Only six hours away by car, offering the delight of being in another country with a taste of a European city, is Montreal. Although all signs are in French and many people speak French as their native language in Quebec, the English-speaking tourist is more than welcome and will feel comfortable wherever they are.
Although there are those who choose to fly to Montreal, a short one-hour flight with the Montreal airport a mere 30 minutes from the center of the city, most jump into their cars and proceed to a city where parking is easily available and considerably less expensive than in the metropolitan New York area.
Those driving with children have many options to break up their trip on the way. Driving through Albany, Saratoga, Lake George on the Northway once exiting from the Thruway offers many possibilities; Price Chopper in Albany on Central Avenue offers a large takeout department and bakery under the hashgacha of the local Albany vaad. The Great Escape Six Flags is in Queensbury, New York, which is 58 miles north of Albany. For shoppers, at exit 20 on the Northway there are tons of discount stores in the Lake George shopping outlet. It is important to note that there are few services on the Northway after passing Lake George. It is important to fill your tank with gas when leaving New Jersey and definitely fill up once again before entering Canada, close to the border. The prices of gas in Canada are outrageous. It is sold by the litre as opposed to the gallon and comes close to $7 to $8 per gallon.
It is imperative to have proper documentation when crossing the border for whoever is traveling. Children are not required to have passports but must have birth certificates. Adults do need to have passports. Note that once you cross the border, speed limits are listed in kilometres. One hundred kilometres per hour is the equivalent of 60 miles an hour. Montreal is approximately 45 minutes from the border.
Suddenly, all of the signs will be in French. You are now in another country, and in Quebec, French is the primary language; nevertheless, especially in the city itself, English is spoken by all. Once crossing the border, the road to Montreal is totally straight and direct. The only word that we can think of that might be tricky for everyone is the word “pont,” which means bridge. In order to get into the city of Montreal you must go over the Pont Champlain. There are no tolls in Quebec, which is a great relief considering where we are coming from.
Where should you stay once you have arrived there? There are so many choices, from the most deluxe hotels in the center of the city to more economical choices scattered throughout. As well, I am assuming that traveling with children would be a factor in choosing where to stay, as opposed to a romantic getaway for a couple. From the center of the city there is nothing very far away, and a suburb, in most cases (including the majorly Jewish areas), will not take more than 20 minutes from the center of the city. The Quality Hotel Midtown is a family-style hotel mere blocks from shuls and kosher facilities. They offer a free kosher breakfast each morning and have a meat restaurant on their grounds as well; they are also a mere 500 feet away from the famous Pizza Pita, which is a large, popular, drive-in pizza store that offers many dairy selections and is well-known for the Quebec-made-famous poutine. (You must try it.) Poutine is French fries with a cheesy gravy on top. They must sell tons of them every day.
The Quality Hotel is in very close proximity to shuls. A daily minyan at the Congregation Shomrim Laboker is a mere two blocks from the hotel. The Lubavitch Yeshiva, with many minyanim, is also two blocks from the hotel. Kosher Quality Bakery is only eight blocks away and there is nothing you cannot get there. They have an enormous variety of take-out food and delicious Danish pastries and challah.
For those who would prefer something closer to the center of the city (Centre Ville), there is a myriad of hotels to choose from. The Sofitel on Sherbrooke is upscale and was built by the well-known architect David Azrieli, who resided in Montreal. They have a number of rooms in the hotel that are Shabbat-friendly, with keys as opposed to electric door locks. The closest place to daven while staying downtown would be at the Chabad of Westmount. Joining them for Shabbat means being treated to a yummy luncheon on Shabbat afternoon.
Close to the Sofitel are the Cantlie Suites, which is more conducive to family stays because they offer kitchen facilities. There are so many other options, as is the case in any major cities. For further information please do not hesitate to contact me. Parking is nowhere the cost of what it is in the metropolitan New York area. Remember when parking and reading the signs that the 24-hour clock is used on all signage. When you can park from 22:00 until 07:00, that means 10 at night until 7 in the morning.
Once in this fantastic city, there are tons of things to do that will satisfy various tastes. Montreal is a city of festivals and the majority of them have many free activities. During the Jazz Festival, which this year is from June 28 through July 8, there are free concerts taking place in many different venues, and tickets for specific groups can be purchased online. The Just for Laughs Festival, which, this year, as it has happened in the past many times, falls July 14 through 30, which is smack in the middle of the three weeks, is another fun experience. Taking a walk in “Old Montreal” along the cobblestone streets and watching the street performers is an exhilarating experience. Bicycles can be rented there and bike paths going all along the Lachine Canal are popular. Montreal does have its own Bixi Bike System similar to the one in New York City where bikes are rented along many of the city streets. Bikes in Old Montreal can be rented for as many as eight people sitting together. Artists are on call for caricatures and portraits, and don’t forget the Amphi-Bus tour, which leaves from Old Montreal as a regular bus and then proceeds to become a boat and goes into the water. Lots of fun for the kids (and adults). During or after your stay in Old Montreal, treat yourself to kosher Ben and Jerry’s, which is on the Grand Allee. Check with Ben and Jerry’s to get the list of kosher ice creams. The cones are kosher. Take pictures in front of the Palais de Justice (the Courthouse), where fountains of water cascade up into the air. Treat yourself to a caleche ride (horse and buggy), where the driver will definitely entertain you.
