At last after two long years, the borders between Canada and the United States are reopened. Only a six-hour drive to arrive in Quebec, la belle province. There is something for everyone, from couples looking for a romantic escapade, families looking for activities that will please all ages and those just looking for a place to go that has charm, clean and safe streets and many, many kosher options. Of course, for those who so choose there are one-hour flights to Montreal from LaGuardia, Newark and JFK airports. These days it is agreed by most that it is easier to drive.
First and foremost before anyone enters Canada: At least 72 hours prior to arriving one must download an app called ArriveCAN. It is not difficult to do and allows easy access into Canada. One must have a passport, a U.S. birth certificate, a certificate of citizenship, permanent resident card or a government-issued ID card. Children are allowed to have copies of birth certificates instead of a passport. Keep in mind that Canada is a foreign country. No one who is unvaccinated may enter Canada. Check the sidebar for further information.
The French flavor of Quebec is appealing to vacationers who would have to spend a great deal more to get to Paris. Another great perk is the fact that the Canadian dollar is now worth approximately 1.30 USD. Spend, spend and spend … and it will not be that painful.
Once one has crossed the border, the drive to the city of Montreal should be no more than 45 minutes to one 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 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. If you think the prices are drastic here, wait until you see the prices there (in Canadian currency). 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.” Before you know it all of these foreign signs can be easily mastered. Sortie is the word for “Exit,” and Arret is the word for “Stop”! (I recently heard a story from someone who was on his way to Canada looking for the Champlain Bridge but saw the word “PONT” and drove around and around looking for the bridge.)
Different strokes for different folks, but I assume that families traveling together would choose different accommodations than a couple traveling alone. There are many options, with deluxe accommodations and other hotels that probably would be more comfortable if traveling with young children, many with suites including kitchens.
The Sofitel Hotel is downtown on Sherbrooke Street, offers keys for Shabbat upon request and is more deluxe. It is also walkable to Chabad, where they offer lunch on Shabbat. The choices of where to get kosher food downtown are almost nil. There are many kosher restaurants, but with the exception of La Pletzel on Peel Street in the Chabad House, there is nothing in that area. La Pletzel is open Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is extremely informal, serving dairy and pareve. Think also of the McGill Hillel, where students and some business people drop in and expect simple but good food not served in a very deluxe fashion.
There is also a Chabad House of Westmount at 4 Westmount Square, which is closer to downtown and they do have a minyan each day They can be reached at 514-937-4772 for further information.
The Canadian equivalent of Starbucks is called Second Cup. All coffee drinks there are kosher, however, the pastries and food items are not. There are a few Second Cups that might provide kosher cakes, but one must ask. Definitely downtown that is not the case. (I called them.)
I will list separately all of the kosher restaurants in Montreal. There have been many changes since COVID, and for some, I would suggest making reservations. I will indicate if necessary.
For those who prefer to stay in a suite hotel and buy prepared food, Montreal has many very delicious options. Keep in mind that nothing in Montreal is very far from each other. Even if you stay downtown, you are only a 20-minute drive from a Jewish area where you can get kosher food. It might be fun to try out the Metro (subway system) which is quiet as it runs on rubber wheels. It very clean and safe! The entire city is clean and safe. I would not hesitate to walk there at night.
Montreal is a city of festivals. Considering that Tisha B’Av falls on August 7 this year, you might still be able to avail yourself of either the Just for Laughs Festival or the Jazz Festival. Their dates are easily available online, and what is special about them is that there are many free shows along the streets and one can just have a great time watching what is going on without paying a penny. On the other hand, tickets are available to purchase for concerts or shows as well.
Walking along the streets of Montreal is a show in itself, and for an extra treat visit what is known as Old Montreal, where cobblestone streets and the old city are filled with people each night.
Troubadours, artists, and all kinds of street entertainment take place. The Cirque du Soleil, which began in Old Montreal and still has its headquarters there, could very well be in town for a performance. Please note that the show will be in French. The founder of Cirque, Guy Laliberte, still lives in Old Montreal and his idea of what a circus should be has changed people’s ideas of the circus worldwide. Again, no food in Old Montreal, although cafes and restaurants abound—just not for the kosher consumer.
