The Hometown Tourist
Summer is slowly waning, days are getting shorter, the sun is slipping below the horizon earlier each day and at times there seems to be a slight chill in the wind. The playgrounds are silent. Schools are back in session.
Where did the summer go? How did you spend your summer? Did you travel to faraway places, relax on a beach, or stay right here in the city and enjoy some of the festivities while celebrating our 375th Anniversary?
The island of Montreal has been my home since the mid-60’s. This summer I became a tourist in my hometown. Several organized guided day tours were a pleasant way of seeing and learning about the many hidden gems tucked away in unusual places.
Did you know that there is a large piece of the Berlin wall in the International Trade Center in Old Montreal, or that there were guided tours of the Seminary?
Recently on a Saturday afternoon, after a lengthy detour and a drive between orange construction cones another genealogist and I arrived late for a guided tour of the Seminary in Old Montreal. We joined the group in the courtyard adjacent to Notre Dame Basilica where the Sulpician Priests during this anniversary year have opened their doors to the public. The last time that happened was during Expo 67, fifty years ago.
The young guide, Gabriel, was describing the French clock, (from France) noting how the original mechanisms were made of wood. Over the years there were many changes and today it runs on electricity. The bells ring every fifteen minutes, although they are often drowned out by the bells of the Basilica.
The Priests of Saint Sulpice arrived in Montreal in 1657. From 1663 until 1840 were the owners of the island of Montreal. They were the Seigneurs. They began building the Seminary in 1685 and today it is the second oldest building on the island of Montreal and the oldest building standing that has retained its original purpose.
As you walk by the courtyard on Notre Dame Street it is possible to see where the restoration of the building is ongoing, beginning with the upper third floor which is currently vacant. The restoration team has done their utmost to retain the same look as the lower levels.
From the clock tower in the courtyard our group moved through a narrow passage between buildings and in to the garden, a large spacious area where for many years it provided produce for the Seminary. Today it is a quiet, serene wide expanse of grass, walkways and large trees, several that are over one hundred years old. Recently they planted almost two dozen young trees at the far end of the garden.
The tour ended in the garden. However, because we arrived late and missed the visit to the museum we were permitted to go in and view the numerous artifacts found within. The main theme focused on the founding of the Sulpician priests and their mission in New France. One of the items that caught my eye was a hand drawn map of the island of Montreal dating back to 1702 that showed all the different settlements on the island.
Perhaps the most important part of the event was when several people asked about the archives and the possibility of visiting them. The response was surprising as it had always been noted that it was next to impossible to access the archives. The guide noted that there are two permanent archivists and two students working during the summer months. If someone wishes to visit the archives they must have a specific purpose, along with names and dates. The archivist will give your request consideration and inform you if they are able to assist you in your request or they may recommend where you might find answers. He also noted that there is much work to be done in the organizing of all the data they have.
Being a tourist in one’s hometown has been an interesting experience. A cruise on the St. Lawrence gave us a bird’s eye view of the port of Montreal. A full day bus tour with six different stops along the way covered most of the prominent areas of the city, Old Montreal, up the mountain along Camillian Houde Parkway, a drive up to Mile End area, a brief stop in Welinsky’s and a visit to Fairmont Bagel, just to name a few.
Each of the day trips were rewarding. Although it was strange at first to be a tourist in one’s hometown there were many other Montrealers with the same idea.