December 12, 2011 ─ With expansive green spaces and loads of attractions surrounding the Olympic Park, the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district (that’s “HoMa” if you’re a Montrealer) is filled with cultural, historical, and natural treasures. Like most of Montréal, this area is safe and can easily be navigated by foot (sporty types might want to jog around the Olympic Park following this path). Whatever you’re into, you can count on HoMa to deliver.
An Olympic Morning
You can begin your day by visiting the Olympic Stadium. Built for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, the Stadium is the Olympic Park’s centrepiece, a bold design by French architect Roger Taillibert. Take the funicular-type elevator to the top three observation floors of the Stadium’s inclined tower, the tallest of its kind in the world, and you’ll get a spectacular view of the city. The athletic centre below the tower contains seven aquatic pools as well as a multi-sport facility. You can also check out the nearby Montréal Biodôme (formerly the Olympic Velodrome), which was converted to house five ecosystems of the Americas and includes over 4,800 animals from 230 different species and 750 plant types. An experienced nature interpreter will accompany you on a journey that takes you through a tropical rainforest, a Laurentian woodland, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and, finally, the Sub-Antarctic Islands. All this under one roof makes for an incredible experience.
A Museum Mansion
To view one of city’s most notable examples of Beaux-Arts architecture, head to the Château Dufresne. With plans based on the design of the Petit Trianon in Versailles, France, Parisian Jules Renard built the structure between 1915 and 1918. The Château Dufresne was a private mansion owned by the Dufresne brothers, two important members of Montréal's French Bourgeoisie, and was originally divided into two separate households for each brother. Today it is a museum dedicated to the history of Montréal's east end. The building boasts an interior decor painted by artist Guido Nincheri and is testament to some of the tastes of the Roaring Twenties. Nincheri’s workshop, the oldest extant stained-glass studio in Québec, is located at 1832 Pie-IX Boulevard, just four blocks south of the Château Dufresne.
An Afternoon Garden Delight
With an extensive collection of 22,000 plant species and cultivars, 10 exhibition greenhouses, and several thematic and cultural gardens, the Montréal Botanical Garden is a wondrous haven of beauty and tranquility, and, incidentally, is one of the world’s largest and finest repositories for all things grown from Mother Earth. For a truly unique experience, make your way to the Asian grounds. At the Dream Lake Garden, an authentic Chinese garden inspired by the private estates popular in the southern Yangzi River region during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the spatial organization of the pavilions, the selection of plants and minerals, the use of water features, and the contrast of yin and yang are all expressions of the secular principles of the Chinese art of landscape design. Meanwhile, at the Japanese Garden, serenity is achieved through compositional balance. Each tree, shrub, and stone has been carefully chosen and placed, with every item holding symbolic significance. The pond, along with a series of cascades and springs, for example, expresses life and renewal in a deeply poetic manner.
Botanical Bites and Boissons
To complete this one day jaunt in HoMa, partake in the Botanical Garden’s refreshing summertime spin on the Happy Hour formula, which occurs right on the Garden’s terrace. Botanical cocktails inspired by the colours and species of the Garden’s cultivated plants, as well as tapas, seasonal local fare, and relaxing live music all contribute to this unique appreciation of the splendid setting. Cheers, to you, for a day well-travelled!