Montreal 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.
While each neighborhood has a charm and ethos specific to itself, Montreal’s Golden Square Mile, located at the foot of Mount Royal, is the perfect destination for great food, fun attractions, and culture—all within one square mile.
The heart of the Golden Square Mile area is Sherbrooke Street, which is said to be to Montreal what Fifth Avenue is to New York City.
For almost 100 years this area 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 percent 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.
The Golden Square Mile has developed a reputation for being at the center of gastronomic innovation, and after checking in to our hotel, the elegant Le Mount Stephen, we had dinner that evening at SLK RD (Silk Road), a new addition to the restaurant scene. It 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 that we had to be pried away by the prospect of lunch.
First there is a multimedia extravaganza called “Palace of the Seasons” that we thoroughly enjoyed, and once the show was over, doors opened to reveal the first of many historical and well-known Canadian personalities that were authentically represented and dressed to the nines.
We moved through rooms with creative and informative presentations relating to each individual figure; most impressive were the representations of historical events precisely staged in walk-through diorama fashion. We watched the informative videos that show in great detail the process of making each wax figure and the dedication to authenticity their craftspeople employ. Finally, there is a floor dedicated to “play time” offering guests the opportunity to don costumes and participate in interactive scenes.
From Underground to City Heights
Montreal is well known for its winter weather, and the city’s creative response was to connect the center city with five 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 Montreal, Les Enfants Terribles.
After lunch we rode up to the 46th floor for a 360° view of the city. At every angle there was information detailing the history of the region and its beginnings in 1300, when the Haudenosaunee people settled the swampy area and built the foundation for the eventual city of Montreal.
Museums and More
This turned out to be a perfect segue to visiting the McCord Museum and its 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.
The stunning collection of artifacts and clothing, especially the beaded examples, gave us a whole new understanding of the sophisticated culture of the First Peoples. Located across Sherbrooke Street from the prestigious McGill University, the McCord is a social history museum showcasing the history of Canada as well as Montreal’s vital contributions to its growth.
That evening we dined at the avant-garde Restaurant Le XVI XVI and had not only a superb meal but also made friends with R1-B1, the first and only 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 in 2011 of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace. A large diverse collection of art and artifacts are on display in the permanent collection and special exhibitions are frequently mounted.
And so we bade adieux to Montreal and the classic Golden Square Mile.
All the sites mentioned plus many, many more can be found at http://goldenmontreal.com/en/
Barbara Angelakis is a seasoned international traveler and award-winning writer based in the New York City area. To read more of her articles and adventures visit LuxuryWeb Magazine at www.luxuryweb.com.