Known officially as the Quai du Vieux-Port, this section of Old Montreal (Vieux Montréal) is paradoxically one of the most up-to-date portions of the city. Like many cities bordered by large bodies of water, whether the Pacific Ocean as in San Francisco, or the Atlantic in New York, activities abound.
Many of the sights and things to do don’t depend on proximity to water. But for some reason, whether it’s the invigorating, cool breeze or just the ‘coastal attitude’, the Old Port is like its cousins: buzzing.
Also like many docks in old cities, Old Port was once just a run-down wharf. Since 1611, it had been used as a trading post for French fur trappers and Scottish merchants. The area is sited at the edge of Old Montreal, the section that formed the original city founded in 1642.
But in 1992 the 2km (1.2mi), 53 hectare (130 acres) area along the St. Lawrence River was renovated. The result was to become one of Montreal’s major attractions for tourists and locals alike.
There are dozens of reasons for that popularity.
Since the Old Port is just that, there are (not surprisingly, but delightfully) cruises galore. Bateau-Mouche (www.bateaumouche.ca) offers an evening dinner cruise or an all day trip. Le Petit Navier (www.lepetitnavire.ca) takes you on the first electrically propelled commercial boat in Canada for an historical tour on the water. Or, you can board one of the jet boats of Jet Boating Montreal (www.jetboatingmontreal.com) and brave the white water of Lachine Rapids.
Anyone who has been to Las Vegas (or seen one of the TV specials) will be familiar with Cirque du Soleil. This dazzling combination of circus and theater has a touring show it brings to Montreal. Like nothing you’ve ever seen, it has to be experienced. Montrealers are long familiar with the troupe, since the city is its original home.
There are many activities that are free or nominally priced, too.
When the weather is warm, as it often is in Montreal in the spring and summer seasons, you’ll see skateboarders, cyclists and pedestrians aplenty. But if the crowds get to be too much, just hop aboard the Ferry to the park on Île Ste-Hélène. Or, anytime of the year, enjoy the iSci, Montreal’s science center at King Edward Pier.
For a grand view, climb the 192 steps to the top of The Clock Tower (La Tour de l’Horloge) and take in the waterfront and surrounding islands. Montreal is itself one of the larger islands. Built in 1922 in memory of the merchant mariners killed during WWI, it offers a lovely view.
Take a horse carriage ride and listen to the driver tell you all about some of the 300-plus year-old houses that dot the area. Many of them are still in use!
Over seven million visitors per year visit Old Port and with all this (and much more) to do it isn’t hard to see why.