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One Halloween Day in Montréal

Megan Kopp - Click to Enlarge
by Megan Kopp

Mount Royal Cemetery is alive with nature. Photo by Megan Kopp.  click to enlarge

"Criminal of the grave, come out and behave." Our voices were loud and raucous, echoing in the narrow, dimly-lit alleyway hemmed by surly gray stone buildings. As far as settings go, this one was spooky perfection... and that's exactly what Montréal is at Halloween -- a hip city not afraid to celebrate with spirit.

Atwater Market glows orange in October.  Click to Enlarge.  Photo by Megan Kopp.Day begins with an exquisitely-brewed cappuccino at Boulangerie Première Moisson, sipped while viewing the cheery stacks of pumpkins engulfing the parking lot of Atwater Market. Situated on Canal de Lachine (Atwater Street), the market is a bustling blend of cheese shops, gourmet cooking supply shops, butchers and the pièce-de-résistance (in my mind) -- Boulangerie Première Moisson. 

Drooling over exquisitely-decorated, glass-encased cakes and petit-fours and displays of pâté and lunch fixings, it was difficult to think of breakfast.  Sitting down to a sample basket of breads, I stared at the crétin (pork pâté) in disbelief.  “For breakfast?” I queried my companions, having only ever had crétin as a dinner appetizer.  I’m hooked.  Sipping on a bowl-sized cappuchino, munching toasted bread liberally slathered with the spicy “any-time” crétin, I was in heaven.

Boulangerie Première Moisson is a must!  Photo by Megan Kopp.  click to enlarge

Brain synapses firing, it was time for a trip through the past at the Mount Royal Cemetery (one of four graveyards on the hill), where life wins over death. First established in 1847, the 165-acre Protestant cemetery is one of several overlooking the city (the other large one being the Catholic Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery).  Oak, maple, birch, elm, chestnut -- these are just a few of the tree species found in the garden-like atmosphere that is Mount Royal Cemetery, designated a National Historic Site in 2000. 

Birders stroll the ground in search of some 145 species of birds and historians visit for notables such as Charles Melville Hays (President of the Grand Trunk Railway and a Titanic victim); David Thompson (explorer and surveyor with the Hudson’s Bay and North West Companies, “the greatest of geographers”); Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt (one of the Fathers of Confederation; Anna Leonowens (governess to the King of Siam); and the sugar-man himself, John Redpath (established Canada’s first sugar refinery).  Guided walking tours are available.

Come afternoon, Old Port’s Pointe-à-Callière, with its basement graves draws the brave inside.  Built on the founding site of the city, Montréal’s Museum of Archaeology and History is an intriguing combination of old and new -- from the award-winning, modern design of the Éperon building (housing the entrance to the museum, restaurant and special exhibitions), the underground archaeological crypt (and Montreal’s first Catholic cemetery), Montreal’s original Customs House and the Youville Pumping Station (built in 1915). 

Mount Royal Cemetery is alive with nature.  Photo by Megan Kopp.  Click to Enlarge.

After passing the entrance booth, the scene is set with a multi-media show played out over an archaeological dig site.  Spectral images of Casimir Daudelin (officer in charge of the Customs buildings), French explorer Jacques Cartier and several dozen others re-tell the stories behind the birth and life of the city.

Entranced, I followed the other visitors filing out the sidedoor as the show finished. We headed down the steps to the basement, walking through “layers and layers of history”, past the cemetery, into a crypt showing walls of an inn and a warehouse and on into the basement of the customs house -- all brought to life by an interpreter guiding us along.  Momentarily disoriented when the tour ended in the gift shop, across the street from where we had entered the museum, I surfaced in the present and was ready for more.

Stroll Old Port Promenade for the Ghost Walk Meeting Place.  Photo by Megan Kopp.  click to enlarge

Sundown brings out the ghosts in Old Montréal, scurrying through narrow, dimly-lit alleyways and skittishly avoiding the group of nearly 100 ghost hunters clustering around the Ghost Walk Kiosk on the Old Port Promenade (across from Bonsecours Market).  Young, old, costumed and not -- the group was quickly divided into English and French, given maps, tangible clues (a rope, a gascan, a toy car...) and directed to head and find our first apparition.  We stumbled along to the first location, a dark, narrow, stone-lined alley.  Cautiously we called out, “Criminal of the grave, come out and behave.”  The young pirate in the front jumped for his mother as Pierre Lefebvre lurched out an alcove and proceeded to fill us in on his historic hanging. 

We circled Old Town in our ghostly hunt, meeting Jacques Cartier at Place Royal, car thief Hector Legault at Place d’Armes, witch Marie-Reine Besnard at Champ-de-Mars and arsonist Ambroise Néron Duquenne at Place De La Dauversière, before sipping Pumpkin Soup, dining on Bewitching Lemon Chicken and biting into Vampire’s Delight Dessert at Le Bourlingueur (part of our guided walk package).

Replete, I savored the stories of the day as I curled up next to the deep windowsill at Auberge Bonaparte (a ghost-free boutique hotel in Old Town) and watched the lights spreading spirited warm over gray stone streets and buildings.  Life and death, past and present -- all in one Halloween Day in Montréal.

If You Go:

For general information on the Old Town of Montréal, visit www.vieux.montreal.qc.ca/ or the Tourism Montréal website at www.tourisme-montreal.org. Free brochures (“An Historical Walking Tour in the Mount Royal Cemetery”, “The Trees of Mount Royal Cemetery” and “Bird Watching in the Mount Royal Cemetery”) are available by request at www.mountroyalcem.com.  For prices and times of the Ghost Walk, visit Guidatour’s site at www.phvm.qc.ca.  Details about Pointe-à-Callière can be found at: http://www.pacmusee.qc.ca.  To book a stay at Auberge Bonaparte in Old Town, visit www.bonaparte.com.

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Megan Kopp is a freelance writer published in a variety of markets including Reader’s Digest, Canadian Living, Western People, YES Magazine, Western Parent, Northwest Family and The Traveler’s Journal. She has traveled extensively throughout Western Canada and the United States; spent time in the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Belize and have recently been re-directing her writing efforts towards sharing my passion for new sights, smells and sounds.

Email:  Megan Kopp

 

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