Montréal’s French roots

Laure Juilliard

Laure Juilliard has been written for over 10 years. She specializes in lifestyle, tourism, travel and food, she writes as much for the media as for companies, agencies, freelancers or associations. Always in search of innovative concepts and good addresses, she is also constantly preparing her next trip.

If you were to describe Montréal, two things that instantly come to mind are its charm and European lifestyle. Just think of the city’s many French restaurants, cafés, markets, endless bakeries and pastry shops and love of culture. But to really understand this unique side to this major North American centre, time travel is in order: several centuries back to New France, when French immigration was the cornerstone of European settlement in Canada.

Though rare, these lovingly-preserved reminders of Montréal’s past can be seen in the old stone buildings, while its French soul lives on in the ambiance, language, accents and style of living. Here’s a quick tour to tap into Montréal’s French roots:

Old Montréal, the historic cradle of New France

Here you’ll find the “remains” of the neighbourhood, or three centuries of history that you can explore at your leisure.

 

Marguerite Bourgeoys Historic Site

Travel back in time to the shores of the St. Lawrence River and learn about the founding of Montréal and some of its iconic figures. The Marguerite Bourgeoys Historic Site is home to an archaeological site, the 300-year-old Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours  Chapel (the oldest of its kind in Montréal) and a history museum dedicated to Marguerite Bourgeoys, pioneer of the New World and first teacher in the French colony. Don’t forget to end your visit at the chapel’s belvedere, where you can soak up spectacular views of the river, Old Montréal and downtown.   

 

Château Ramezay – Historic Site and Museum of Montréal

This prestigious stone residence built in 1705 for Claude de Ramezay, then governor of Montréal, is now a Canadian museum and national historic site that gives history buffs the chance to travel 500 years back in time. After your visit, take a stroll through the Governor’s Garden, which comprises an orchard, a pleasure garden and a kitchen garden, styled after an 18th-century urban garden in New France. 

 

Le Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice

The only remaining heritage building from the 17th-century, constructed between 1684 and 1687 by the Sulpicians, is also the oldest building in the borough of Ville-Marie still in use. This impressive example of architecture from the French regime is also home to the oldest private garden in North America. An absolute must-see in Old Montréal.  

 

Pierre du Calvet House

An architectural gem built in 1725, this is one of the most stunning examples of New France’s urban architecture. Though it underwent major changes during the 19th century, this former family home, which is filled with antique furnishings, history and ornate touches, is now an upscale inn. 

Immerse yourself in New France living

Maison Saint-Gabriel

Head to Pointe-Saint-Charles to check out an 300-year-old farmhouse that was once the hub for agricultural and educational activities of the congregation of Notre-Dame. First acquired by Marguerite Bourgeoys in 1668, it was later a place to welcome the Filles du Roy (“marriageable women”) sent by France to help populate the colony. Get a feel for the Montréal countryside between the 17th and 20th centuries and discover some 18,000 artefacts dating back to this same period.

Musée de Lachine

Nestled at the junction of the St. Lawrence River and the Lachine Canal, this museum is testament to Lachine’s architectural, artistic and historical heritage and includes the Maison Le Ber-Le Moyne historical site. Built in 1669, it comprises the city’s oldest built complex from New France. Why not pack a picnic lunch, hop on a bike and pedal along the Lachine Canal bike path to soak in all the scenery? At the same time, you can discover the enchanting open-air museum, which is home to some 50 outdoor sculptures.

A touch of Paris: the Square-Victoria-OACI metro entrance

The Square-Victoria-OACI métro station, a perennial favourite among photographers and content creators, boasts a truly unique aesthetic. The only Art Nouveau-inspired station entrance in Montréal, it was designed by Hector Guimard in the early 1900s, and is the only authentic Guimard aedicula outside of Paris. The RATP (Paris’s state-owned public transit operator) first loaned and then eventually offered it to the STM in 1967 to mark the collaboration between French and Québec engineers during the construction of Montréal’s métro network.

Plateau Mont-Royal, the “New France” of the new millennium

In a single century, the Plateau has evolved from a blue-collar district to an affluent cosmopolitan neighbourhood. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was home to the working class then, following WWII, to Jewish, Greek, Vietnamese and Portuguese communities. In the 1980s, it became a vibrant cultural and intellectual hub, thanks to the influx of young professionals, artists and students. Its latest transformation began in the early 2000s with the arrival of many French ex-pats, earning it the moniker of “New France”. The Plateau Mont-Royal’s popularity is due to its plethora of French restaurants, boutiques, central location, effervescence and European charm. And take it from this ex-Parisian: you’ll hear the French accent on every street corner.

Laure Juilliard

Laure Juilliard has been written for over 10 years. She specializes in lifestyle, tourism, travel and food, she writes as much for the media as for companies, agencies, freelancers or associations. Always in search of innovative concepts and good addresses, she is also constantly preparing her next trip.

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