Tourist destinations are not created equal. Here’s the top five reasons ya’ gotta love Montreal:
1.The majority of the population drives a BMW. Or that’s the joke. In Montreal, BMW stands for bike, metro or walk, all sustainable forms of transportation. The Metro, the underground rail that moves more than a million people on an average weekday, is a regular art museum with more than 100 works of public art from Marcelle Ferron’s magnificent stained glass at Champ-de-Mars to the only authentic Guimard entrance outside of Paris. It’s also one of the world’s most architecturally distinctive subway systems with each of 68 stations designed by a different architect. And since the metro is linked to 10 major hotels, you can conceivably visit Montreal, even in the dead of winter, and take nothing but shorts. Everything you could ever need from malls to fine dining is linked up to the metro. As historian Jean-Claude Germain said, “The metro is for Montreal what the boulevards are for Paris or the canals for Venice.”
2. Equal rights are taken seriously. Peek into the annals of most city histories and you’ll likely find a male, usually memorialized in a big bronze statue, usually riding a horse and carrying a weapon. Just last year, Montreal decided to officially recognize a female co-founder. For most of its 350-year history, Montreal gave the founder nod to Paul Chomedey de Maionneuve who led a group of missionaries to the Ville Marie settlement in 1642. Now Jeanne Mance, a French nurse who started a hospital and saved the colony by securing money from France, has her own statue and her own place in the history books as city co-founder.
3. Artists make grand and important statements. Cirque du Soleil and the National Circus School converted a 475-acre landfill into one of the world’s largest gathering places for circus arts. Called La TOHU (it’s a French term that means fertile confusion and renewal), this non-profit built a LEED-certified performance space (it’s round, made entirely out of recyclables and uses electricity transformed from landfill gas), hosts visitors to the recycling center and gives environmental safaris.
And in an effort to live by their stated social economy principles, La TOHU also refuses to hire anybody who doesn’t live right there in the once-impoverished Saint-Michel environmental complex. This site that was once a limestone quarry and a monstrous landfill is now an inspiring green space with 3 miles of bike paths and free events for guests to gather and ooh and aah such innovations as a micro-power station that converts biogas from the landfill into electricity and an ice bunker cooling system visible through a glass floor.
4. The anthem of the anti-war movement was written here. It was at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth hotel where John Lennon and Yoko Ono, during their second Bed-In For Peace, wrote “Give Peace a Chance.” When the celebrity couple checked into the hotel at midnight May 26, 1969, they’d already made headlines with a honeymoon Bed-in at Amsterdam’s Hilton two months earlier. But it was at the Montreal Bed-In, also attended by Tommy Smothers, Timothy Leary, Petula Clark and a group of Canadian Radha Krishnas, where the song “Give Peace a Chance” was composed and recorded, eventually reaching No. 14 on the Billboard chart.
5. There’s a cool (23 to 28 degrees) hotel that’s 100 percent sustainable. The Montreal Ice Hotel, with its 24 rooms and suites, is built entirely out of ice and snow, requiring nary a tree to lose its life. Unlike similar snow villages in Finland and Quebec City, this hotel is right in the city, on the very site, in fact, where Expo 67 was staged. It has an ice bar, an ice restaurant (it seats 60 and is helmed by Michelin star chef Eric Gonzalez), a wedding chapel and a convention center.