Travel through time… in the Old Port of Montréal

By Katharine and Eric Fletcher

Flash news: you don’t need H.G. Wells’ time machine to travel the fifth dimension.

All you need is to get yourself to Montréal. Once there, explore space on a simulated mission at the futuristic iSci interactive science and technology complex… Or, wander the waterfront quays where fur trading posts established France’s foothold in the New Land.

Even your accommodation invokes memories of time past… for Le Vieux Port boasts several superb inns in heritage buildings.

We enjoyed a cozy bed and delicious breakfast at Les Passants du Sans Soucy Auberge, whose stone façade adorned by flower-filled windowboxes lends a charming touch to rue St. Paul. Just around the corner, we lingered over dinner at Bonaparte, a former bank painstakingly transformed to a fine dining room and 30-room boutique hotel.

Of particular note, several of Bonaparte’s rooms overlook Notre Dame Basilica courtyard gardens. To add a truly individual touch, two suites possess private terraces, so you can luxuriate with a fine glass of wine after exploring.

And we must mention the 1725 Maison Pierre du Calvet located directly opposite historic Bonsecours Chapel. Calvet, a prosperous merchant and supporter of the American Revolution, entertained George Washington’s envoy, Benjamin Franklin here at his home and storefront. We can only imagine how they railed against the ruling Brits..

Today, stepping inside its muted raspberry-red doorway transports you into a tranquil realm. Antiques and rich brocades, overstuffed leather armchairs, and a discrete library reading room inspire calm. And while in your suite, you’d be forgiven if you dreamily mistake the clip-clop of horses’ hooves on the cobblestones outside as emanating from an 18th century wagon rolling by… instead of a calêche of sightseers.

But hang on… what of your daytime explorations?

Time travel the quays of the harbour jutting into the St. Lawrence River. This is a logical start because it is right here on the waterfront where Montréal’s first fur-trading post was built in 1611. Although there are only five major quays left in this sector of the city, once upon a time merchants unloaded their boats on their very own wooden jetties.

Today’s environment is decidedly more manicured than those early days where shouts combined with the hustle and bustle of fur-trade commerce animated the waterfront. Nonetheless, the restored, heritage harbourfront springs alive come summertime with events such as the Book Exhibition. This three-week event from June 28 through July 25 sees the Promenade du Vieux Port thronged with second-hand and antiquarian booksellers. Boxes upon boxes of books are opened and folks pour through to discover their special finds. Come evening, music and song continue the festival atmosphere.

For starters, a great way to orient yourself is to climb the 192 steps of the tower on Clocktower Pier. Built in 1922 to commemorate sailors who died during combat in WWI, it provides a superb vantage point from which to get your bearings.

Immediately west of the tower lies an enclosed body of water, the protected Bonsecours Basin. From May through September pedal boats ply its waters while families enjoy picnics on the parks surrounding it. In fact, from your lofty vantage point you’ll appreciate how much of the waterfront is green space.

Grassy verges border the roadway hugging the waterfront, the Promenade du Vieux-Port, while an interconnected network of bridges and footpaths link people-friendly parks and picnic tables from the Clocktower to Bonsecours Park to the Jacques Cartier Pier. From there, ferries ply the waters to Île Sainte Hélène and Longueuil. These ferries welcome cyclists, so exploring Montréal’s islands on a rented bike is easy to do.

Named after the 12-year-old wife of French explorer and first governor of New France, Samuel de Champlain, Île Sainte Hélène is home to that fun hangover of Expo ‘67, La Ronde amusement park.

However, the port doesn’t simply offer time travellers a view into Montréal’s past. The iSci centre on King Edward Pier launches you into futuristic space as well as exploring twelve Canadian high-tech industries in three major exhibit halls. Here kids of all ages interact with models that explore such things as how satellites, television stations — or even hydro transmission lines — operate. While we were there, mums and dads had difficulty prying kids away from screens, moving widgits and mock studios where young fry were engrossed “broadcasting” their own weather forecasts.

But the iSci’s absolute “don’t miss” is its Immersion Theatre. Think “interactive IMAX” and you’ve got an impression of how this supremely interactive video game works. You and your fellow theatre-going “team” sit behind individual computer monitors in “mission control.” From these, everyone collectively determines the fate of a female astronaut whose life lies in the team’s hands. The drama unfolds while you navigate your interactive computer screen with varying degrees of frantic activity. Don’t be fooled: we’re told there are three possible outcomes to your team’s efforts so do participate in the fun.

Your time travel isn’t yet over come nightfall… Darkness reveals the ghosts of Old Montréal and at the Ghost Trail theatre on the Bonsecours Stage you’ll find the spirits of the past’s most famous personages return to life… To continue our interactive theme, you can participate in some of the city’s most infamous trials where you meet both victims — and accused.

And speaking of time and travel, Montréal is only an hour-and-a-half drive from Ottawa. So what’s stopping you? Make a plan to visit this summer.

When you go

Contact the Old Port of Montréal at www.oldportofMontré for the latest news on what’s going on. Within it’s links, you’ll discover a listing of events, plus details about such sites as the iSci complex at

Also browse

For a Montréal Museums pass, contact 1-800-363-7777. The Old Port of Montréal is the waterfront section of the old city, where cobblestone streets lead you from one historic site (such as the Bonsecours Market Building) to another. We particularly enjoyed visiting the Chateau Ramezay Museum, a short walk from Maison Pierre du Calvet, which was built in 1705 as the Governor Ramezay’s private home. As an intriguing twist, the American forces occupying Montréal in 1775-76 used it as their headquarters. Summer events here include tours of its garden.


Les Passants du Sans Soucy Auberge, 171 ouest, rue St-Paul West, Vieux-Montréal, QC, H2Y 1Z5, Tel: 514-842-2634; Fax: 514-842-2912.

Bonaparte, 447, rue St.-François-Xavier, Vieux-Montréal, QC, H2Y 2T1, Tel: 514-844-1448; Fax: 514-844-0272; e-mail:

Maison Pierre du Calvet House, 405 rue Bonsecours, Vieux-Montréal, QC, H2Y 2T1, Tel: 514-282-1725, Fax: 514-282-0456;

Handy information: The Discover Montréal tourist metro pass offers unlimited access to the Metro, the city’s safe and superb subway system. Get it plus maps at the tourist information centre in Old (Vieux) Montréal, near Jacques Cartier Square at 174 Est, rue Notre-Dame Street East (else order via the web at Here too, procure city maps and the 2001 tourist guide (free).