return to Ukraine Canada Corps exchange, and other travels

PS21 - Montreal

April 25th, 2006: Montreal

Habitat '67 (April 21st, 2006)

And, just when I thought it was safe to return to anonymous ignominy at the call centre, our Centre for Intercultural Learning-administered de-briefing got switched to Montreal*! I had a great weekend there and met all kinds of cool people. The first day, Friday April 21st, we had fantastic weather. It was a day that could have easily been mistaken for the middle of summer, and I even got a bit of a sunburn from all my walking around.

* - There were two separate sessions; the western participants in our program (and other programs) went to Edmonton instead, so this was just for me, Lindsay, and Roch.

"Montréal was a blast. It was such a kooky, crazy place - uber-cosmopolitan, with a slightly Euro feel. So much French signage – I probably learned like twenty new-to-me words. Not only that, but the home of such wonderful visionary monuments to the future we thought we’d have: Montréal-Mirabel International Airport (once the world’s largest by area!), Habitat ’67 (the first and last of its kind!), Olympic Stadium (the debt will finally be paid off this year!), the Montreal Biosphère (nine bucks?!) (to name but a few detriti of the almost-future) … is bound to be a little nuts. I’d put the Metro on this list, but despite its being on rubber tires, it’s actually quite practical, and the stations are much more interesting than Toronto’s."

Flying into Montreal by CanJet (back when you could still fly CanJet as an individual)...

I arrived in the morning (too early, in fact, to check into the hotel), so I had a lot of time to explore before our supper-time meeting:

Left: 1250 René-Lévesque

The Sun Life Building

Left: La Tour CIBC

Back Right: 1000 de La Gauchetière, Montreal's tallest skyscraper

Place du Canada, with the Cathedral-Basilica of Mary, Queen of the World in the foreground, and the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in the background.

Monument to Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first Prime Minister.

Who knew? Sir John A., a stinking communist!?

The bridge to the Montreal Marriott Château Champlain

A better view of 1250 René-Lévesque, with St. George's Anglican Church in the foreground.

1250, St. George's, and Tour CIBC

Back Right: Place Ville-Marie

Approaching St. George's:

Ummm... "nice" park job.

Approaching Victoria Square:


Victoria Square

The Old Port:

The Daniel McAllister, 2nd oldest preserved oceangoing tug in the world.

The Lachine Canal

Grain silos at the Old Port

" … what is that thing?! I wondered, half tempted to run down a random person, point wildly and ask, “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” in the manner that I might announce that my house was on fire. I needed to know what that collection of building blocks across the water was. It couldn’t be real. But there it was, as if someone’s six-year-old child had designed a large concrete something-or-other, and that six-year-old’s father and 1,000 of his buddies had built it."

Maybe it's an abandoned theme park maze?

Left, background: Tour de la Bourse, for a time the world's tallest reinforced-concrete skyscraper.

Old Montreal

Centre, background: Notre-Dame Basilica

The Montreal Science Centre

Bonsecours Market

Place Jacques-Cartier

City Hall

The Hugger Busker, underneath the column of Admiral Nelson.

"Determined to investigate this happy monstrosity, of which I now knew the name but nothing else, I made plans to catch a ferry over to what I thought was the island that supported it. (Later I discovered that it wasn’t on a separate island at all, and I could have walked.) Hmm… the ferry doesn’t open until May. That’s fair, it’s not every day in April that’s 25 degrees and sunny. In fact, I was so hot that I felt like having an ice cream! Place Jaques-Cartier sported a Ben & Jerry’s (which we don’t have in Halifax, to my knowledge) complete with a water cooler (free) and Apple Pie ice cream in a waffle cone (not quite so free).

"More importantly, I saw a man in a tweed suit standing so perfectly still that I thought he must have been a mannequin. Upon closer inspection, he turned out to be a real person, the Hugger Busker.

"One goofball came up and imitated him while his posse of girls took pictures of them side-by-side. That was funny. I almost didn’t have the courage (or audacity?) to take a picture – I might have snuck one or two, but if I knew what I knew now I’d just snap off a few without hesitation.

