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credit: Josie Desmarais

Take up winter sports

The next day I meet Montrealer Ruby Roy, who’s sporting a huge, luxurious red velvet coat and, in true local style, managing to look both fabulously glamorous and nonchalant about the cold.

“Montrealers like hockey, eating, cycling and arts, strictly in that order. If you don’t like hockey, we say, don’t come here,” she announces firmly.

Hockey here of course means ice hockey, and gradually I start to understand the full extent of the national obsession with the game.

They talk about ice hockey all the time, even when they’re not talking about ice hockey. “We say you’re ‘hanging up your skates’ when you retire and if someone tells you you’re ‘quick on your skates’ it means you’re witty,” Ruby says. 

You’d have to pull a lot of strings (and shell out big bucks) to get tickets to see a big ice hockey game in Montreal, but there are plenty of other winter sports going on all the time throughout the city.

One of the best and most scenic is the ice skating rink at the Old Port, where you can see the historic buildings of Old Montreal and the wide St Lawrence river. 

This is an area which really shows its colonial past – the rink faces Bonsecours Market, which was designed by a British architect in 1844 and has a stately grandeur that reminds me of central London, while just behind, the cobbled streets and small, cosy cafes, jazz clubs and wine bars of the Old Town are oh-so Parisian.

The ice rink stays open until 10pm at weekends, and each night is themed, so skaters swish round to the likes of Wham! if it’s Friday’s Eighties night, or possibly some thundering Beethoven if it’s a Classical Monday. 

As for the infinitely less skilled (but equally fun) winter sport of tobogganing, that takes place on Bois de Liesse Nature Park where there are two hills dedicated just for whizzing down. 

Avoid skyscrapers

The main reason why there aren’t any skyscrapers in Montreal is that they create wind tunnels, which would make the gusts here just too ferocious.

credit: holgs

The evidence of this is plain in Place d’Armes, a square which I’m looking at from the comfort of Ruby’s car.

She tells me this spot is famous partly because you can see examples of every one of Montreal’s architectural traditions standing shoulder to shoulder, including the Gothic spires of the Notre-Dame Basilica cathedral and the red sandstone of the renaissance New York Life building.

But also, because of all these imposing buildings, it’s the coldest spot in Montreal. I believe it: the wind is picking up sheets of the light, powdery snow and flinging it in all directions over the square.

I decide to stay right where I am and to admire the views from near the car heater.

The only unremarkable structure, Ruby says, is the plain black building called 500 Place d’Armes. However, she adds, with a glint in her eye: “That one is where the firemen come to practice sometimes – and then the whole square fills with women and, I can tell you, that’s definitely the only building anyone’s lookin’ at then...” 


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Montreal: a winter wonderland
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