Want to go to Paris? Feel like mountain climbing in the Pyrnees? Want to walk through an old town with cobblestone streets and cafes lining every side of the Grande Allee? Save yourself a ton of money and visit Canada’s beautiful city of Montreal. Only a six-hour drive from Northern New Jersey, without the hassle of having to go through security or pack a limited amount to fit into one small bag, we are firm believers that driving is the way to go. Obviously for those who so choose, there are many daily one-hour flights from either Newark, La Guardia or JFK to Montreal. Montreal’s Pierre Trudeau Airport is only about 30 minutes from the downtown area, depending upon the traffic, and there is no comparison between Montreal traffic and the traffic nightmares we often experience locally. Requirements to enter into Canada by car are either to have a passport, a U.S. birth certificate, a certificate of citizenship, a permanent resident card or a government-issued ID card. Children are allowed to have copies of birth certificates instead of a passport.
Once one has crossed the border, the drive to the city of Montreal should be no more than 45 minutes to an hour. Keep in mind that speed limits in Canada are in kilometers and temperatures are in Celsius. When you hear that the temperature is 39 degrees in the middle of July do not worry that you will freeze. In actual fact you will be perspiring and hot. That temperature is approximately 102 degrees! Driving at 100 kilometers an hour is approximately 62 miles per hour. Gas is sold in liters and food is sold in kilos. A gallon of gas is the equivalent of 3.78 liters. Beware of the prices. Try to fill up as much as you can prior to entering Canada. The last exit before the border will be Champlain.
Prepare yourself for signs to be in French. While everyone will probably be crossing the Champlain Bridge in order to get to the downtown area of Montreal, be prepared that the sign will say PONT Champlain. Sortie is the word for exit and arret is the word for stop. Two important words to know.
The dilemma of where to stay in Montreal depends upon who you are traveling with. If I were traveling alone with my husband I would choose to stay at one of the hotels downtown. There are small boutique hotels, larger hotel chains and other types of accommodations as well. I think that I might choose the Sofitel downtown on Sherbrooke St. It offers keys for Shabbat and is of a more deluxe nature. The choices of where to get kosher food in the downtown area are very slim. There are many kosher restaurants in Montreal but none really downtown. There is a Chabad on Peel Street that only serves lunch and there are three Ben and Jerry’s ice cream stores in the downtown area. They will be happy to show you the list of which flavors are kosher. On McGill College, a street in the middle of downtown, there is a Second Cup (the Canadian equivalent of Starbucks) that carries kosher sandwiches and Danish. It is imperative to ask them which choices are kosher. All coffee drinks at Second Cup wherever the store is located are kosher. Just look up the street from this Second Cup and the regal-looking McGill University and its massive campus can be seen. There is amazing take-out prepared food that can be purchased and brought to any hotel in the downtown area.
There are several hotels that are closer to the Jewish areas. Remember that nothing takes that long to get to in Montreal. If you are staying downtown you will be in the Jewish area in 20 minutes if you are traveling by car. It might be fun to try out the Metro, which is quiet as it runs on rubber wheels and is very clean. Montreal is a clean and safe city. I would not hesitate to walk at night.
This year, due to the fact that Tisha B’Av is August 11, it will be possible to avail oneself of the many festivals that take place each summer in the downtown area. Many of the activities are free, and tickets are available for purchase in person and online. The Montreal Jazz Festival takes place from June 27 to July 6 and the Comedy Festival is from July 10 to July 28. Promenading through the streets where the festivals are taking place is quite enough entertainment for each night. The same holds true for walking on the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal, taking in the sights and sounds of old-world charm filled with some modern innovations. Keep in mind that the success of Cirque du Soleil began in the Old Port of Old Montreal. Its large, white tent stands proudly, and Alegria will be shown until July 21. The founder of the Cirque, Guy Laliberte, still lives in Montreal and his innovative approach has changed people’s ideas about the circus forever.
Again, no food in Old Montreal, lots of cafes and a Ben and Jerry’s on the Grand Allee. The architecture is stunning, including the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) and the Palais de Justice (courthouse). Take a caleche (horse and buggy ride) through the narrow streets of Old Montreal and I am sure that your driver will fill you in on much of the history of the area. One can rent bikes in Old Montreal, whether they be for two or for six. It is fun to ride them alongside the river. Bike paths are everywhere, and bikes can be rented on almost any street downtown and dropped at other locations. In the Old City is the Montreal Science Museum, which children and adults alike love.
In the center of the city is a mountain known as Mt Royal. From the top of the mountain, which can be reached by car, bike if you are very physically fit, or bus, it is possible to see the Adirondack Mountains of New York on a clear day, as well as the Olympic Stadium and other well-known Montreal landmarks. There are lookouts for cars to park and enjoy the view.
