Montreal: Saint Joseph’s Oratory, Old Montreal and the Underground City

During the American Thanksgiving week, I visited some family out in Montreal. I spent most of my time with family, so I didn’t do as much touring around as I had liked to. Besides, this wasn’t my first time in Montreal (here and here).

For one reason or another, I never made it out to Saint Joseph’s Oratory the other times I visited. According to my cousin, “it’s one of the best free attractions in Montreal”.

Saint Joseph’s Oratory is Canada’s largest church, and it enshrines a statue of Saint Joseph within it, I wasn’t able to take a good photo myself of the the oratory in all its beauty, so here’s one from Wikipedia.

By Paolo Costa Baldi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17469968

We weren’t allowed to go inside the main nave (where the people sit in church) of the basilica since it was closed for an event. But we were able to go to the Crypt Church on the floor below.

The statue of Saint Joseph is located in the Votive Chapel. People all over come here as a pilgrimage to pay their respects.

Since Saint Joseph’s Oratory is located on Mont Royal, there is a viewpoint nearby to look into the city.

Someone had some fun at the nearby chalet!

A short hike from there was the Mount Royal Cross. The temperature was only slightly below freezing, so it wasn’t as cold as I expected Montreal to be. I was told that it’d get much much colder in January and February.

The next place we went to was Old Montreal. It was pretty dead, even for a Sunday afternoon. It makes sense since I’m way past the busy tourist season! In the summer, all the restaurants set up patio seating outside, but it was too cold to do any of that in November.

Lastly, I went to the Underground City. Like a lot of cities that get really cold, the city has built a network of underground tunnels so that people can avoid walking outside in the cold winter. Some parts of it are actually really nice!

A piece of the Berlin wall appears in the most unlikely of places..

One of the places I wanted to go on this trip was the Biodome, which tries to recreate different ecosystems in the world to display various plants and animals that live there. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reopen until summer 2019.

Photo album: here

Quebec City

The drive to Quebec City was somewhat action packed.  We were in the merge lane for a freeway that we weren’t supposed to take and so we need to turn around.  I don’t think my uncle was thinking clearly at that instant because as his car was still in the merge lane (we were following behind him) when he tried to do a U turn.  He U turned from the merge lane onto the oncoming lane (in his unclear thought at the time, he did not see that the lane going the other direction was across the grass that separated the two direction lanes).

At the time, there were no cars, so it looked like it could have been the right way to go.  Then a car came down the slope (he didn’t see this car earlier because he was looking up the slope and the car hadn’t reached the crest yet) at highway speeds and now the two cars were facing each other.  That’s when my uncle realized what he had done.  When the other car saw, the driver quickly slowed down while my uncle U turned back the right way as fast as he could.  He was so freaked out.  While all this was happening, our car stopped on the shoulder to wait for him.  After my uncle did the U turn he stopped in the shoulder lane right behind us.

He took a little breather for a moment and then off we went.  As we merged back into the highway, my uncle I guess was still not fully relaxed because as he was merging back, he failed to gauge the distance properly between his car and the 18-wheeler barreling down the highway behind him.  Close call number two.  The truck braked enough and my uncle accelerated fast enough.  Nothing happened in the end luckily.  Just a big scare.  We all arrived in Quebec City in one piece.

Dufferin Terrace

Probably one of the major tourist hot spots in Quebec City.  It is a really nice place.  It’s basically a boardwalk along the St. Lawrence river near the massive Château Frontenac Hotel.

Citadelle of Quebec

At the end of the terrace, one can look up and see cannons in a fortification.  A staircase nearby (known as the Governor’s Walk) takes people up the hill to the fortification.  It’s a long walk.  It probably takes about 15-20 minutes just to walk from the base of the hill to the Citadelle.  Alternatively, people can drive up there if they would rather not do the exercise. In the Citadelle, there are a lot of narrow walkways with high walls that snake around everywhere (probably a defensive tactic).


There’s even a guard outside.

In the main courtyard of the Citadelle, there was a military ceremony happening so we couldn’t roam around.

From up there, we got a really good view of the terrace and the chateau.

And because of the military ceremony, there was a parachuting performance!

Old Town District

The old town district has a European feel with its streets on cobblestone and traditional looking architecture.  There are small windows with a balcony filled with flowers.  The walls of each building are of brick or stone and there are lots of restaurants with patio style seating.


After a good walk through the old town, we sat down for a cold one…  The owner was a nice fellow.  He is Quebecois but is able to speak Mandarin as he had lived in China for three years.  Seeing us Chinese tourists, he had to show off what he knew.  He could read, write, and speak well.  He even jokingly shamed my cousin who couldn’t read and write Chinese.  The guy didn’t just know a couple of phrases, this guy was fluent (can probably speak Mandarin better than I can).  The restaurant even has staff that know German, Spanish, Portugese, Russian, one of the Middle Eastern languages (I don’t know how to recognize which one) and of course English.

After this break, we concluded our tour of Quebec City and drove back to Montreal.  The next day, we would continue touring Montreal.

Old Montreal and Mount Royal

After a bit of rest from the travels in Ontario, our next destination was Old Montreal.  I often thought that Montreal was a microcosm of France in North America (after all Quebec was known as the “Colony of New France” a long time ago), but it seems that it’s evolved its own culture.  There are elements of Montreal that are very modern (skyscrapers and the like) and the historical part of town (there are even horse carriage rides for tourists that ride along cobblestone roads).

The outside patio seating on cobblestone roads has a nice “European feel” and the architecture of the buildings surrounding it definitely add to the atmosphere.  Store and restaurant labels being in French also makes the atmosphere feel a lot more foreign (but luckily most people in Montreal speak English).

As I have learned throughout my travels, there is always a nice church in the historical part of town, at least in this case, a basilica.  This one is called the Notre-Dame Basilica or in French, Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal.

The inside is also quite different.  I remember a lot of churches like to use ambient light to keep the interior illuminated but the main congregation hall seems to be closed to natural light except for the two windows in the ceiling.  There is a lot of “blueness” in this basilica, which I don’t think is very common.  As usual, the altar is filled with statues of religious figures.

After that, the next destination was Mount Royal, which is one of Montreal’s largest greenspaces.  There is a large artificial lake where people like to go for runs or just casual strolling.  There is also an observation area that looks down the mountain toward downtown Montreal.

A raccoon even tried to join us at the observation area.  Poor raccoon…was probably hungry too.

That night we had a nice dinner that was a partial family reunion.  I think about 15 people from my father’s side of the family came.  That was probably the first time we’ve ever all got together for a meal in a long time.  The meal was also made better by the presence of my cousin’s 15-month old daughter (first cousin once removed?).  I think the last time where everyone got together (at least partially – I wasn’t present for that one) was in the summer of 2009 when one of my cousins got married.  We all asked about one another and how everyone was doing since we hadn’t caught up in a while.  We ate for about an hour and talked probably for another 2 or 3 hours.  It was a nice get-together that doesn’t happen very often.

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