Our one full day in Montreal and the forecast predicted heavy rain with peels of thunder. Not to worry, we planned activities with a roof over our heads. First stop was the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History where an exhibit about Rapa Nui (formerly called Easter Island) and its art and culture is showing until November 14th. The installation includes plenty of information about the familiar Moai statues and their carving but more interesting are the less well known sculptures in wood, many smaller stone sculptures, and all the historical and cultural background gathered in this exhibit.
There are many examples of the smaller more intricate artwork of the Rapanui; two headed figures, birdmen, and anthropomorphised paddles. A black and white film clip documentary of a Belgian expedition struggling to haul a stone sculpture from Rapa Nui aboard their ship was on view in a small theater. The timeline of the changing beliefs and practices of the Rapanui filled in many of the questions about what happened to the islands' inhabitants and how the population was decimated by the 1860s. The many didactic panels and well arranged labels filled the exhibit with a wealth of fascinating details. If you are in Montreal anytime before November 14th I highly recommend seeing this installation, but it's not the only reason to visit.
The main permanent exhibit at the Archaeology and History Museum is down stairs, below street level. In fact it extends beyond the walls of the museum under the adjacent street. Here the layers of Montreal's history are revealed like an active archaeological dig extending back six centuries through colonial history and into the charcoal hearths left by the Native Americans along the riverbank.
The open and well labeled excavations include the stone foundations of an 18th century building, a 17th century catholic cemetery, what is left of the Little Saint-Pierre River vaulted with stone and turned into a collector sewer, and the site of the marketplace where digital ghosts of colonial Montreal will stop for conversation. Wall cases display artifacts uncovered in the excavation from clay pipes and gambling dice, to stone and iron arrow points. One case gathered glass and ceramic vessels in layers from an unidentified 17th century ceramic shards to a 20th century hourglass coke bottle. In the floor of one gallery I was treated to a satisfying dose of diorama-o-rama. Here in consecutive miniatures, the buried history of this small patch of Montreal is recreated from a summer fishing and trading village, to colonial outpost, to stockade, market town, and city. Just can't get enough of dioramas.
Upstairs in another wing of the museum we found a contemporary exhibit about the lives and histories of current Montreal residents. There were interviews with recent immigrants and people with families extending into Montreal's past. All spoke of why they or their ancestors came and what keeps them in Montreal. There was a collection of children's artwork about the city and one child's painting had been reproduced as a large free standing sculpture of the city scape. Our host's kids had a ball with this one, peeking through all the tiny windows. A bank of computer consoles offer the chance to search Montreal's population records for your family name and possible ancestors.
While at the museum the rain and wind raged on but it let up just as we emerged giving us a chance to make our way to our next stop, the Jean-Talon Market for a late lunch. I hope I have the name correct as I didn't think to write it down when we were there. I'm certain their are other markets in the city but this seemed to be a favorite of many people. The rain did little to deter the shopping crowd. I hear tell that it gets truly crowded here on weekends, but it was far from slow on our visit. The summer produce had the stalls overflowing with color and the brick and mortar shops facing the central plaza offered even more colors and scents.
In Los Angeles you're in a well stocked market if they offer three varieties of cured sausage. Here we found no less than 15 varieties all color coded. We wandered the aisles and refueled with fried calamari, middle eastern sandwiches, and some hot beverages to ward off the damp.
Our last stop for the day was to sample the creamy treat offered at Gibeau Orange Julep. The giant orange can't be missed if you get within a few kilometers. The whipped orange juice drink (with pulp, mind you) is sold by the cup or you can ask for a large bottle to take home. Think liquid form of an orange 50-50 bar with real orange juice and cream. Shlurrrp.
Well, our tour of Montreal was a whirlwind and too short, but the best part, as with most of our stops, was the visiting with our hosts. We were treated to delightful home cooked meals and a real welcoming hospitality. If you visit I hope you will be as fortunate to have a resident of this city show you the highlights, but even if you are on your own Montreal can't fail to delight.