Visit the Biodome with children, where they are able to walk through four different seasons and ecosystems—one minute they will be freezing as in the Arctic and the next moment they will be walking through the Tropics. From the
Biodome one can walk over to the Olympic Stadium and tower. Tickets can be purchased as a package, and the Botanical Gardens are just a few steps away.
The Ramada Plaza Montreal, formerly the Quality Midtown Hotel, has shomer Shabbat ownership and provides a free kosher breakfast each morning to its guests as well as free parking. There is also a kosher meat restaurant on its premises. Even more exciting is that it is approximately 500 feet away from the world-renowned Pizza Pita, which has a large dairy menu. Known for its poutine, which is french fries with cheese sauce poured over it (the kosher way), Pizza Pita makes poutine like no U.S. restaurant I have ever heard of. The hotel has easy access to all kosher facilities as well as shuls. The Lubavitch yeshiva is just two blocks away. The Kosher Quality Bakery is approximately eight blocks away and there is nothing that you cannot get there. The Ruby Foo’s Hotel is just a few blocks up the street from Pizza Pita and I have been very impressed with the quality of their hotel rooms and facilities. It does not come with kosher food but they have had many shomer Shabbat guests and know exactly what needs to be done to accommodate them. They also offer free parking.
I am a big fan of going to Mont Tremblant for Shabbat. The recreated village in the Laurentian Mountains is beautiful. There are many different hotel and condo choices. A great advantage of staying in Mt. Tremblant over Shabbat is the thriving Chabad that is run by Rabbi Yisroel Mochkin. Each Shabbat afternoon the Mochkins host guests for a generous and lovely lunch. Minyanim take place in the Chabad House. There are a variety of hotels and condos. It is easy to pick up food in Montreal to have for Shabbat as there are many delicious choices for both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi palates. Mt. Tremblant offers beautiful walking trails, a lake and a gondolier that can take people all the way up to the top of the mountain. It is great for couples and also for families with children, as activities abound.
Montreal has several different Jewish areas. I can say quite emphatically that I never experienced any type of anti-Semitism while living there. The yeshiva community is located off Van Horne and de Vimy. The chasidish community (Montreal has the second-largest population of chasidim in North America, after New York) can be found between Park Avenue and de Vimy and between Van Horne and Ste. Catherine. The majority of Sephardim live in Cote St. Luc or St. Laurent, where they have their own schools, shuls, kollels, shteibels, etc. (and the most delicious bakeries).
The majority of the dati leumi community lives in the Hampstead/Cote St. Luc area. The Cavendish Mall is home to the only almost-completely-kosher food court in North America. There are at least five to six kosher establishments in the food court. A brand-new addition to the eating area is Sfingy’s, a first-of-its-kind doughnut store (there are no Dunkins in Montreal). The only remaining non-kosher restaurant there is Subway. There is an indoor playground directly adjacent to the food court, and family members have the opportunity to sit at the same table and choose from the many different food options. There is a kosher pizza store, sushi restaurant, deli, Chinese food establishment and a falafel/shawarma restaurant. There are two dairy restaurants in the mall, serving paninis, pasta, sandwiches etc. One is called Boca and other other is Avenue. The IGA (supermarket) in the same mall has a kosher bakery, take-out food department, meat department and fish department, all under hashgacha. Also in the same mall is a kosher butcher store called J and R. There is also a ladies’ clothing store in the mall with the appropriate name of Tzniut.
For those interested in shopping, it is a well-known fact that most of the “frum” children’s clothing that is sold in Lakewood, Monsey, Boro Park, etc. is manufactured in Montreal. All of the manufacturers have factory store outlets and are open on Sundays. They all take credit cards and are open to the public. In most cases do not look for a storefront. They are in office buildings.
A trip to Montreal is not the same without visiting Cheskie’s bakery on Bernard. There is nothing that you can buy there that will not be delicious. It is best known for its rugelach and cheese crowns. Right next door to it is Deli 365, and the famous smoked meat and charcuterie that is well-known in Montreal can be purchased there. For charcuterie at its best, visit the home of one of the biggest hits at the Kosher Foodfest each year: Amsellem Kascher, which is located on Cote St. Luc Rd. in Cote St. Luc.
For those who prefer to shop downtown, Simon’s Department Store would be a worthwhile stop. Montreal streets are connected for some miles underground due to the brutal winters. This indoor world is called the underground city.
Many may not be aware of the fact that for every U.S. dollar that you spend in Canada you are actually getting $1.32. Buy away and eat away! (Keep in mind there are no pennies in Canada anymore.)
I am not sure if my passion for this amazing city has been given its proper due in this synopsis. I have not touched on the things to do for families on the way into and out of Montreal. I have not zeroed in on the amazing blending of Sefardi and Ashkenazi cultures and palates. I have not emphasized enough the safety and cleanliness of the city. For anyone who desires further information, please do not hesitate to contact me at The Jewish Link and I will be more than happy to help construct an itinerary that would best suit your needs. Please be in touch at [email protected].
By Nina Glick