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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Montreal is the second largest city in Canada and the largest in the province of Quebec. It is located on an island, Montreal Island, where the St Lawrence and Ottawa rivers meet. The city has long been associated with romance, elegance, history, and festivals. It is a popular place for cruise ships to visit, with the harbor capable of accommodating over 100 large vessels. Montreal is mainly a French speaking city, but English is widely spoken too. Some of the top tourist attractions include Mount Royal and its surrounding park, the Just for Laughs comedy festival, Bonsecours Market, the Underground City, and Notre-Dame Basilica.

A prominent feature of Montreal Island and one of its top attractions is Mount Royal, consisting of three peaks which also include Mount Murray and Westmount. Mount Royal proper is the highest peak at 764 feet, while the other two mountains are slightly lower. Some guidebooks say Mount Royal is an extinct volcano. It is actually part of a larger volcanic complex created when two plates merged 125 million years ago. The mountain was named by Jacques Cartier, the first European to climb it, in 1535. A railway tunnel under the mountain was opened in 1918. On top of Mount Royal is an illuminated cross 100 high tall. The first cross was put there by the city’s founder, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, in 1643. The current cross was erected in 1924. The light can be changed to any color, including purple when a Pope dies.

Mount Royal Park opened in 1987 and is one of the city’s largest open spaces. A prominent feature of the park is Kondiaronk Belvedere, a plaza with chalet built in 1906 overlooking the downtown area. It is named after the Huron chief who signed a peace accord with the French in 1701. The park has a small artificial lake called Beaver Lake. There is a small ski slope, as well as extensive trails for hiking and cross-country skiing. Various tourist, cultural and sports activities are held at the park.

The Just for Laughs comedy festival is the second largest festival of its kind in the world and Montreal’s largest festival of any type. It is held each year in July. The festival was started by Gilbert Rozon in 1983 as a francophone, or French speaking, event. English speaking, or Anglophone, acts were added in 1985. The length of the program soon extended to a month. During the festival, street performers including comedians, acrobats, and pantomime acts can be seen throughout the city, especially in the Latin Quarter. The acts are also supported at night clubs and theatres. Spectators and performers are attracted from around the world and the event is attended by talent scouts, agents, and producers. Some of the big names to appear at the Just for Laughs festival include Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, John Cleese, Dame Edna Everidge, Billy Connolly, and Rowan Atkinson. The event includes Comedia, a comedy film festival.

Bonsecours Market was established in 1847 and is regarded as one of the jewels in the heritage of Montreal. Construction of the imposing building began in 1844 and was not completed until 1860. The two story building has a Greek Revival portico and a large tin-plated dome. For over 100 years, it was the city’s main public market. Part of the building was once a concert hall. It also housed Montreal’s municipal government for a while, and accommodated United Canada’s parliament briefly in 1849. The building has undergone recent renovations and is a bustling marketplace once again. There are numerous vendors plus a number of restaurants whose terraces are opened in the warmer months. You’ll see photography and arts and crafts exhibitions for free. And you can have a meal at Cabaret Du Roy in 17th century surroundings.

Underground City is another must-see attraction in Montreal. Twenty miles of tunnels connect numerous commercial and residential buildings, shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, museums, entertainment areas, banks, train stations, and universities. Half a million people use the tunnel network each day, some of which is wide enough to accommodate rows of shops on both sides. There are more than 120 access points from the outside world. A three mile race through the central segment is held as part of the Montreal Highlights Festival each year in February. Underground City is a good way to get around town, especially if you are there in the winter months. You can see a lot without getting cold.

Notre-Dame Basilica is one of a number of beautiful churches in the city. It was built in the late 1820s in the Gothic Revival style. Inside is filled with bright colors, including silver, gold, purples, reds, blues, and azures, and has a deep blue ceiling with gold stars. There are hundreds of detailed wood carvings as well as a number of religious statues. Its stained glass windows are unusual in that they show the religious history of Montreal rather than biblical scenes. The Casavant Freres Pipe Organ has four keyboards, a pedal board, 97 stops, and close to 7,000 pipes. Pope John Paul II made the church a basilica during his visit to Montreal in 1982. Entry for visitors is $5 unless attending mass. A sound and light show of the church’s history, “And Then There Was Light,” can be seen in the evening for $10. The church is at 110 Notre-Dame Street in the historic Old Montreal district.

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