"Well, not without trepidation, I stepped up for a hug. He came to life like a coin-operated robot, but with human grace. “And you have a most wonderful day, sir.” What an interesting experience. I had a little bit of a high for the next half-hour thinking about it."

Palais de Justice, Montreal

Traveller's Rule #15: No matter where you go, there will be a McDonald's.

Autoroute 720, beyond is Chinatown and the towers of Complexe Desjardins.

Autoroute 720, looking over the eastbound lanes from under the Palais des congrès.

The gates of Chinatown

I got on the Metro and took the Yellow Line to Île Sainte-Hélène, so that I could get closer to those mysterious concrete blocks. I suspected it had something to do with the Expo, and I knew that most of the Expo stuff was concentrated on that island.

from Montréal’s Island Park: Summer Idyll par excellence, by Ronald T. Harvie:

One of the many blessings of a riverfront location—especially for a big city—is that it affords a great chance for what photographers call the “approach shot.” That is, the view from the river. And, if there’s the added bonus of an island right in front of the downtown skyline, you’ve got instant spectacle! Think of Roosevelt Island in New York’s East River—or Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay.

Well, Montréal goes one better than either of those. Because Montréal’s “picture window island” is also a public park—entirely. No condos or townhouses, no massive concrete prisons. Just trees and hills and lawns and ponds and bike trails and gardens—with several great historical sites thrown in for good measure.

That’s Montréal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau (named after the city’s most energetic and controversial mayor) on Île Sainte-Hélène. It’s been called “the little park with a big story,” and it’s certainly the ideal place to spend a few hours on a fine summer’s day.

Jean-Drapeau Station

"I discovered with some dismay that I had overshot my target by at least a mile – I was now on a separate island. Whoops. Desperate to see Habitat ’67 up close, I headed for the bridge back to the main island."

Man, a sculpture by Alexander Calder

Crossing back to the main island via Pont de la Concorde:

"While on the bridge, I got some shots of the Montréal skyline. I think I also got a sunburn, but I didn’t realize it at the time, that faint warming of the skin having been unknown to me for far too many months. By the time I reached the end of the bridge, my feet were well and truly aching.

"Still, I thought it would be worth it to see this grand abandoned building. I mean, it had to be abandoned, right? Surely it can’t be used for anything? It must be some futurist’s failed experiment."

Pont Jacques-Cartier

Well, there's that tanker ship again!


"As I stepped up, I noticed that Habitat ’67 didn’t look nearly as dilapidated as it ought to..."

"However, my hopes rose when I saw a bottle-dress lamp and elongated mock giraffe in a window.

"But then I saw a paunchy man in his mid-forties step out of a door marked “201,” taking out his garbage. He looked at me."

"It was amazing … it looked like the inside of a block fort. It was really something else. Of course, being a real-live condo complex (and lamentably not the abandoned experimental monolith I was hoping for) there were some hazards such as people walking big purebred dogs without leashes, and an irate woman on the 12th floor balcony who said “C’est bon!” to me inflected like “Vous êtes un touriste stupide et ennuyeux!”"

I poked around the elevators for a bit until I found one that was unlocked for the upper floors:

"One cool thing about the upper levels (which I snuck onto by outsmarting the elevator – it’s probably not the most secure condo-complex in Montreal) were the curved Plexiglas shields erected over the walkways. When you walk under them, you hear a sound effect like falling rain." (see video)

Left, background: Pont Victoria - a very interesting old bridge, with road lanes on both sides and rail in the middle.

"So I got out of there, and guess what? Yep, I walked all the way back to the island again. By now my feet were aching, I was sticky, and I was on my second pair of batteries for the day, but you know what? That’s the price you pay for being the True Traveller. I owe it to myself to suffer for my experiences. It’s the only way to go."

Back to the park:

The Biosphère, formerly the American pavillion from Expo 67. The transparent acrylic covering burnt in 1976.

"Once there, and resisting the temptation to sleep on a bench, I took a gander at the Biosphère, which was a federally-run museum of water, but it seemed to be mostly aimed at kids, and it was expensive."

