Context Travel Quebec Identity and Tradition Review – A Fascinating Perspective

Accompanying my husband to Montreal, Quebec for a professional meeting, I was very fortunate that my time allowed for a Context Travel Tour.  Following a very “touristy” tour offered by the meeting, it was a delightful contrast to learn about the development of the city in a meaningful way.  I love that Context tours really do provide a context, blending architecture, history, sociology, the arts, culture and more.


Leader Daniel Epstein and the Context Group

Context Travel groups are always small – something else that I like.  The group that I joined included people from Denver, Sacramento, St. Louis and Chicago.  Each of us had enjoyed previous Context Travel Tours somewhere in Italy. 


French Hospital and Anglican Church

Near the spot where our group gathered there was a striking contrast of a newly- built French hospital and an Anglican Church next to it.  This twists and turns of the French/English culture and the shift of power and wealth were revealed to our group as we observed buildings of historical, sociological and architectural significance.  The trail leading from rich and powerful to poor and powerless and then the shift to middle class and finally to gaining power, revealed customs and interactions that underlie the user-friendliness of Montreal. I love walking because I feel a part of the city rather than distant from it.


Château Ramezay, the former home of Claude de Ramezay

After our group gathered, our guide, Daniel Epstein, lead us to what had once been the home of a powerful individual.  He pointed out that to have wealth and power, a male needed to be educated, be active in the Catholic Church and have military service. This home was within the city gates.  In fact, there were two sets of city gates over time.  The first was wooden, to protect from the Iriquois who followed the milder Algonquins.  The next gate was sturdier stone to protect from the English to no avail.  Daniel commented,  “The first stop was at the Château Ramezay, the former home of Claude de Ramezay (1659-1724), seigneur, knight, and governor of New France from 1714-1716. The house was also the American Revolutionary headquarters in Montreal; where Benjamin Franklin stayed with Benedict Arnold in 1776.”


Outside the city gates, a home for working people

Our next stop was at a home close by but outside the city gates that had belonged to workers.  There was evidence of an oven used for baking bread.


First Railroad Hotel, not in use now


French Business School

Striking was the architiectual contrast of the English built railway hotel, the first of its kind, situated across the park from a French business school.  Not far away, we came across an example of a “green alley”, one of several hundred throughout Montreal.   We passed an area that was considered a slum although residence had an active social system with mutual support and community activities.  This area was cleared for the Olympics and photos of each building and stories about the residence have been archived.


Many green alleys dot Montreal


Jam Factory in the Ste. Marie neighborhood

In the middle class neighborhood, we saw what remains of a jam factory, now turned into loft apartments.  This factory was built by one of the residents who began with a small shop, and fantastic sales, eventually supporting the building of the factory and the employment of more that a thousand at harvest time.  Daniel explained, “The Jam Factory in the Ste. Marie neighborhood was owned by Alphonse Raymond (1884-1958). The company was called simply Alphonse Raymond Cie.”


The street is covered from May to September

A short walk brought us to a Catholic school that was built in the early 1900s as a state of the art building, to bring education and pride to a poor neighborhood. According to Daniel,  “The architect of the Salaberry School (around the corner from the Alphonse Raymond Factory) was Joseph Venne (1858-1925). The building was not modeled after the Chicago Public Schools, rather it was the first public school in Montreal to be built using the technologies of the Chicago School of Architecture, i.e. steel-frame, or so-called fire-proof technologies.”



Cut corners on the shops allow for visiting

There were examples of the way that the people tend to care for one another and to socialize.  The depanneurs (similar to the US 7/11 stores) offer social service as a place for the community to gather and a place where the indigent can get food either on credit or as charity.  Another example of the sociability of the less wealthy communities was the way that corners were removed from building so individuals could socialize when shopping.




Emile Nelligan- Square St. Louis

Our final stop encompassed many features.  In a beautiful park, a fountain and washroom had been moved from the park between the railroad hotel and the business school.  And there is a statue of a writer whose tragic story was told.  As Daniel explained before we parted, “The poet we learned about at Square St. Louis was Emile Nelligan (1879-1941); and, the playwright was Michel Tremblay (1942- ). Tremblay was the first to write in the dialect of Quebec and was a significant contributor to the cultural renaissance we refer to as the Quiet Revolution. Nelligan was a romantic poet, whose work was as if a first spark, at the end of the 19th century, on the cultural path to the Quiet Revolution. He suffered from what was likely un-diagnosed schizophrenia, and was institutionalized in asylums from 1899 to his death in 1941.”


Once an important department store for the French

I was inspired by this tour to explore other parts of the city, which were all the more interesting after this experience.   My next stop was the Montreal Botanical Garden.

Information on Context Travel Tours


Photos: B. Keer







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