Montreal – St. Louis Square

To complete my Montreal walking tour trilogy, I present my impressions of St. Louis Square.  A Victorian-era urban square similar in setting to the many city squares of Savannah, this area of the city is now a bohemian paradise.  Just a block or two from the pedestrian street Avenue Laval, with buskers and endless outdoor dining, this grand-but-funky square is the perfect setting for a late afternoon stroll.  I took out a few minutes to write in my journal as a impromptu jazz quartet blew some standards:

Walking Tour of St. Louis Square, Montreal

Victorian houses always have bright colors and incredible detailing.  Since this neighborhood’s presumable decline and hippie-era gentrification, there is a wonderful sense of preservation and longevity.  The crazy colors and gingerbread detailing suit the new inhabitants.  Some scenes along the square:

Walking Tour of St. Louis Square, Montreal

The sense of scale is just about perfect.  The adjacent streets have the best residential width (parking on each side and one driving lane), with the houses the correct height for the width.  The street trees and small gardens in front were generally very well maintained and creatively planted.

Walking Tour of St. Louis Square, Montreal

Honey locust was a good tree choice for planting right up against the facade:

Walking Tour of St. Louis Square, Montreal

I love the variety.  The New Urbanists must love this place – I certainly do.

Walking Tour of St. Louis Square, Montreal

A slightly-dilapidated old gem:

Walking Tour of St. Louis Square, Montreal

As I walked around this place, I was reminded of the book City Life by my favorite urbanist/writer Witold Rybczynski.  At the beginning of the book the author describes a fellow-Montrealer’s remarks about visiting Paris; “why can’t our cities be like that?”  There is no short answer; the author works on this question for hundreds of pages of lovely prose.  Ironically, however, I find Montreal to be quite beautiful, compared to other say, more industrial North American cities.

Walking Tour of St. Louis Square, Montreal

This neighborhood is not unlike several in Baltimore, in which I live.  I’ll have to do a few studies of Bolton Hill, Reservoir Hill… the sense of scale, grandeur and detailing is very similar.  The ironwork and stonework is remarkably close.  Also, the street layout is similar using the alley systems, which is my favorite feature of North American cities (well, those which preserved the alleys).  I walked around back too… the houses push right up against the rear fence.  Now we see the significance of those front balconies and gardens.

Walking Tour of St. Louis Square, Montreal

Some interesting street art was to be had:

Walking Tour of St. Louis Square, Montreal

Overall, this neighborhood had a calmness and scale that was at once both invigorating and relaxing.  This theme crops up a lot in my urban walks – and I think much of it has to do with the lack of automobiles, the presence of trees and the variety of building style.

I’ll close with a random picture from Chinatown in Montreal.  Lovely city, I do hope to get back for our project’s completion.

Street Scene from Chinatown in Montreal

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Vieux Montréal – Walking Montreal’s Old City

I am presently working on a project in Montreal, a new SieMatic studio across the island from the main city in Brossard.  It is a good space with very smart owners and I’m sure the new business will be a success.  I will post about the studio as the project comes together.  Since I had never been to Montreal before, I was excited to walk around – the flâneur that I am – and experience the fabric of the city.  Following are some street views of Vieux Montréal – the old city.

Maisoneuve Monument in Old Montreal

This is a view of the Maisoneuve monument and the old Bank of Montreal building.  This space has a lovely scale, and the light was incredible on an early summer’s evening.  The ashlar-pattern paving is detailed in a modern fashion, meshed in with older Belgian block paving stones living the vehicle lanes.  The trees were young maples; there must be some fantastic color in Montreal in autumn as maples are a favorite street tree throughout the city.  Some street scenes:

A grand old building in Vieux Montreal

On the left: this little restaurant reminds me of a place in Barcelona.  To the right, a curious little building.  A Louer means “for rent”.

A walking tour of Vieux Montreal by Mick RiceretoA walking tour of Vieux Montreal by Mick Ricereto

There are some very narrow streets in the old city.  It is very quiet after work hours (but before the all-night party begins).  Some quiet alley scenes:

A walking tour of Vieux Montreal by Mick Ricereto

The care and craftsmanship taken on these old buildings is amazing.  Even though this building faces a small little alley, look at this cornice:

A walking tour of Vieux Montreal by Mick Ricereto

I just love old portal, courtyard buildings, carriage houses:

A walking tour of Vieux Montreal by Mick Ricereto

 

A walking tour of Vieux Montreal by Mick RiceretoThe old city adjoins the lovely waterfront, the old port.  The city used to compete with New York City for shipping to the midwest; all ocean cargo headed up the St. Lawrence river needed to disembark at Montreal and go through the Lachine Canal.  This era ended when the St. Lawrence seaway opened in the 1950’s, among other factors, and we are now left with an amazing still-life of industrial ruins.

A walking tour of Vieux Montreal by Mick Ricereto - the old grain elevators of the old port on the Lachine canal.

Directly across the waterway are two islands, which were developed around the time of Expo ’67.  This is a view of the incredible housing complex Habitat 67, designed by Moshe Safdie.

A walking tour of Vieux Montreal by Mick Ricereto - View of Habitat 67

A view of Lachine Canal:

A walking tour of Vieux Montreal by Mick Ricereto - Lachine Canal

There is a wonderful feeling of summer outdoor activity in Montreal.  There is a great bike path going right through this section of the city – bikers were whizzing by constantly.  Lovers strolling, young families having a quiet picnic on the grass.  Everything was so civilized.  An outdoor bar and two “food trucks” were placed on the quay – I tried a pizza from one of these trucks; it was made fresh right there in front of my eyes – and it was quite good!

A walking tour of Vieux Montreal by Mick Ricereto - Muvbox "food trucks" in the old port.

It was getting dark pretty quick.  I found a roof-top bar and relaxed with a drink among the sound of French conversation.  On my way to my hotel – a hip new building in total contrast to old Montreal – I walked through what I would discover is just one of many pedestrian-only streets.  This could be mistaken for Quebec City; a bit touristy, and lots of souvenir shops.  Still, lovely.

A walking tour of Vieux Montreal by Mick Ricereto

In future installments I will post reports of other walks I took in Montreal; the lovely Beaux Arts-era Golden Mile and my favorite spot I found, St. Louis Square.