I had stepped inside the exhibit building, but it was priced out of the range of passers-by with spare change.

Just who would be tempted?

"So I kept on trekking through forest paths. I thought I’d get up to see La Ronde, but I had underestimated the size of the island, and looking back at my trek I can see I got nowhere near there. I also stopped for a rest at a soccer field, and desperate to be off my feet I sat down and pretended I was watching Quidditch, which provided about twenty seconds of enjoyment."

Looks like the pool wasn't open quite yet.

Back in downtown:

Our hotel and training site, the Hôtel Maritime Plaza. On Friday we met for only for dinner and introductions; I had come in the morning, far ahead of anybody else.

"I took the Metro back to the hotel and finally met Lindsay. She came into my room and we hugged and started sharing stories. She’d been bugging the hotel staff all day about whether or not I’d checked in – I guess I should have left them my name and mobile number along with my stuff! We went out for dinner at Peel Pub, then came back for the first session and met our new groupmates and facilitators."

The Bell Centre, home of the Canadiens, in the lee of 1250 René-Lévesque

We think this sign signifies a sprinkler connection; a place where a fire truck would plug in if there were a fire.

from the journal:
What can I say about the sessions? They were really valuable. You might remember how I’ve been beating myself up about my time in Ukraine. I had a good reason for this, but now that I’ve had the chance to touch base with other participants on other programs and a chance to really go deep and evaluate what worked and what didn’t in my experience and those of others, I value my experience a hundred times more than I did before. To be blunt, I was really only excited at first because of the free trip to Montreal. If it had been in Halifax, I would have been somewhat less enthusiastic. But in the end, the debriefing ended up being more valuable than the trip. I have a completely different attitude now than I did before. I also didn’t allow myself much time to adjust before, and I was generally too hard on myself. Now I’m much more comfortable with what transpired and I’m still learning the things I’ve learned. (Do you know what I mean? Most of your learning happens after an experience; the nasty catch is that you actually have to have the experience first.)

If you’ll permit me to digress, after getting back to real life and a real job, hiding in my room for two months doesn’t seem so bad! =)

Anyway, the sessions were fantastic, and we were fortunate to have outstanding facilitators (including one fellow from West Jeddore, Nova Scotia!) and great participation. We all learned so very much. We all spoke the same language, and laughed at the same things. It was like being part of a secret club. On that note, one of the other Nova Scotians said in her upbeat voice: “You know, we’re really lucky to be here! Look at all those people out there working in call centres…”

Mock-crying, I shouted, “I work in a call centre! I just started last week!” Laughter ensued.

You probably had to be there for both, but my other hit was when Darren, our facilitator, was asking us all if there was one thing we wish we had been told before embarking upon our programs:

I deadpanned, “The Russian bride thing is really just a myth.”


Then they get it, and they’re almost falling out of their chairs.

* * *

Photos from my walk with Dave that night:

At McGill Station, waiting for our train...

from the journal:
We all went to an old English pub up on Crescent and shared some ale, and Dave from my first CWY program called me. I went to meet him at the Guy-Concordia metro stop. It was great to see him and catch up, hearing his stories and telling him about what things might have been like in Ukraine if we’d went like we were all supposed to. Of course, Dave is also a great man for walking. Even at that early-ish point in the evening (around 11pm), my feet were worn and exhausted, and I groaned as Dave led me off the escalator and onto two stories worth of steps back up to street level, claiming that the escalator is for lazy people.

We walked up Ste-Catherine for a bit, narrowly avoiding all manner of crazy people. The panhandlers there were some of the most persistent I’ve ever encountered, as bad as the Gypsy kids in Kyiv. We talked about where we’d go next, and Dave mentioned a great night shot of Montréal from the other side of the canal that I ought to have. It would just involve lots of walking. Well, I can never turn down a good picture, so I agreed.

Of course we got off the metro one stop early so that we could walk past Dave’s favourite market. I later informed him that I neglected to take a picture. “Whaaaaaat?!” Dave exclaimed.

