Story by Barbara Angelakis
Photos by Manos Angelakis
Montréal’s Golden Square Mile
Montréal is a modern cosmopolitan city… but don’t let its sophistication fool you, at heart it’s a city of neighborhoods - each with a different vibe and sometimes even a different language - and while each neighborhood has a charm and ethos specific to itself, Montréal’s Golden Square Mile, located at the foot of Mount Royal, is a perfect destination for great food, fun attractions and culture… and all within one square mile.
The heart of the area is Sherbrooke Street, said to be to Montréal what Fifth Avenue is to New York City. For almost 100 years the Golden Square Mile was home to the elite English speaking members of the upper-class that together, at one point in time, represented the incredible sum of 70% of Canada’s wealth. Times change and the Golden Square Mile is no longer the bastion of Canada’s wealth but it is still replete with Victorian mansions, elegant stores, grand avenues, gourmet restaurants, museums, and green spaces, and all within walking distance.
Our recent visit began with a visit to the Delta Lounge at JFK; an expansive space with many areas for lounging, working, or eating and drinking. The well appointed lounge had everything you could want prior to a flight, with hot and cold food, snacks, and drinks galore. There is even a free bar serviced by a mixologist.
After a short Delta flight to Montréal we arrived via taxi at our hotel, the elegant Le Mount Stephen (see our review). The Golden Square Mile has developed a reputation for being at the center of gastronomic innovation, and our dinner that night at SLK RD (Silk Road)
a new addition to the restaurant scene, was a perfect choice showcasing the originality and excellence of the new personalized cuisine to be found in the Golden Square Mile.
Next morning we headed to the Musée Grévin (Wax Museum) notable for being the first Grévin outside of Paris, France but with its own distinct Canadian flavor. Normally we shy away from wax museums but this was a totally different experience and turned out to be so much fun we ended up having to be pried away by the prospect of lunch. First there is a multi-media extravaganza called “Palace of the Seasons” that I completely enjoyed and once over, doors opened to reveal the first of many historical and well-know Canadian personalities, authentically represented and dressed to the nines. The figures were meticulous representations of their well known celebrities.
They were outfitted in authentic clothes, jewelry and artifacts, and included details such as the application of real hair applied one strand at a time. Moving through rooms that related to each individual figure was creative and informative; most impressive were the representations of historical events precisely staged in walk-through diorama fashion. We spent time watching the informative videos that show in great detail the process of making the wax figures and the dedication to authenticity the craftspeople employ. Finally the top floor of the museum was dedicated to play time; offering guests the opportunity to don costumes and participate in interactive scenes, certainly a great place to let your hair down or for family fun. http://www.grevin-montreal.com/en
Montréal is well known for its inclement winter weather and the creative albeit necessary response was to connect the center city with 5 underground levels filled with opportunities for shopping, eating, and personal services. Of course being familiar with the connecting corridors is helpful but when all else fails follow the signs which in our case led to Place Ville Marie and our promised lunch in the highest restaurant in Montréal, Les Enfants Terribles. (see review)
After lunch we rode up to the 46th floor of Place Ville Marie for a 360° view of the city. At every angle there were placards detailing the story of the region and its beginning in 1300 when the Haudenausonee people settled the swampy area and built the foundation for the eventual city of Montréal. http://www.observatoire360.com/en
This turned out to be a perfect segue to visiting the McCord Museum and their permanent exhibition of artifacts from the First Peoples of Canada. First Peoples – meaning all indigenous tribes – and First Nations – meaning all indigenous peoples except the Inuit and Métis peoples. The stunning collection of artifacts and clothing, especially the beaded examples, gave us a whole new understanding of the sophisticated culture of First Peoples. Located across Sherbrooke Street from the prestigious McGill University, the McCord is a social history museum showcasing the history of Canada and Montréal’s vital contributions to its growth. https://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/#skipContent
That evening we dined at the avant-garde Restaurant Le XVI XVI and had not only a superb meal but made friends with R1-B1, the first and only - up to now - interactive robot-bartender.
A visit to the Golden Square Mile would not be complete without a trip to the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts. In 1860 the Art Association was started by members of the elite to "encourage the appreciation of fine arts among the people of the city". The Association benefited from generous contributions over the years and it was in 1912 that the Beaux Arts building on Sherbrooke Street was built to house the expanded collection. Supremely successful in its mandate, the museum has currently grown into a collection of five interconnected pavilions with the addition of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace in 2011 and the 1893 Romanesque Revival Erskine American Church with its 20 Tiffany stained glass windows. A large diversity of art and artifacts are on display in the permanent collection plus special exhibitions that are frequently mounted.
Alexander Calder Radical Inventor (1898-1976) was showcased the day we visited the museum. Vera Poole our expert guide, was a fountain of knowledge and patiently explained how Calder, calling on both his artistic and engineering training, created a whole new art form. The beautifully mounted exhibition traces Calder’s early fascination with the circus which led to his innovative wire sculptures fashioned out of one continuous length of wire. He became intrigued with his work’s relationship in the space it occupied, i.e. the shadows cast on the background surface. This eventually led him to add the dimension of movement to his sculptures transforming the way in which objects animate space. He built forms that balanced precariously on each other connected with a series of wires that were programmed to move in a specific way so that the viewer saw the sculpture itself, the movement it made, and the reflection of the whole against a background. This was an entirely new way of looking at 3-dimentional art. Of course he also created stable works, one monumental sculpture called Trois disquers or “Calder’s Man” is installed in Montréal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau on the Île Sainte-Hélène belvedere http://museesmontreal.org/en/museums/montreal-museum-of-fine-arts
Our short visit to the Golden Square Mile ended with a walk through a completely different type of exhibition. Located in the Les Cours Mont-Royal Mall is the Barbie Expo. From her entrance into the doll toy market in 1959, Barbie became a must-have for every young girl. Barbie quickly became an icon and over the years attracted major fashion houses to create outfits specifically designed for her. This is a fascinating exhibit of 180 Barbies. It is notable that all donations collected at the free Barbie Expo will go to the Make-A-Wish charity. www.expobarbie.ca
After a farewell brunch at Gustave - located in the Le St-Martin Hotel – we bid farewell to Montréal and the classic Golden Square Mile. https://gustaveresto.ca/about/?lang=en
For more information visit http://goldenmontreal.com/en/
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