Avalanche, Tornado, Himalaya and Everest. Everest claims to be the highest accelerating slide in North America. It’s 33.5 metres high enabling brave sliders to reach speeds of 80 km/hour. Sliding at Valcartier is done on inner tubes and rubber rafts. They have 5,000 pieces of sliding equipment for hire.

They also have skating, various outdoor games, an ice hotel (plus a real hotel with heat). On my visit I also went go-carting-on-ice. It’s probably not still on offer, but it was a trip. Go-carts easily got into spins and stuck sideways or slide into a snow bank, which required staff to drag you out and set you in the right direction. The way to make it around the course was to drive like your grandparents. It’s probably one of those fun things killed by insurers.

In Charlevoix, which is a resort area two-hours from Quebec City, Le Massif de Charlevoix ski hill (http://www.lemassif.com/en/sledding), owned by a cofounder of Cirque du Soleil, offers rodeling (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HGHm21j0ko). Rodeling is extreme sliding. It’s a European sled experience on a 7.5 km downhill run (don’t panic, it’s not a direct drop) on a groomed trail. It takes about two hours to complete and there is a beverage break mid-way down).

Charlevoix is also a very arty and foodie area. Every second person is either involved in gourmet something or a painter. There are lots of restaurants (very good ones) and accommodations. Close to the ski hill is La Germain Hotel Charlevoix (http://www.legermainhotels.com/en/charlevoix/). It originally opened as Hotel La Ferme. Very trendy, very cool accommodations. Further up the road in La Malbaie is the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu (http://www.fairmont.com/richelieu-charlevoix/). This is a giant stone chateau on a hill overlooking the St. Lawrence. It’s a full-service, year-round resort. There’s a casino on-site, so that adds to the live entertainment option. One of the resort’s uniquely Canadian features is valet snowmobile parking. Some people come and rent a machine others will ride a snowmobile along trails from Quebec City. The Manoir has a full menu of winter experiences to enjoy.

Looking down an Olympic run in Whistler. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Another ultimate sliding experience is provided at the Whistler Sliding Centre. This is a legacy project from the 2010 Winter Olympics. If you’re brave enough, you can see about the sliding options. If you are more sedentary, then you can see the facilities and be gobsmacked by the agility of the athletes and speeds they reach. And get some selfies of yourself playing with the equipment.
(http://www.whistlersportlegacies.com)

3. I don’t ski or snowboard. Looking down from the top of a hill or mountain, I imagine a trail lined in broken bones. Mine. But a truly brilliant experience is Snow-Limo Tours http://www.snow-limotours.com

Prepping the snow-limo at Whistler. (Allan Lynch Photo)
Snow-Limo skis you down the mountain! The business was started by two bothers from New Brunswick. Their family loved to ski. As their parents aged, the guys thought about how to still share the experience the family loved. So they developed a lightweight chair on skis. A guest is strapped into the chair, bundled up in a blanket and the ski chauffeur stands on the back of the skis and takes you down the mountain. Your body is warm, but do plan to put a scarf over part of your face. Even with a beard my face got cold.

I did this at Whistler. It was thrilling. I’m still not going to take up skiing but I get the thrill

Snow-limo passengers are bundled up. (Allan Lynch Photo)
of the sport. It’s exhilarating. I was astonished that the mountain is so big that it took us over half an hour to reach the bottom. At Whistler there is a lip by the lodge you go over to start the run. As we made that first dip I had an OMG moment, but once on the actual ski run it was great. I was astonished at how many people were on the mountain. My one observation – other than how cold the wind can be on your face – is how much snowboarders fall down. Rarely did I see a skier down, but I saw lots of boarders. I don’t know if that was the instability of the board or age and inexperience of the boarder. What the hell, everyone was having fun.

Snow-Limo have moved from Whistler, but offer their service at Big White Ski Resort (outside Kelowna), Grouse Mountain (North Vancouver) and Sun Peaks Resort (outside Kamloops, BC).

4. Cross-country skiing is something I tried and didn’t really take to. All of the videos make it seem so elegant and effortless. That was not my experience. I took it up with a friend. Rather than buy a convenient ski package we seemingly raided the Nordic countries: Icelandic wool sweaters, Norwegian skis, Swedish poles, Danish boots … I never seemed to wax my skis properly.

