August 4, 2011

Due North, Day 4: Vieux-Montreal

Tuesday, July 12, 2011: I began Day 4 of this adventure with a ride over to Ile Sainte-Helene. I wasn't about to let my stay in Montreal come to an end without paying a visit to the tremendous, metallic globe that looms in almost every photo of the city that I've ever seen. Of course, I'm talking about the Biosphere.

Constructed for Expo 67, the Biosphere is an unbelievable sight. I don't know its exact dimensions, but I can say that standing at the foot of this massive orb, I felt like a carpenter ant looking up at a soccer ball.  Inside of this architectural marvel, one finds the Musee de l'environnement. It is a place that promotes awareness and education regarding environmental issues such as sustainable development,  climactic changes, and responsible consumption. Many of the displays are eye-openers. I had never though much about electronic waste--for example, in the past, telephones were made of strong materials; they required less energy and raw materials to be produced and each household would usually have one phone that everyone shared. This phone would last for decades. Today, each member of a household has a personal cellphone with an average life span of 2 years. The amount of resources wasted every year on telephones alone is enormous.

The Biosphere offers a lot of interactive activities in its many levels and halls. One area is called "Water Wonders." Here, I got the chance to walk across a pool in pontoon shoes. It was funny, though I thought it would be a much dryer experience than it was. I also got to put my head in a video that was broadcast on a huge monitor. LOL!

A highlight for me came in a hall called "ONE: Outfits from a New Era." This room contains a series of elegant dresses made from common household garbage--batteries, shopping bags, car parts, wires, cassette tapes, hair. If Lady Gaga should ever be looking for some new wardrobe, she need only come to the Biosphere...

The rest of my day would be spent exploring Vieux-Montreal. In order to avoid the parking hassles this time, I opted to leave my car in the hotel's underground garage and make the twenty minute walk up Rue Sainte-Urbain. The Travelodge is located in the heart of Chinatown, so I got to browse around in a few Chinese markets along the way. I also experienced a little bit of Montreal's "Underground City"--a vast network of pedestrian walkways, tunnels, and escalators beneath the downtown area where nearly 2,000 shops and restaurants are found. Some 500,000 people amble through the network every day. It was really fun to explore, though it can be completely disorienting to one's internal compass. When I finally arrived above ground again, I had no idea where I was.

Once I reached Vieux-Montreal, my first stop was at a museum called Centre d'histoire de Montreal. Through a series of photographs and artifacts spread out on three levels, this building chronicles the city's history from 1535 to modern times. Stories about the "Lost Neighborhoods" are very poignant. Between 1950 and 1970, Montreal underwent a citywide restructuring in which many of the older districts were bulldozed leaving over 10,00o Montrealers displaced.

"Vive le Quebec libre!" These words were proclaimed by French President General de Gaulle from the balcony of City Hall during his visit to Montreal in 1967. As I stood in front of this stately building, my mind brought me back in time and I could picture the scene. I stepped through the foyer to find the cavernous Hall of Honour. This beautifully-detailed building has stood since 1872, ever surviving a terrible fire in 1922.

Directly across the street from City Hall is the Chateau Ramezay. This pearl of French architecture was Quebec's first building to be declared an historical monument. Made into a museum in 1895, the Chateau covers 500 years of history from the time of Amerindian fur traders through the conquest of New France and into the 20th Century. My favorite room in this prestigious residence is the main hall, with its fine portraits and glistening chandelier.

Marguerite Bourgeoys was born in Troyes, France on Good Friday, April 17, 1620. At age twenty, she consecrated herself to the service of God after being inspired when her eyes focused on a statue of the Blessed Virgin. After receiving an invitation from governor Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve to teach in the New World, Bourgeoys sailed to Montreal in 1653 where she undertook the construction of the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. Always ready to help others, she opened missions and vocational schools, teaching young people how to thrive in an often inhospitable environment and aiding the colony during times when food was in short supply. On December 31 of 1699, as a young sister from the congregation lay on her death bed, Mother Marguerite (now age 79) prayed to God to take her life in exchange. As the morning of January 1st rolled around, the young woman was completely healed, but Mother Marguerite had fallen ill. She died twelve days later. Marguerite Bourgeoys was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church on November 12, 1950. Then, on October 31, 1982, Pope John Paul II canonized her, giving the Canadian Church its first female saint.

My visit to the Musee Marguerite Bourgeoys began with a climb up 69 steps to the bell tower for a aerial view of Old Montreal and the chapel's patina-covered angel statues. I really enjoyed looking out over the city and seeing all of the places that I had spent most of the morning exploring.

The tour then returns to the main floor through several rooms of exhibits, one of which is a Miniatures Room. All of the important events in the life of Mother Marguerite are depicted in a series of display cases.

The tour continues to the basement level. Here, one discovers the underground remains of the original stone chapel. Archeological studies have also revealed a crypt where several of the sisters are buried. This area of the museum is fascinating to see, though it is a little bit eerie.

The tour concludes in the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. Set on the left-hand side of the altar is the tomb of Marguerite Bourgeoys. Standing in front of her final resting place, I felt great reverence and it inspired me to say a little prayer in her honor.

On the Clock Tower Pier of the Old Port, there is an abandoned warehouse that has been converted into an attraction called "Labyrinthe du Hangar 16." The inside is set up as a maze/obstacle course to challenge both mind and body. The storyline of the adventure is about a world famous scientist who creates a laser gun that has the ability to shrink objects. During a demonstration, something goes awry and the ray end up making everything larger. It is the visitor's mission to journey into the Labyrinth to unravel the mystery and find out what went wrong. Of course, I was up for the endeavor. As I ambled through the dimly-lit tunnels and passageways, I encountered rickety bridges and slides, dead ends and jungles of tangled ropes. One of the most exciting moments came when the ground beneath my feet turned soft and I sank into the floor. There are also many riddles to be solved along the way. It took me about an hour to walk through and I'm happy to say that I was able figure out the reason why Professor Smart's shrink ray didn't work. Labyrinthe du Hangar 16 is an exhilarating thing to experience--great fun mingled with a feeling of suspense; it's a little bit scary too at times. I definitely enjoyed the challenge.

I emerged victoriously from the maze to find out that afternoon was already beginning to turn dusk. I decided to linger on the Quais du Vieux-Port to take in the sunset. The Clock Tower looked stunning in the twilight. I took off my shoes and socks and dipped my feet into the Fleure Saint-Laurent as I watched the passing cyclists and pedal boat riders. The water was cool and refreshing.

One last thing that I wanted to do was to see Vieux-Montreal at night. I had heard so much about the spectacular lighting and it did not disappoint. The sight of all of that old-world architecture bathed in an ethereal, golden glow is magnificent. In the evenings, the cobbled streets are alive. It seems that every sidewalk cafe is pervaded by the sound of live music and street performers thrill the large crowds that gather in the public squares to witness their impromptu acts. La Boheme indeed!

"Keep your lives free from the love of money
and be content with what you have, because God has said,
'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'"

~Hebrews 13:5