I signed up for a tour of “Urban Montreal” the other day, just for something to do. Actually, there’s plenty to do in Montreal, but the tour, which took place this morning, turned out to be an informative and fun event. We even got to see Leonard Cohen’s childhood home and enjoy a very tasty smoked meat sandwich at one of the city’s more famous eateries, Schwartz’s.
However, the main emphasis of the tour was the vast underground network of stores, plazas, restaurants and coffee shops that can be found underneath Montreal’s downtown skyline. On a cold windy November day, these heated tunnels and walkways were a welcome relief to the downtown streets and canyons that often act like a wind tunnel, even in a mild breeze.
Our walk began at noon and as a result the underground areas were backed with office workers enjoying their noontime repast. The amount of eateries and shops that were available to the general public was astounding.
The guided walking tour took us past the Montreal Hockey Arena to the city train depot, then underneath some of the city’s ritzier hotels, including the Hotel Queen Elizabeth, where John Lennon once wrote the music and lyrics to “Give Peace A Chance”. At McGill University, which may well qualify as Canada’s number one academic institution of higher learning and party school, we came out of the vast tunnel system to the world of sunshine and light. From that point on the pedestrian excursion became an art tour.
After viewing the facade of several old churches we got to hang out in front of Raymond Mason’s, The Illuminated Crowd. This 1988 bronze sculpture has turned into a real crowd-pleaser, especially among tourists and out-of-town visitors, who love to be photographed mingling with the metal figures. It may seem tacky at first glance, but somehow Mr.Mason has managed to create a truly interactive piece of public art.
After leaving the McGill area, we entered a building filled with art galleries and studios and then headed towards the Latin Quarter, where much “grafitti-styled art” could be seen. This wasn’t the free variety that outlaw taggers provide at night, but rather public art commissions awarded by public and private entities. On the surface the colorful expressions might somewhat resemble genuine guerrilla grafitti, but upon closer examination and appreciation, it is easy to see the complex visual nature of the outdoor undertakings that Montreal chooses to display in public. Included below are a couple of pictures of the art.