The Magic of Montreal
The country’s capital of culture and cuisine, is also a global business hot spot — a city sans pareil
Canada’s La Belle Ville is a city on the way up
Every October, Montreal’s world famous Botanical Gardens are lit up at night with hundreds of Chinese lanterns. The Magic of Lanterns Festival is an annual Montreal tradition, and this year runs through Nov. 3. New lanterns cast an entrancing glow over the Gardens, each more colorful and intricate than the year before. It’s another thread in the rich tapestry that is Canada’s second largest city.
A visit to Montreal has always had that magical feel, like stepping into a European country, with its dual-cheek kisses and a flair for inventive cuisine. But these days that distinctive saveur has lifted Montreal up to another level on the world stage, proving that its Quebecois charm and positive economic climate encourage business to the city. According to Tourism Montreal, the city registered nearly 8.4 million visitors in 2012 and expects even more this year.
Actually an island in the graceful St. Lawrence River, Montreal is the most populous French-speaking city in the world after Paris. It is this combination of culture and an effervescent economy that draws commerce to town – not to mention a positive business environment that allows companies to flourish. Among the 20 largest North American urban centers, Montreal ranks first in terms of competitive operating costs according to a recent study conducted by consulting firm KPMG.
And in 2012, an Economist Intelligence Unit study entitled Hot Spots ranked Montreal the 22nd most competitive world city. The study compared 120 of the largest urban centers in 8 different categories based on 31 indicators including quality of life and institutional effectiveness.
Over the years, the city has hosted numerous globally recognized functions including the 1967 World Expo and the 1976 Summer Olympics. More recently, Montreal has risen to third place in terms of North American destinations for conferences according to the International Congress and Convention Association’s report released in 2011.
The city’s breathtaking growth all begins with ease of access, and Montreal has that covered. Its Trudeau International Airport handled nearly 14 million passengers in 2012 making it one of Air Canada’s main hubs. From here, carriers serve a diverse range of destinations including dozens of North American cities in addition to points across Europe. Montreal is less than two hours flying time from NewYork, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, DC, and Toronto.
The first phase of a major airport redevelopment plan has been completed giving the facility expanded check-in space and security checkpoints for the US-bound departures area. In 2014, construction begins on six new wide body gates for the international terminal, including two that are equipped to handle the mega-sized Airbus A380.
“We are confident that this expansion will allow us to attract new airlines and destinations to the airport while also giving our existing visitors a world-class facility,” says James C. Cherry, president and CEO of Aéroports de Montréal, or ADM.
Also added recently is an automated border clearance system in the arrivals hall that can reduce wait times and process arrivals more quickly. The $4 million project was driven by the almost constant growth the airport has experienced since 2003. Departing passengers to the US also have pre-clearance facilities allowing them to complete departure immigration and customs formalities before boarding their flight. This means landing in the US is just like any other domestic flight, saving travelers time.
Within the next decade, express rail transfer service between the Trudeau Airport and the downtown train station is slated to be completed.
Canadians, especially, are fond of train travel, and Montreal Central Station is well-connected to points across the country and to the US thanks to VIA Rail, the national rail company that prides itself on the affordability of its network. Central Station is also connected to Montreal’s la ville souterraine, the vast underground network of shopping and dining outlets. Often referred to as a city unto itself, its 20 miles of passageways sport more than 1,700 shops and eateries and 40 movie theatres, so that even during the most frigid months of the Canadian winter, there’s no stopping this town’s connectivity, commerce and cuisine.
Montreal is truly a global city, and the food scene is as varied as the population. It spans every nuance of flavor and ingredients from Vietnamese and Chinese to Turkish and Italian – like the city’s famed Da Emma restaurant, which is housed in Montreal’s former women’s prison. Dark and cavelike, this is a must-visit locale and is on every serious foodie’s bucket list. Mamma Emma herself crafts her family’s homemade Sicilian recipes in the kitchen,
but rarely ventures out into the dining room. The menu is read verbally from a chalkboard with vivid descriptions of every item, but it is hard to keep track of your prime choice as each one sounds better than the last.