* * *

Views of Montreal from the Canal:

"At any rate, we crossed a small bridge before walking up the south side of Canal de Lachine back towards Montreal. We walked for what seemed like an eternity. My feet probably kept me out of the best of humours, but it was a fun and memorable experience nevertheless. We went on for the equivalent of many blocks, and at Rue Wellington I finally took the pictures we’d come for."

"Then it was (finally!) time to go back to his house and sit and relax. So we did, and it was only a short fifteen-block walk away, so I certainly didn’t make any sarcastic off-colour remarks with a sprinkling of expletives, no sir! At around 1:30 in the morning, we reached his house. Yes, that was an additional two solid hours of walking. I forgot to even ask Dave if I could sit down when we reached his room, instinctively plopping myself down on the comfiest sofa-chair and beginning to emit exhausted groans.

"Dave poured me a Coors Léger and we began to chat, I in my now-raspy, languid, low voice, and Dave asking some excellent questions. But before long I was drifting in and out, and Dave offered to drive me back to the hotel. And thus ended one of the more amusing reunions I’ve had the fortune to have."

On Saturday, we ate at a vibrant Italian restaurant on Saint-Laurent, "Casa Napoli."

Lindsay (centre), with her friend Martin from the Rocky Mountain House program, and fellow de-briefing participant Jody, back from a program in Ghana.

Our final session was on a rainy Sunday morning. I photographed some of our posters:

The "iceberg" cross-cultural-communication model.

For another exercise, we made faux newspaper headlines - here's mine...

Roch, our Francophone participant...

... and finally, Lindsay. ["Wow... I understand Ukrainian!"]

As you can see, we all had our own special frustrations. =) On the plus side, we were able to entertain the others with them when called upon to do so.

Group Photo, de-briefing. Left: Darren Brown, our facilitator, from West Jeddore!

from the journal:
We exchanged e-mails, said our goodbyes, and coordinated our taxi pools. Lindsay and I were not originally going to stick together since our flights were over an hour apart, but with nothing to do in the rain, we went to the airport earlier than either of us planned.

There’s something unique about the Montréal highway system that bears mentioning, besides the fact that the rules of the road observed elsewhere in the civilized world are considered guidelines on said cosmopolitan island. In Montréal, pedestrians are considered fair game, and a red light serves the same purpose as a yield sign. Furthermore, there are significant stretches of Autoroute where people drive on the left. I’m serious. There’s obviously a reason for it, usually relating to the lay of adjacent streets. Still, I would never even think of designing that way, which is why I’m not an engineer, apart from my struggles in mathematics.

We had a good bite to eat at the airport, and chatted some more. As boarding time neared, I vacuumed up the remaining freedom fries, hugged Lindsay, and started running to my gate.

Shortly after I stepped onto the moving sidewalk several levels below, I noticed something was missing. My… my backpack! Augh! And there I was, stuck, moving away from my bag and (most alarmingly) my camera. I considered leaping over the rail onto the narrow path of unmoving floor between the sidewalks, but I saw how easy it would be to get hurt. So I ran all the way to the end of the sidewalk (there were too many people behind me to take the acute route), and then all the way back down the middle, “Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me!”s I breathlessly recurred as I pounded my way back to the escalator, up a few levels, and down the finger towards the restaurant.

I looked hither and yon around where we had been sitting. Nothing. I was officially freaked out. I soon found Dave, our waiter, who said, “I have your bag!” and he shouted instructions in French to a woman near the door who reached behind her and gave me my stuff! (“I tried to find you,” Dave said, “but you were gone!”) Wow! I was utterly relieved, but I still was running a chance of missing my plane, so I exclaimed a few gasping “Thank you!”s and ran away again.

As these things usually go, I needn’t have hurried, and was among the first in line to board my flight. But it was a valuable experience nonetheless. I’d sometimes forget my own head if it wasn’t screwed on.

The flight home was enjoyable, and before I knew it I was home in bed, and then back at the call centre again.

return to Ukraine Canada Corps exchange, and other travels