Canada's Best Business Centers: Montreal
Since Montreal emerged from the politically induced economic doldrums of the 1980s and ’90s after the close “non” vote of the 1995 separatist referendum, the epicenter of French Canada has been revitalized. Provincial tax break incentives and the academic talent of four city universities have lured the life-science research and aerospace industries here, positioning Canada’s second-biggest city as a major player in digital media and computer gaming.
As befits the country’s Latin capital, many of Montreal’s upgrades over the past decade involve leisure and pleasure. A new performing arts complex, Le Quartier des Spectacles, a one-square-kilometer block devoted solely to culture and entertainment, opened downtown in 2009. The historic Lachine Canal district and the Old Port have undergone facelifts, breathing new life into the waterfront. The cobblestone streets of Old Montreal have become chic with boutique hotels and high-end cuisine, and an innovative green bike rental scheme called BIXI took the maze of urban bike paths of this cycling-crazy town by storm last year. A new circus arts center, Tohu, is hosting Montreal’s first International Circus Festival this summer, and it is a focal point for dozens of city troupes, including Quebec’s iconic Cirque du Soleil, which traditionally unleashes its latest show under a big top at Montreal’s Old Port.
Montreal’s creativity shows the most vitality in its historically gritty industrial/garment industry zone, Mile End, located north of downtown. An ongoing grassroots transformation has seen software and gaming upstarts revamp factories, while artists’ workshops, filmmakers’ studios, designers and the heart of the city’s independent music scene have migrated along St. Laurent Boulevard and St. Urbain and Mont Royal Avenues. Stroll Mile End’s galleries, cafés, one-off shops and music hotspots set amid a multicultural collage of old-world institutions, such as Fairmount Bagels and Wilensky’s Light Lunch, to feel the essence of Montreal’s old and new souls mingling in one neighborhood.
If you have a weekend to spare, head for the hills as the locals do: with the 90-minute drive north into the Laurentian Mountains. Amid maple forests and lakes, the region’s quaint country villages are relaxing retreats where character-rich inns and classy bistros serve some of the province’s best French cuisine. The Intrawest ski resort at Mont Tremblant is a colorful, European-style pedestrian village in year-round après-ski mode—a gondola is available to bring you to the 2,700-footsummit. There are three golf courses, as well as the 120-mile P’*** Train du Nord, a 1920s rail line turned bike path. Nordic spas are all the rage in Quebec: One of the pioneers is Tremblant’s Les Bains Scandinaves, tucked into the banks of the Rivière du Diable, where you can enjoy the forest setting beneath a warm, outdoor thermal waterfall before taking a cooling plunge in the river.
Where to dine
Au Pied de Cochon 536 Duluth St. E. 514-281-1114 restaurantaupieddecochon.ca
At this wildly popular casual eatery, renegade chef Martin Picard takes hearty, traditional Quebecois cuisine upmarket.
Le Club Chasse et Peche 1423 Claude St. 514-861-1112 leclubchasseetpeche.com
With a surreal hunting and fishing club–themed interior, this Old Montreal restaurant serves eclectic and highly acclaimed cuisine.
Where to sleep
Le St-James 355 Saint-Jacques St. 514-841-3111 hotellestjames.com
Elegant, classical old-world boutique hotel in a renovated historic bank in Old Montreal.
Sofitel Montreal 1155 Sherbrooke St. W. 514-285-9000 sofitel.com
Contemporary French-style hotel offers quality European service and attention to detail in the midst of Montreal’s galleries and shops downtown.