A solidary skier has a frozen Lake Louise to himself. (Allan Lynch Photo)
I always had snow build up. (No one talks to you about that.) There are modern skis that don’t require waxing. We didn’t have those. And when we went skiing we took my friend’s crazy dog along. He seemed to have just defecated wherever I was about to fall. In mid-fall I would try to change course. In the end I figured it cost me $78 an hour to ski.

Lots of people do cross-country ski and do it well and enjoy it. I look at the image of the guy skiing across Lake Louise and envy his Zen-like experience.

5. What I learned that I do love is snowshoeing. I discovered my passion for it

Snowshoeing in the vineyards of Domaine de Grand Pre, Nova Scotia. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Making snow angels while snowshoeing in Quebec. (Allan Lynch Photo)
while attending the Quebec Winter Carnival. We went out on the Plains of Abraham to ski. It was fun. In a few steps you are in a tranquil place surrounded by trees, winter wildlife and a refreshing solitude.

In Quebec I learned that the styles and types of snowshoes used across Canada were adjusted by First Nations peoples for their snow conditions and terrain.

Outside Quebec at Le Manoir du Lac Delace I was introduced to a type of snowshoe orientation. You’ve

Orienteering on snowshoes in Quebec. (Allan Lynch Photo)
given a compass and map and set out to find a course through the woods. Basically it’s a scavenger hunt on snowshoes. It was fun to effortlessly enjoy the solitude of a snowy forest, away from sounds other than the crunch of the snowshoe or our own giggles from our enjoyment. In addition to Quebec I’ve snow shoed around Lake Louise with the staff
Snowshoeing up a mountain in the Okanagan. (Allan Lynch Photo)
naturalist from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. And in Halifax it’s possible to take a city bus to the top of Hemlock Ravine Park, snowshoe down the trails to the bottom of the park in Bedford and pick up a city bus to the downtown core – and my hotel. There are a lot of ways to mix-up the adventure without it having to be a backcountry survival experience.

Snow-biking is insanely fun. (Allan Lynch Photo)
6. In the are-you-crazy category is snow biking. As I think of it, Fool on the Hill. I did it at Sunshine Village between Lake Louise and Banff, but it’s no longer offered there. However, Inglis Manitoba https://asessippi.com/the-resort/activities/snow-biking/ and the Sun Peaks Resort do offer it.. https://www.sunpeaksresort.com/events-things-to-do/winter-activities/snowbike
Basically, the snow bike is a low kids bike with short skies for wheels. You’re also given short skis to wear. There are no brakes. For more about snow biking go to: http://canada150.rocks/2017/02/20/snow-biking-a-fool-on-the-hill/

7. Ice climbing is another winter sport I don’t do. But I’m impressed by those

Two tiny specs on the ice face above the tree top are climbers. (Allan Lynch Photo)
people crazy enough, strong enough and bold enough to do it. In Charlevoix I’m told they climb up frozen waterfalls. Driving the road between Jasper and Lake Louise I noticed movement on frozen ice sheets that lined some of the mountains. Looking more closely I saw people were climbing up the mountain! This takes rock climbing to a new height.

8. In lieu of climbing a mountain I have gone ice canyoning in Jasper. We walked through an area that is prone to flash floods and seasonal flooding. In some places the stone walls were baby-bottom smooth. My guide said that happens because the flood water filled the space, whirled around by the rock formations, dislodged smaller rocks and sent them spinning along the larger rock faces. The easiest way to think of this as a type of natural exfoliation.

9. My hedonistic winter treat is the natural, Scandinavian-style outdoor spas which proliferate across Canada.

My introduction was during the Quebec Winter Carnival. I went to le Nordique Spa Stoneham (http://lenordique.com). It’s one of Quebec’s 20 nature spas. Don’t panic, nature doesn’t mean nudist, it means it’s half inside, half outside. Le Nordique, about a 30-minute drive from the city, cascades down a forested hillside to the Jacques Cartier River. There is a main building which houses reception area, changing rooms, café. Below are a series of hot and cold water pools and several more buildings housing saunas, steam rooms, solariums and treatment rooms (for massage only). The idea is to go at your own speed, warming up, cooling down and repeating as necessary or desired. And here I am, Mr. I’m-not-keen-on-cold, strolling snow-lined paths in a bathing suit in -12 degree weather. My skin

A waterfall and pool at the Scandinave Spa in Mount Tremblant. (Allan Lynch Photo)
is tingling, but in a good way. This is a real treat because no appointment is necessary (unless you want a massage), you just show up and linger. And it’s cheap. Admission for all day at this type of spa is usually less than a massage at a traditional spa.

