Canada by Rail – Interrupted in Montreal

Travel Dates: September 22-24, 2022

Our Canada by Rail trip was supposed to take us all the way to the Maritime Provinces. Mother Nature cared not for our plans and Montreal was as far east as we would get.

We arrived at the Toronto station in plenty of time to board the VIA Rail Corridor Train. Our business class accommodations are even nicer than the business class on the Amtrak Cascades we have taken from Portland to Seattle. The car was quieter and our lunch was served at our seat. Oh, and the scenery was deluxe.

View from the train from Toronto to Montreal.

We were supposed to have two more train trips after this: another daytime train to Quebec City, then an overnight train to Halifax, Nova Scotia in the Maritime Provinces. As it turned out this was our last train ride of the trip and Montreal was as far east as we would get.

After checking into our hotel Thursday afternoon (September 22) we looked at some maps to see how we would get to our dinner reservations at Restaurant Bonaparte. We’d been sitting on the train for a few hours and figured it was walkable. The restaurant is in an older part of the city and had the charm to go with it. I had a terrific stew for dinner.

Dinner at the Restaurant Bonaparte

After dinner we retraced our steps back to the Delta hotel. On Friday morning we met, and had a nice breakfast at a restaurant around the corner from the hotel. I wish I remembered the name, I’d love to give them a shout out. Maybe Carla, Jim, or Terri will leave a comment.

At breakfast we talked about the weather situation along the east coast. Hurricane Fiona, a Category 4 storm, was working its way up the east coast with Halifax in its sights. We considered continuing our tour to the next stop in Quebec City but figured getting out of that small city would complicate getting home. After breakfast we returned to our hotel and called our tour company. They told us since rail service was not (yet) cancelled to our next destinations they couldn’t (wouldn’t) reroute us. But we could (and did) petition for a refund of that part of the trip.

We decided we didn’t want to add to the problems by being travelers needing evacuation so worked on booking our trip home. Since we booked our travel to and from the tour we were responsible for making the changes. Calling Air Canada resulted in an estimated wait time of 14+ hours – out of the question. So we got online and booked new tickets from Montreal to Portland via Vancouver for Sunday the 25th of September. That would give us one more full day to explore Montreal. We extended our stay at the hotel for one more night and arranged for a driver to pick us up early on Sunday.

In retrospect it was the right decision: VIA Rail cancelled trains to Halifax a few hours later. When the storm hit hundreds of thousands lost electricity and flood waters destroyed homes and businesses.

With all that out of the way we made our way to the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal to meet our guide for a walking/food tour of old Montreal.

Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. Meeting place for our walking/food tour of old Montreal

Of all the tours we had on our Canadian trip, the private food tour was one of them. Our tour guide was very nice and knowledgeable about the parts of town we saw, but the eating part was “Meh”. We started at a bagel store in a mall food court. Now, I can see a bagel from a Deli being a stop on a walking tour of New York City, this did not represent Canadian cuisine to me. We arrived a bit late for our next stop – a charcuterie selection in a small grocery store. We arrived a bit late and our guide had to argue with the people in charge to get us something. We actually enjoyed perusing the shelves of the store while they sorted things. The nice meat and cheese board was given to us at one of the cash registers while the owner split time between us and helping other customers. Nice food, but not so nice atmosphere.

Next we went to a vegan dessert shop. I’m fine with vegan restaurants and have some delicious vegan meals. If you follow my cooking posts on this blog you’ll see I frequently cook some vegetarian(though not often vegan) dishes. These desserts were mostly awful. We all had something different and none of us liked what we had. Our last stop was an ice cream/gelato store where we had some nice gelato.

We did more than eat so-so food on the tour. Our guide walked us through some nice parts of old town Montreal.

Montreal Street Scene

Similar to what I had discovered on an earlier trip to Toronto, Montreal has a series of underground routes and shopping areas to keep customers and business people out of the cold and snow. In one of these covered areas, we saw a section of the old Berlin Wall.

Piece of the Berlin Wall – West Side. In one of the Montreal underground .

We also saw some nice public art pieces. Here is a piece called Les chuchoteuses (The Gossipers) created in 2002 by Fose-Aimée Bélanger. [Note: I couldn’t find an article on this piece of art on the website cited below for another public area sculpture.]

Les chuchoteuses (The Gossipers). Montreal, Quebec

To get the most out of our last day in Canada we boarded a Hop On / Hop Off tour bus to see the city. The view from nearby Mount Royal was magnificent. It dawned on me: “Mount Royal” … “Montreal”. Sure enough, the city got its name from the mountain named by the French inhabitants. Here we see the Olympic stadium from the 1976 summer Olympics.

Olympic Stadium seen from Mount Royal, Montreal

After hopping back on a tour bus we headed back downtown. I would think that a Montreal food tour would include poutine – certainly more so than food court bagels. So when we stopped for lunch we ordered some to share. Years ago Carla and I enjoyed (really) fried cheese curds in Wisconsin; poutine is the same but different: gravy poured over french fries and cheese curds.

Poutine. We tried it so you don’t have to.

They were okay. Not so bad that I wouldn’t try them again given the opportunity, but not so good that I’m going to go out hunting for it. As I write this I see I may be coming off as an ugly American thinking nothing is as good as American stuff. That’s not it (although Portland, Oregon has a world-class food scene and we may be spoiled). I just think the food tour in particular could use a re-imagining.

After lunch we struck out in search of a sculpture Terri had seen earlier. We found it on our phone maps and headed out. It was a beautiful day and we loved the sites and people we came across. The sculpture is Les Clochards Celeste’s in Parc Milville-Couture. The sculpture was created in 1983 by Pierre Yves Angers. Quoting from the Montreal Public Art website:

three huge white-cement figures face René-Lévesque Boulevard … embody a rising movement: the two standing figures are trying to lift the third figure, sitting in front of them, as they point to the sky.

The title of the artwork, borrowed from a novel by Jack Kerouac, draws a parallel between the hard reality of homelessness and the spiritual exploration of Beat Generation travellers. 

Montreal Art Public website
We hiked around downtown until we could find this sculpture again. We originally saw it on the Hop On / Hop Off bus

We were getting pretty tuckered at this point and did not relish the idea of a many-miles walk back to the hotel. As we looked at our maps to orient ourselves and try to find where we could meet the Hop On / Hop Off bus we saw the bus a couple of blocks away and made a sprint (well, how well can tired 60+ and 70+ year-old travelers sprint). The bus saw us and waited for us at an intersection. Back at the hotel we hade a light dinner and went to bed early to be ready for our early flight Sunday morning.

We were sad to go; there were many things we were looking forward to in Quebec City and Halifax. The four of us are talking about a way to complete our journey – although Terri and Jim have had enough train travel to last them. We are thinking of flying to Boston, then driving up through Acadia Park in Maine, the to the cities we missed – and more. Maybe we’ll try poutine again! I’m just glad I finished this series of posts before we take off again. 🙂

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