The architecture is stunning; proudly stands the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) and the Palais de Justice (the court house) in the midst of it all. Take a walk down the Grand Allee and enjoy it all. Perhaps you would enjoy a caleche ride (horse and buggy) through the narrow streets of Old Montreal, and I am sure that your driver will fill you in on 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, which in this case is the Champlain River. Bike paths are everywhere. Bike rental is similar there to New York City, where they can be picked up on one street and returned several streets or miles away. In the Old City is the famous Montreal Science Museum, which children and adults love.
In the center of the city is a mountain known as Mount Royal. From the top of the mountain, which can be reached by car, bike if you are very physically fit. Or by 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 people to park their cars 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 at the Botanical Gardens are just a few steps away. (no kosher food nearby).
The hotels that are the closest to the Jewish areas with food options are Wyndham Montreal, on Decarie, where if you preorder, a kosher prepackaged breakfast will be served to you. (You will go away hungry) There is a fee for parking and the accommodations are not luxurious. Ruby Foo’s is another hotel nearby which is a few pegs up. They have an outdoor pool, are accustomed to having many shomer Shabbat guests, but no rooms with kitchen facilities. There is no fee for parking. The last hotel and the newest is the Hilton Homestead Suites Midtown, which does provide a breakfast where kosher items can be found amongst the selections. Their pool is indoor and there is a charge for parking. The hotel is new, modern and very close to a supermarket and the kosher area.
Pizza Pita, the famous kosher pizza store in Montreal, is just a few blocks across the street from these hotels. Unfortunately since COVID, they have made many changes and food must be eaten at the tables outside or for takeout. (Think of the Montreal winters.) It is known for its delicious poutine and has a large dairy menu. Trust me, it is well worth it!
All of these hotels are blocks from several shuls and the Lubavitch yeshiva. The Kosher Quality Bakery is approximately eight blocks away, and there is nothing that you cannot get there. Aside from their scrumptious challah and danish, their takeout food department is extremely large. They also sell sandwiches.
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 Mont Tremblant over Shabbat is the thriving Chabad, which is run by Rabbi Yisroel Mochkin. Each Shabbat afternoon the Mochkins host guests from everywhere 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. Mont Tremblant offers beautiful walking trails, a lake and a gondolier, which can take people all the way up to the top of the mountain. It is great for couples as a rendezvous and 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 antisemitism while living there. The yeshiva community is located off Van Horne and de Vimy. The Chassidish community—Montreal has the second-largest population of Chassidim in North America next to 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, shtiebels, 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 recently opened is a luscious candy store called Sucrese, which sells ice cream cones, cotton candy and candy. Sfingy’s, a first-of-its-kind doughnut store, is in the mall. (There are no Dunkin’ Donuts 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 so many different options. There is a kosher pizza store, sushi restaurant, deli, Chinese food establishment and a falafel and shawarma restaurant.
The IGA (supermarket) in the same mall has an only kosher bakery, takeout food department, meat department and fish department, all under hashgacha. It is worth checking out. Also in the same mall is a kosher butcher store called J&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, Borough 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. Lollypop, a well-known children’s clothing brand, now has a wholesale store in a strip mall where there is a completely kosher supermarket called the Fooderie as well. The address of the store is 6590 Park Avenue. Many other factory stores 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. All food is takeout and definitely worth a try.
For those who prefer to shop downtown, go to Simon’s Department Store, and of course we are home to the famous Roots. Both would be a worthwhile stop. Montreal streets are connected for some miles underneath due to the brutal winter. This indoor world is called the underground city.
I am not sure if my passion for this amazing city has been given its proper due as a result of 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 needs further information, please do not hesitate to contact me at The Link and I will be more than happy to help construct an itinerary that would best suit your needs as well as your choice of where to eat and stay. Kosher restaurants abound as do parks, choice of synagogues, minyanim, in and outside of the city.
Please be in touch: [email protected].
By Nina Glick