I’ve also done the Scandinave Spa in Mont-Tremblant (http://www.scandinave.com/en/tremblant/ ) and Whistler and another spa outside Ottawa, whose name I’ve forgotten. These are truly relaxing days because you slow down, set your technology aside and focus on yourself. You’re quiet, you’re in beautiful and sensual surroundings, and waking up your body while distressing your soul.

My other absolute favourite place is the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmount Banff Springs Hotel (http://www.fairmont.com/banff-springs/willow-stream/). This is a temple of the flesh – and not in a seedy sense.
There are separate men’s and women’s sections, which meet in a room containing a huge circular pool. Music is piped underwater, so you can float and look through the skylight to the star-filled night. In a sheltered terrace off the pool deck is an outdoor hot tub. I like to sit here in a light snowfall. The steam from the tub melts most of the snowflakes before they reach you. Stay in long enough and you may have to shake snow off your bathrobe.

Sleigh rides in the city in Quebec. (Allan Lynch Photo)
10. Sleigh rides. I grew up in a small town surrounded by farms that had horses, wagons and sleighs. Our year included wagon and sleigh rides where we burrowed down in hay. As an adult I reconnected with the joy of sleigh rides in Halifax, Quebec and Alberta.

In a suburb of Halifax, abut 10 minutes from the city centre Hatfield Farms offer sleigh rides (http://www.hatfieldfarm.com). In Quebec during carnival there are rows of horses and sleighs lined up for hire on the Plains of Abraham. And in Alberta, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offer sleigh rides in one of the most dramatic settings on the Continent. There is a movie-like atmosphere to the jingle of the sleigh bells as you glide past mountains, forests and frozen lake. And I like that the Chateau has footless champagne flutes designed to stick into the snow.

Elk watch tourists in Jasper. (Allan Lynch Photo)
Finally, my picks for my favourite winter places: Whistler, Banff and Mount Tremblant. They’re communities built for winter. These are pedestrian/pedestrian-friendly communities so even in a great snowstorm you can stroll around and enjoy it without having to worry about practical things like shoveling and driving. I love Quebec City in winter (anytime of year, in truth). The
Downtown Banff is nestled in the Bow Valley, surrounded by the Rockies. (Allan Lynch Photo)
snow seems to highlight architectural details in a different way than you see them in the sun. Plus, whether it’s Carnival time or not, Quebeckers have lots of inventive ways to enjoy the season. I also like Lake Louise and Jasper, but haven’t spent enough winter time in either. Whether you ski or not, these communities offer a full range of activities, treats, great food, crisp service and magnificent views. I prefer them to a beach break.
A frozen Lake Louise. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Montreal rocks February!

This year Montreal is rockin’ it as they celebrate their 375th anniversary and Canada’s 150th.

The city is hosting so many events to mark the anniversary that they had to use 13 months to fit everything into their schedule.

The next ten days are a prime example of how varied their events are.

For those not grounded by the storm front scheduled for the Northeast, Montreal is hosting:

Saturday (the 11th) is the Snow Moon Bike Ride. It starts at 7, so don’t come early. There are several elements to this. First is a 3.75km-long parade of illuminated bikes, followed by a 15k ride for everyone to the Olympic Stadium.

Sunday (Feb. 12th) is the Montreal Hypothermic Half Marathon. The event has 21.1k, 10.55k and two-person relays.

Also on Sunday is the Montreal Ice Canoe Challenge. It’s the same river as Quebec’s ice canoe race, a different city. There are three classes of competition: elite men’s, elite women’s and sport. Races start at noon so time for a long breakfast or bunch.

Feb. 18th is the Polar Hero Race. It has a 5k and 10k obstacle races with 25 and 50 challenges. Starts at 9 am, so don’t sleep in.

Igloofest runs to February 19th. It’s an electronic music festival –think dancin’ in an ice disco. In the daytime (Feb. 11 and 18) they host Nordik Games that include such Canadian events as the Christmas tree toss and Deneige ton char (shovel your car out). I suppose if that goes into overtime they could add pressure by having a snow plow come by.

From Feb. 23 to March 11 is Curling en lumiere. Basically curling outside at night with light and sound shows as a backdrop, and professional play-by-play live commentary.

For information about these events and the rest of Montreal’s celebratory year, click on http://www.375mtl.com