This summer we decided to vacation here at home and re-discover Montreal. One of the things we did was explore Montreal’s museums, and since we had many rainy days to chose from, we got through 4 of the better and lesser known museums in town. Some I’ve been to in the past – but there a couple that I have never stepped foot in during my 27 years in this city. Here are our thoughts, and tips, on exploring Montreal’s museums.
The McCord Museum http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/en/
I’ve never been to this museum. I’ve passed by it a million times on the street and never once had the slightest inclination to go in. I think their problem is bad advertising – even clicking on the link above I don’t get a sense of what the museum is about. But Wednesdays from 5pm to 9pm are free so we decided to check it out. And we were really pleasantly surprised. This museum should be on the top of any tourist’s list because it covers Montreal’s history and does it in a very engaging manner. Start on the 2nd floor.
As a Montrealer it is fascinating to see old photographs, some from the late 1800’s, showing the city as it was then. One of them, taken in 1890, was taken from Mont-Royal and shows the skyline of the city at that time with Notre-Dame Basilica being the largest building in sight. Now of course you can’t even see it because of all the highrises dominating the downtown core. There is a little video room showing old video of everyday life in the mid 1900’s which shouldn’t be missed. There is a lot of Montreal history to be seen on the 2nd floor and we found it fascinating, it is superbly done by the museum.
The 3rd floor had a temporary exhibit on hats worn through the ages (Lissette liked it more than I did) and the 1st floor showed off clothing worn by Canada’s aboriginals (we both found interesting). The highlight of the museum however is the 2nd floor exposition. Also interesting: the museum has a temporary outdoor exhibit on McGill College (a couple of blocks west) with photos and text describing how Indian children were forced into residential schools by the 1876 Indian Act. This was an effort by the government to wipe out traditional First Nations practices. It’s a powerful exhibit that highlights what these kids were subjugated to by the religious authorities at the time.
Tip: FREE Wednesdays 5pm-9pm.
Pointe-à-Callière museum http://www.pacmusee.qc.ca/en/home
The Pointe-à-Callière museum is the other main “historical museum” in Montreal and highlights the history of the city from mainly an archaeological point of view. Lissette had been many years ago and had found it boring. We toured the museum for close to 2 hours and I have to admit I found it boring too.
Most of the exhibits are underground and visitors find themselves walking through some old ruins and artifacts representing different periods of the site on which the museum is situated: remains from its time as an old Catholic cemetery (1643-1654), or from the time it was Montreal’s customs office. You see remains of some of Montreal’s old fort walls (built to fight off the English. They were later torn down when city had to expand). The highlight is an old stone tunnel in the building’s foundations which was originally a river but which turned into the city’s sewer in the 1830’s. You can still get whiffs that testify to that. The problem is that, unless you are a big fan of archaeology, you’re just walking through a lot of undistinguishable ruins that don’t look much different from one another. I’m sure digging all this up was a monumental undertaking but as a visitor it just doesn’t grab you visually.
The museum also had a temporary exhibit on The Beatles (the rock band). The Beatles are great and I love their music but I found the exhibit, although enjoyable enough, inconsistent with the mission of the museum. Actually, the highlight of the museum for me is the observation point where you can good views over old Montreal. Overall however I was a bit disappointed by the museum.
PS. No free times here, adult rate $20.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts http://www.mbam.qc.ca/en/
I’ll mention this off the top because I didn’t know it myself and they don’t really advertise it: access to the permanent exhibits (and there are many) are free at all times. You only pay for the temporary exhibits.
We came here to see the much-publicized Chihuly exhibit (running to October 20, 2013). Chihuly is famous for what he can do with blown glass. Photos below.
We were impressed, the exhibit was beautiful. But don’t bother with the audio guide for this exhibit – Chihuly is basically a guy who got inspired with fusing blown, multi-colored glass into natural elements from America’s West Coast. It’s pretty glass – but there’s no deep inspiration here that will permanently change the way you view the world.
There’s a lot to this museum and I can’t comment on all the permanent exhibits because we didn’t cover them all. Since they are free, we’ll stroll back in here on a rainy day and spend more time. This alone makes the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts a must-see. It’s also worth always keeping up to date on what the temporary exhibits are as they are on par with the best seen around the world.
FREE permanent exhibits at all times.
Montreal Contemporary Art Museum http://www.macm.org/en/
Ok, I don’t get temporary art. Like the McCord Museum, you can get in for free on Wednesdays from 5pm – 9pm. That’s what we did. Here are a few photos.
Below: Here’s my favorite – a flame coming out of a sink (??)
If this kind of art is your thing then you’ll probably love this museum. It is superbly located, right next to Place des Arts in the heart of the city. The building is modern, the exhibit rooms huge. And even if contemporary art is not your thing, it is worth checking out when it is free. Note that the only downside to free Wednesdays is that it brings out all the whackos…or maybe those are just the regular fans of contemporary art. I don’t know.
Tip: FREE Wednesdays 5pm-9pm.
Summarizing: You can see 3 of these museums for free if you follow my tips above. I suggest that the McCord museum is a must-see for both tourists and locals. The Pointe-à-Callière museum is never free but honestly, unless you are a big fan of archaeology, can be skipped.
Great post from Tourism Montreal on all the museums around the city: http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/blog/guide-to-museums-in-montreal/#comment-25351
Montreal museums Part 2: http://bbqboy.net/montreal-museums-part-2-museums-on-ile-sainte-helene/
Montreal guide and tips: http://bbqboy.net/montreal-guide-and-travel-tips/