With its mix of ancient and new buildings, boutiques, museums and restaurants, Old Montreal really is la belle ville in a nutshell. For kids, the mix of 17th century European architecture and snazzy art, science and historical centres makes it a unique playground…
Just strolling around the narrow streets of Montreal’s founding neighbourhood can be a great history lesson (get yourself a guidebook and give the tots a walking tour!). But if it’s family entertainment you’re looking for, there are more choices here than you’ll know what to do with. A horse-drawn carriage ride down onto the waterfront is a memory any kiddie would cherish forever – or how about a museum outing, or catching a play at the city’s leading English theatre? (Tip: Check out the STM’s Family Outings package, which offers discounts on public transportation and family-friendly fun.)
1) Centaur Theatre Company: Founded in 1969, the Centaur is a warm and homey theatre smack bang in the heart of the neighbourhood. Every season it presents a full roster of shows for adults, as well as a series of Saturday morning performances for kids. On April 28, it’s Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: a fiesta of fairies, magic and misunderstandings specially adapted for audiences of 5 years old and up. It’s a show put on by the Montreal Children’s Theatre, a theatre school that teaches young’uns body movement, miming, diction and the experience of putting on a play.
2) Pointe-à-Callière: This edgily-designed museum of archaeology and history is cool not only because you can wander among the catacombs of some of the city’s oldest structures on its lower floors – but also because the exhibitions are mounted particularly to grab kids’ attention. (Some of the objects speak.] Let archaeological remains and artifacts reveal the city’s six centuries of history on a family tour of Where Montréal Was Born.
3) Place Jacques-Cartier: Probably Montreal’s most famous square, Place Jacques-Cartier makes homage to the French explorer who first mapped the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Reenacting the site’s past as a public market, vendors of everything from maple products to jewelry to caricatures add to the hustle and bustle of this popular warm-weather spot. With its gentle slope downhill from City Hall, the view of the Old Port alone makes this a great place to munch on a picnic lunch and soak up the atmosphere.
4) Centre d’histoire de Montréal: This fun and vibrant historical centre always pushes the envelope with programming that makes you think. Take the current exhibition, Lost Neighbourhoods: it traces, with appropriate drama, the history of entire neighbourhoods that were bulldozed between 1950 and 1975. Not only was this an international period of urban modernization; in Montreal that’s when both the 1967 World’s Fair and the 1976 Summer Olympic Games put the city on the international stage. Somewhere in the cleanup act, pieces of history were lost… until now.
5) Centre des sciences de Montréal: What Star Wars character are you? That’s what the Montreal Science Centre, right on the water in the Old Port, asks with the summer’s biggest blockbuster exhibition: Star Wars Identities. This international travelling show presents 200 original costumes, props, models and more, from all six movies and TV’s Clone Wars, so fans old and young can get up close and personal with R2D2, Yoda, Chewbacca and of course, Luke Skywalker. The greatest part for kids is that the interactive experience invites you to design your own hero.
Centaur Theatre Company, 453 Saint-François-Xavier, (514) 288-1229
Musée Pointe-à-Callière, 350 Place Royale, (514) 872-9150
Place Jacques-Cartier, between Notre-Dame and De La Commune
Centre d’histoire de Montréal, 335 Place D’Youville, (514) 872-3207
Montreal Science Centre, 2 de la Commune Street West, (514) 496-4724
Isa Tousignant is contributing editor for Canadian Art, Montreal correspondent for Akimbo, and a freelance writer on art, culture, travel, design and shoes for everyone from enRoute to Canadian Business to herself.