Other Downtown Sights
Begun in 1958, I.M. Pei’s Place Ville-Marie (corner of Mansfield & Cathcart) ushered in the modern transformation of Montreal’s center. Above the esplanade with its fine vista up Avenue McGill College rises the 42-story cruciform tower in glass and aluminum topped by a rotating searchlight. Below the esplanade is a covered shopping center. This was the first of its kind, and now forms the nucleus of the Underground City.
Leading north from Place Ville-Marie is Avenue McGill College, which was widened in 1988 in order to create a visual link between the city center, McGill University (Rue Sherbrooke Ouest, +1 514 398 6555. Metro: McGill), and Mont-Royal. The avenue provides a dignified setting for a number of highly individual new buildings. They include Place Montréal Trust, with its spectacular five-story atrium, and the crystalline blue glass BNP/Laurentian Bank Tower, (corner of Ave. McGill College & Ave. du Président Kennedy) with its landmark sculpture, "The Illuminated Crowd" by the British-born sculptor Raymond Mason.
Avenue McGill College ends, not surprisingly, at McGill University. You’re free to walk through the campus of this world-famous university, although you may stand out among the throng of students. There are about 30,000 of them, most, but not all, English-speaking. The campus is a wonderful oasis of green space in downtown Montreal, with an amazing variety of buildings that somehow blend effectively together to create an archetypal university atmosphere.
The Arts Building tops the rise. Although much modified this is the oldest structure, dating from 1839, not long after the university was founded in 1821 with resources from the estate of prominent Scottish fur-trader James McGill.
Musée McCord (690 Sherbrooke Ouest, +1 514 398 7100. Closed Mon.; Adm. fee Metro: McGill) is a testamen t to the inveterate collector David McCord. Despite this museum’s modern extension only a fraction of the tens of thousands of objects assembled by him can be shown at any one time. Their richness and variety enables the museum to stage fascinating exhibitions on all kinds of themes, from ice hockey to satirical cartoons, and you should certainly check on what is currently on display. One of the museum’s great strengths is its array of First Nations artifacts, symbolized by the magnificent cedar totem pole from far-off Queen Charlotte Islands. Another is the unique Notman Photographic Archives, an astonishingly complete record of Canadian life in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Christ Church Cathedral (Cathédral Christ Church) (635 Ste.-Cathérine Ouest, +1 514 843 6577. Donation, Metro: McGill) Montreal’s splendid Gothic Revival Anglican cathedral, was built in 1859 and has led a rather precarious existence. The stone spire turned out to be too heavy for the foundations to bear, and an aluminum replacement had to be fitted. A solution to the sinking of the foundations was found in the 1980s, when the whole building, all 9,000 tons [9,144.4 metric tons] of it, was jacked up and a new basement was constructed. This underground addition houses Les Promenades de la Cathédrale, a shopping mall, though no stores were permitted to be built directly below the church.
In the days of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, a concerted effort was made to revitalize the eastern, more francophone part of the city center. The Université du Québec à Montréal was established here, as was the Complexe Desjardins (corner of Rue. St.-Urbain & Ste.-Cathérine Ouest), its huge atrium a forum for popular events and entertainment. Arranged around a public square, which is at its liveliest in summer, the Place des Arts (+1 514 790 ARTS, Metro: Place des Arts) comprises several auditoriums and the lavi sh new Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal (185 Rue Ste-Cathérine Ouest, +1 514 847 6212. Closed Mon.; Adm. fee Metro: Place des Arts). Opened in 1992, this museum is a spacious home for the province’s extensive collection of post-1945 works, mostly but not exclusively by artists from Quebec. Visiting exhibitions are a major feature of its program.
The largest of the auditoriums is the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, where up to 2,892 spectators can watch performances by the resident ensembles, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Opera, and the Grands Ballets Canadiens.