Downtown, as well, there is the science museum, the art museum and the McCord Museum. Directly in the center of the city along Sherbrooke Street is the famous Mcgill University campus, and wherever you look while in the downtown corridor you will see the mountain directly above the city, which explains the name of the city Montreal (Mount Royal). It is possible to drive up either side of the mountain from two different directions, and once at the top there is a lookout where on a clear day one can even see New York state. Notice the cross at the top of the Mountain indicating that Montreal has always been a Catholic city, which is what it means if you hear someone say they are French Canadian. A French Canadian is a person who is Catholic and from Quebec. 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 walk away.
Montreal has several different Jewish areas. I can say quite emphatically that I have never experienced any type of anti-Semitism while living there. The yeshiva community is located off Van Horne and de Vimy. The Chassidish community (Montreal has the second-largest population of Chasidim 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, shteibels, etc. (and the most delicious bakeries).
The majority of the dati leumi community lives in Hampstead/Cote St Luc. The community is found by driving on Fleet toward Cavendish Blvd. on both sides and then continuing on Cavendish all the way to Westminster Avenue. The Cavendish Mall, a large 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 court. Only Subway and McDonalds remain there for the non-kosher consumer. There is a kosher pizza store, sushi restaurant, deli, Chinese food establishment and a falafel/shwarma restaurant. The IGA (supermarket) in the same mall has a kosher bakery, take-out food department, meat department and fish department under hashgacha. It is worth checking out. 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.
Separately I will list all of the restaurants (and there are many), as well as exceptional bakeries. There are three well-known acceptable hashgachot in Montreal: the MK (Montreal Kosher), the COR (from Toronto) and the KSR, which is the Sephardic hashgacha under the Grand Rabbinat du Quebec. Again, all three hashgachot are acceptable to all in the community.
The good news is that the Canadian dollar is worth approximately 35 percent less than the U.S. currency. As I am writing this, one U.S. dollar is worth $1.35 in Canadian funds. Montreal is a great place to shop for the fashionable and up-to-date fashions, and it is a well-known fact that the children’s clothing that one might find in any of the more “Jewish” stores in Brooklyn, Lakewood and Monsey are manufactured in Montreal. All of the manufacturers have factory store outlets and are open on Sunday. They all take credit cards as well as cash. Best known is Lolly Pop; Aritex; Un, Deux, Trois; and Petit Bouffon. Do not expect any amenities at these stores. Nicole Hats for ladies, where they will adjust and add on to the hat of your choice, as well as Hats by Ophelie, are also made in Montreal and the factories are open to the public. All stores are open in Montreal on Sunday. While visiting the factories, or perhaps even if not, it is definitely in your best gastronomic interest to visit Cheskie’s bakery on Bernard. (This is not to the advantage of your diet.) The store was written about in Gourmet Magazine and is known for its amazing yummy rugelach and cheese crowns. Everything there is scrumptious.
For those who would prefer to shop downtown, Simon’s Department Store would be a worthwhile stop. They have fashionable, reasonably-priced skirts and tops and are known for their great men’s department. Montreal streets are connected underneath by the “underground city,” which allows people to never go outside in the days when the winter cold is overwhelming. The city is linked by blocks and blocks of office buildings above them.
For those who would prefer to be in the mountains, Mont-Tremblant in the Laurentians offers many family vacation packages and is approximately two hours from the city. Jet boating, boat rides, mini golf, go-carting and great hiking trails are just a few of the features they offer. There is an active Chabad in Mont-Tremblant where they offer everyone a Shabbat lunch, and if one so chooses they will also pre-order food for Friday-night meals and the food can be picked up from them. Honestly, there are so many choices in the city that my preference would be to go to an establishment of choice and see the delectable possibilities. It is possible to rent a condo in Mont-Tremblant. The most deluxe hotel there is Hotel Quintessence, which is directly across the street from the Chabad. As well, the Fairmont and Westin are lovely. The Marriott Residence Inn offers kitchen facilities in each suite and provides breakfast each day.
I know that I am passionate about suggesting a vacation to Montreal. There are not many places where the Jewish community offers many facilities, the streets are safe, the dollar will return almost $1.30 for each U.S. dollar that you use, and the feeling of being far away but in reality being quite close to home exists. Please do not hesitate to contact me for any further information. It would be my pleasure to be of assistance. I can be reached at [email protected]
By Nina Glick