About Montreal

Montreal is on an island at the junction of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers. The first inhabitants of the island, about 11,000 years ago, were the descendants of people who walked over from Asia during the ice age when sea level was lower and quickly occupied all of North and South America. These first inhabitants of the island of Montreal did not establish long-lasting permanent settlements; they were semi-nomadic, but their presence is well documented from the many ceramic, stone and copper artefacts they left behind, which were analyzed by NAA by the way.

The first Europeans to arrive were Jacques Cartier and his crew, in 1535. They were greeted on the island by the Iroquoians of the village of Hochelaga, which was at the base of the mountain, called Mont Royal by Cartier. His ships could go no farther because the river was blocked by the turbulent Lachine Rapids. He called them that way because he thought the route to China was just beyond. When Cartier returned here in 1541 the village of Hochelaga and its inhabitants had mysteriously disappeared. It was another century before French colonists arrived in the area and the village of Ville-Marie was founded in 1642; its name was later changed to Montréal.

The English battled the French during the Seven Years War which ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1763 and New France became a British colony. Many English, Scottish and Irish settlers arrived to occupy lands east and west of Montreal. In 1867, Canada became a sovereign country, with four provinces (later to become ten with four to the east of Quebec and five to the west) and about as many English speakers as French. The conquering English dominated of course and the two peoples struggled to live together peacefully. Tensions peaked between 1960-1995 when the French speakers affirmed themselves and threatened to leave the country. But they ended up staying and now English-French relations are good, each group having found its place.

In the last century, many immigrants arrived in Montreal, especially Italians, Greeks, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Haitians, French and North Africans and they and their descendants have integrated well into the population, while still keeping their cultural identities, and they now make up about 30% of the more than 3,000,000 population of the metropolitan Montreal area.

The conference hotel on Mountain Street in downtown Montreal is just one street over from popular Crescent Street with its lively restaurants and pubs. It’s a 150 m walk up to rue Sainte-Catherine, the main shopping and entertainment street. Note: In downtown Montreal up means towards the mountain and away from the river, also sometimes called north although it is actually closer to west. A five minute walk gets you up to Sherbrooke Street and the Museum of Fine Arts with its excellent permanent art collection. It’s always pleasant and safe to walk around Montreal.

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Among North American cities, Montreal stands out for its distinct architecture and historical buildings. The old churches are among the most impressive, including Marie-Reine-du-Monde Cathedral and Saint Patrick’s Basilica in the downtown area and Notre-Dame Basilica in Old Montreal. Perched near one of the summits of the mountain is the more modern and huge St. Joseph’s Oratory; it will be on the itinerary of the conference excursion.

Canadian and American tourists flock to Old Montreal, which they see as having a European charm and lots of activities. A 20 minute metro ride takes you to the semi-white-elephant Olympic Stadium. You can go up to the top of its inclined tower for a good view. Next door is the Biodome with several ecosystems, from tropical to Canadian to Antarctic; the highlight is the penguins. Across Sherbrooke Street is the beautiful and world renowned Botanical Garden with a vast greenhouse and outdoor gardens including the Japanese the Chinese with bonsai and penjing.

Gamblers might go the Casino on Notre-Dame Island. Outdoors types could walk all day on the paths of Mount Royal Park (it’s actually a hill 230 m high). Also walk through the cemetery which occupies half the summit of the mountain; with more than a million graves, we sometimes say there are more people lying there than standing in Montreal. The young and adventurous might want to try white-water rafting on the Lachine Rapids. Just south of Montreal across the Mercier Bridge is the Kahnawake Indian Reserve, populated by Mohawks, where one can visit the shrine of Kateri Tekakwitha who recently became a Roman Catholic saint.

Farther afield, it is 200 km to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, 250 km to historic Quebec City and 670 km to Niagara Falls.