It stretches pretty much the length of the island, and goes from quaintly residential to commercial to residential again. It’s home to hotels, museums and colleges, not to mention the city’s central financial strip – it’s no wonder Sherbrooke Street bespeaks the city’s history.
Our street profile series has already meandered along Our street profile series has already traversed Bleury, Parc, Maisonneuve, Saint-Paul, Saint-Zotique, Crescent, Greene Avenue, Sainte-Catherine, Amherst, Mont-Royal, Saint-Denis, Bernard, Ontario and Saint-Laurent. Now it takes us on one of the city’s most iconic streets: Sherbooke.
The first way in which Sherbrooke Street is symbolic of Montreal and its diversity is by stretching from the mostly Anglophone residential neighbourhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, known as NDG, to the mainly Francophone area of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, known as HoMa. But its importance dates back to the city’s young days. When Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve founded Montreal in 1642, the city’s core was built up around the St. Lawrence River.
The central street at the time was Notre-Dame Street, which now draws a line at the city’s southern extremity. But repeated floods over the 18th and 19th centuries – some so devastating people would canoe their way around in the streets! – prompted a move northward, away from the embankments. That’s when Sherbrooke took centre stage.
Emblematic of the Golden Square Mile, an upscale neighbourhood that took shape from 1850 on, Sherbrooke was home to most of the city’s grand mansions in the 19th century. Today, it runs the gamut from keeping-it-real to high-class, and from quietly residential to action-packed commercial. In other words, it holds a million treasures for visitors.
A natural place to start, on an eastward trajectory from Sherbrooke West, is NDG’s infamous Cosmo’s, a must for any greasy breakfast aficionado and a neighbourhood institution. Make sure to also check out the nearby Folklore I, an emporium of imported home wares. If you’re peckish again, make a stop at Pâtisserie de Gascogne for a sandwich to go; or for a more serious sit-down, a steak at Mess Hall does the body good.
Westmount Park is your next high point – it’s a sprawling green with a couple of kids’ parks, an amazing library with lots of family animation, tennis courts, a pool – the works. Not to mention a beautiful place to munch on that sandwich.
Though the next stop is relatively close – maybe seven streets away – you may want to hop on the 24 bus again, if only to save your strengths for what’s to come. As it passes Saint-Laurent Boulevard, Sherbrooke changes directions (welcome to Sherbrooke East) as well as vibes – you’re now entering the Plateau, which some define as the city’s heartbeat. This is the neighbourhood that houses more bars and clubs and coffee shops that you’ll know what to do with. On the corner of St-Laurent and Sherbooke – it’s tipple time now, isn’t it? – you’ll want to pop into the Opus Hotel for a martini at Koko Restaurant + Bar. Or, across the street, the humble Mexican Tequila Taco House mixes a mean margarita and some mighty fine soft-shell tacos.
Stroll off your buzz a few blocks eastward, until you hit the never-ending green square: that’s Parc Lafontaine. One of the biggest parks on the Plateau, it’s peopled with a mix of old trees and young hipsters, families and dog walkers. It has a couple of ponds that turn into skating rinks in cold months, picnic tables galore, public sculptures and bike paths, but best of all, it boasts an open air theatre: Théâtre de Verdure, where on any given summer night you can catch anything from modern dance to Shakespeare to performance art, all for free. In other words, Sherbrooke still continues on for miles and miles – but this is the perfect spot to sit and savour your day.
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.