There’s a reason Montreal feels like such a cultural town – with international caliber art programs in both English and French universities, plus rents cheap enough to need very little to live on, this is an artist’s mecca! So it’s only natural that there are practically as many museums are there are cafés…
Art lovers: Like pretty things? You’re in luck. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is where you’ll find exhibitions on everything from fashion to European masters to historic pottery from Ancient Egypt, in its four beautiful pavilions. Seekers of contemporary art need look no further than the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, a large space in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles dedicated entirely to the current production of art worldwide. DHC/Art Foundation, in a beautifully restored Old Montreal building, hosts some of the world’s biggest names in contemporary art production.
For local artists and their current production, you’ll be well served at Espace Pépin, which is half clothing and décor boutique, half art gallery, and the vast Galerie MX, right around the corner from the Palais des Congrès. Inuit art is the specialty of Galerie Elca London, while craft lovers will get an eyeful at the Canadian Guild of Crafts – or, for a more specialized perspective, Espace VERRE, which concentrates on glasswork. The Canadian Centre for Architecture, right downtown, is a special mix of architectural think-tank and contemporary exhibition centre, presenting fascinating theme exhibitions as well as lectures and special projects.
History buffs: Montreal is a hot spot of both European and North American heritage. There’s a museum for everything, from 19th century patriotic rebellions (Centre d’exposition La Prison-des-Patriotes), to the fur industry and its impact on the development of Canada (The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site of Canada), to nuns (Sisters of Saint Anne Historic Centre), nurses (Musée des hospitalières de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal) and trains (Exporail). If hockey’s your game and the Habs are your team, the Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame is a great place to start soaking up local lore: they’ve got all the treasures, from artifacts to rare film footage, spread over 10,000 feet at the Bell Centre.
In Montreal’s Golden Mile, local history gets dressed up at the McCord Museum of Canadian History, just across the street from the McGill campus, where thematic exhibitions display their incredible collection of ancient objects and dress, not to mention the Notman Photographic Archives – a body of 1,300,000 photographs by William Notman & Son that cover Montreal from 1840s to today. The Écomusée du fier monde, in the Centre-Sud neighbourhood, presents historical exhibits on all sorts of area-specific subjects; other regional history museums in and around the city include Fleming Mill Historic Interpretation Centre, in Griffintown, and Cité historia – Musée de l’histoire du Sault-au-Récollet, in the Île-de-la-Visitation park in the north end of the island.
One of the coolest ways to experience history is in situ, in one of the city’s preserved private homes: Château Ramezay Museum is an 18th century home that was the first building in Québec to be classified a historic monument. Château Dufresne Museum, a stately home in the city’s east end, exhibits beautiful furniture owned by Marius Dufresne and paintings and glass works by Guido Nincheri. Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site preserves the Victorian upper middle-class residence of Sir George Étienne Cartier, the Father of the Canadian Confederation.
Walk down memory lane – literally – at Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Museum of Archaelogy and History, the historic museum in the Old Port, basically built upon some of the first substructures of the city – it’s an archeological marvel. Right nearby, the Centre d’histoire de Montréal organizes entertaining theme shows on subjects like Montreal neighbourhoods that once were. Further afield, in the beautiful Parc Jean-Drapeau across the St. Lawrence from downtown Montreal, get a different perspective on the city and its history at Musée Stewart – it’s housed in a beautiful old building and owns an incredible collection of historical objects. The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Museum, across from the popular Segal Centre for the Performing Arts in the Côte-des-Neiges area, takes a sober and enlightening look at the tragedy of the holocaust through its survivors’ eyes.
Science fans: Amid the avid minds of McGill’s campus you’ll find the Redpath Museum, the oldest building in Canada built as a museum (completed in 1882). It’s full of natural wonders including marine vertebrae and a letter sign d by Darwin. The jewel of the Old Port, the Montreal Science Centre is a massive repository of scientific knowledge and fun, with tons of interactive activities for kids of all ages. They have an Imax cinema with films on everything from whales to butterflies and have blockbuster shows every year.
Flaura and fauna enthusiasts will find everything under the sun near the Olympic Stadium, in the Esapace pour la vie. That’s where the Montreal Insectarium – the place to become intimate with every creepy crawly imaginable – as well as the Biodôme (like a zoo, but with the various animals in their natural habitats) and the Botanical Gardens are located, in a sprawling area dedicated to the beauties of nature. Add to that the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, and you’ve got an otherworldly place to muse about the meaning of life!
In nearby Laval, stargazers are in for a treat at the Cosmodôme, where space is within reach: in addition to offering an immersive space camp to budding astronauts aged 9 to 15, it designs its exhibitions around the idea of interactivity, offering participants the feeling of real hour-long space missions. Come back down to earth at the Biosphère, Environment Museum, in the centre of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome in Parc Jean-Drapeau, where it’s Mother Nature’s work that’s on view. Educate yourself on environmental issues in their interactive exhibits, then hit the surrounding park to experience the natural beauty first-hand.
Montreal museum fans will absolutely want to check out The Montreal Museums Pass, an all-access key to art, landmarks and the cultural treasure troves of Montreal, which opens the doors to 38 museums and attractions throughout the city.