Toujours Montreal

23 October 2014 — My nostalgic reunion with Dorval Island is over, it’s now forward march, en avant, into today’s Montreal.

High on the list: the Jean Talon Market, one of the city’s oldest public markets (founded 1933) and one of the continent’s largest. We’ve walked from our borrowed nest in Montreal’s Petite Patrie neighbourhood, chattering as we go with Jeff and Phyllis (yes, Tuesday  Walking Society Phyllis), who are in Montreal all fall while Jeff teaches a course at McGill University.

We’re close to the market, so our minds are on the food treats to come, the sheer delight of exploring those 12 long banks of stalls, each stall piled with its own display of regional fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, spices, oils, baked goods, flowers … You get the idea.

We are not thinking music. Then, right there at the intersection of Jean-Talon & Drolet, we see Banjo Girl.

Banjo Girl at Jean Talon & Drolet

She’s just standing there, comfy in short sleeves on this mild day, quietly playing her banjo. So quietly that the background city rumble drowns it out. That’s all right, we’re sufficiently charmed that she is there, enjoying herself.

And then we plunge into the market, “a little village” onto itself as more than one online reviewer notes, tucked into Montreal’s Little Italy, full of stall-holders for whom this is a family tradition, one generation to the next. Phyllis is our market guru, she knows this place. It’s partly due to her wisdom that we are here on a relatively quiet mid-week afternoon, when you can actually hope to navigate the aisles.

Pretty busy, even so. Lots of people shopping, some school kids seeking a snack, others with clipboards, on a class project.

edge of a row of Jean Talon Market stalls

We dive into what seems to be a more covered area, wondering what happens in winter. (Some degree of retreat to the core area, I’ve since learned, with temporary walls thrown up to buffer the worst of the cold & snow. I tell you, Montrealers are a hardy lot.)

a more covered section of Jean Talon Market

Phyllis contemplates leeks here, red peppers there, species varieties of tomatoes & carrots & cabbages that ignorant I never knew existed. Everything is beautifully displayed, and every stall-keeper — in the best sense of the word — a performer. Full of knowledge, charm, wit, pride in their own produce (no middlemen here), and all this in either Official Language, take your pick.

I admire this display of cranberries & maple syrup — could it be more Québécois? More Canadian?

detail of a market display

In the end, I buy a jar of maple butter, but at another stall. The Erablière Girard trees, the young man tells me, are in Saint-Joseph-du-Lac, half an hour north of Montreal, just nosing into the Laurentian mountains. I think of my own childhood years in the Laurentians, and our own spring-time “sugaring-off,” and I happily buy a jar that comes from so near our own village.

Food is fine, but then there’s art. And architecture. Next day we’re off to discover both. First, a visit to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts). Dirzzling today, good day to be mostly inside.

Even so, we pause at Sherbrooke St. West near Peel St. long enough to enjoy the candy-striped moose. Wouldn’t you?

Collection Origin’Art, Quartier Musee

There are others, up and down this stretch of Sherbrooke known as the Quartier Musée, some red-striped and some blue, and all part of a Collection Origin’Art, paying homage to the art galleries (public & private) that line the street.

My own particular interest inside the Musée is its collection of near-contemporary Quebec artists — people like Jean Paul Lemieux, Alfred Pellan, Paul-Emile Borduas, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Clarence Gagnon, Rita Letendre. We also spend time in the pavilion devoted to contemporary international art, some of it in a lower concourse level. Zig-zag ramps lead to upper levels, and we eventually follow them — having first bid farewell to Jim Dine’s heroic (and Venus-inspired) sculptures in the concourse.

Pavilion Desmarais Musee des Beaux Arts

Next visit, to the near-by Canadian Centre for Architecture, a major research centre as well as forum for public exhibitions. It was founded in 1979 by architect-philanthropist Phyllis Lambert, deservedly now a Companion of the Order of Canada (among other awards) for her many contributions to architecture & appreciation of architecture in this country.

Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1920 rue Baile

The building itself dates from 1989, the work of architect Peter Rose, with Lambert herself as consulting architect. We go inside, and discover that today, there is no entry fee. Not for the happiest of reasons: they are between shows & there is little on public display. Even so, we wander about, listen for a while as a tour guide preps a university class for their visit to the archives, and then pay our own visit to the book store.

I do not buy a book, though the selection is deep & wide and surely a joy to anyone seriously pursuing knowledge in this area. My own attention is more taken by the paper-sculpture animals floating overhead. For example …

in the CCA bookstore!

I know. How trivial can I be?

Back outside we admire the quiet garden stretching between the Centre and Rue Baile, setting off old greystone buildings on the far side of the street.

view to rue Baile from the CCA

It’s attractive in its own right, and serves a larger purpose, says the CCA website. The design, by Montreal artist-architect Melvin Charney, “restores the urban fabric of an area deeply scarred by mid-20th-century highway engineering.” They are surely referring to Boul. René-Levesque, which marches its multi-lanes past the building on the far side.

We’re safe from all that, we walk instead back along quiet Rue Baile to Rue Saint-Mathieu. My partner nudges me: “Look,” he says. “Look at the ivy.”

Rue Baile & Saint-Mathieu

So pretty in its fall colours; so pretty draped against that Saint-Mathieu building, with its metal balconies & spiral staircase  set off by the white balconies beyond.

We’re heading for the Metro (aka subway, aka underground) system, so soon we’ve left that peaceful quartier for the bustle of a major east-west artery, Ste-Catherine. And look! More art, right there at Pierce.

Ste-Catherine & Pierce

And look! More art in the subway.

The Montreal Metro website calls this system “the world’s longest art gallery” and that might even be true. We see a lot to admire. For example …

i Berri-UQAM Metro station

Hommage aux fondateurs de la ville de Montreal, a stained glass mural in the Berri/UQAM station by Pierre Gaboriau & Pierre Osterrath.

And that, my friends, is just a little bit of Montreal. My own little hommage à la ville.



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  1. Beautiful photos, as always! 😉

  2. I love Montreal! Thanks for these!

  3. Fascinating as usual. I love the way you find art everywhere.

    • Hi, thanks. I think once you start noticing art, you notice more art — or perhaps, define more things you see as art. Part of what makes me notice is having interested readers — so thanks to you, among others, for that. (And I hope you’re fully recovered now.)

  4. Some great photos here -love the one of the colour changing vines on the side of the building!


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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