Mamma’s fettuccine with porcini mushrooms is a perennial favorite, but the sautéed swordfish topped with arugula, chopped tomato and olives is equally delicious. Snagging a reservation can be tough, but the growing celebrity wall depicts the hundreds of big wigs who have made their way inside.
Along the Rue St. Jacques, Alexis Le Gourmand is a farm-to-table gourmet epicerie that plucks the European charm of shopping and plants it in this historic blacksmith shop-cum-grocery. Try the Bilboquet ice cream, a regional classic that is approaching 25 years of artisanal production.
Mediterranean fare at Estiatorio Milos is another city legend (additional outposts in Athens, NewYork and Las Vegas have helped it develop a loyal following) with plates of delicacies – like fried calamari, fried saganaki cheese, and grilled peppers – piled high on tables for lunch and dinner. The seafood menu reads like a sailor’s to-do list, including everything from Atlantic halibut to Honjake salmon. With its location in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood, a meal here can lead swiftly to after-dinner drinks at Barraca, where the tapas menu pairs well with its list of rum drinks and wine labels, or to a poutine sampling at nearby La Banquise.
There is no mention of food in Montreal without the word poutine, the gooey dish
Monteal is truly a global city, and the food scene is as varied as the population
of French fries laced with brown gravy, cheese curds, and other toppings like bacon or pulled pork. Often considered a late-night snack, the dish could be a meal in itself. There is no better place than the 24-hour La Banquise where its menu expands to 25 different types of the arteryclogging dish. After television personality and Chef Anthony Bourdain singled this eatery out as a favorite, it has only grown as a must-visit spot.
In the heart of Old Montreal, a thriving district packed with shops and cafes in the city’s seemingly untouched snapshot of decades past, Chef Alexandre Arpin’s Communion features a menu of New Quebecois cuisine that delivers a sampling of local products. The turmeric quail confit with fingerling potatoes is a great starter, even if you’re only there to sample something from the wine list on the outdoor terrace.
Approximately 37,386 hotel rooms are currently available in the Montreal metropolitan area, with the pipeline continuing to grow to meet demand.
Known as the cheese grater, the Marriott Chateau Champlain is perhaps one of the city’s most notable downtown lodgings with a facade that features arched windows jutting outward, which gives it the appearance of a kitchen utensil. Inside is some of the city’s most popular digs thanks to the panoramic views of Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, Mount Royal (from whence the city derives its name) and the Saint Lawrence River. The windows’ curvature allows guests to actually see out in addition to side to side enhancing the sense of space. It sits atop the Bonaventure metro station and underground city giving it instant access across town.
Just a block away, the famous Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth is the city’s grande dame, but despite its architectural history, it continues to embrace modern hospitality year after year. On the rooftop, the Queen E, as the property is affectionately known among locals, houses six queen bees that oversee 300,000 worker bees buzzing about manufacturing honey. The chef’s organic garden is also nearby where many of the hotel’s herbs and vegetables are grown.
Both the Marriott Chateau Champlain and Queen E offer expansive meeting space drawing conferences and social functions year-round. Also heavy on the meeting scene is the Omni Mont-Royal, which is fresh from a complete renovation of all the guest rooms and suites, plus adding a fireplace to the lobby and updating the dining areas.
Speaking of new dining space, the Hyatt Regency has completed an overhaul of its lobby bar and restaurant. The stunning new Six Resto Lounge is the perfect spot to invite a client for a cocktail or pre-bite dinner to unwind.
Le Centre Sheraton has also been up on the overhaul bandwagon, refreshing all of its guest rooms as well as its state-of-theart fitness center. A brand new Courtyard by Marriott boasts an inner garden courtyard, rare for any urban hotel, and
panoramic views from its rooftop terrace. All of these hotels are within short walking distance of the popular Sainte Catherine Street’s hub of shopping and dining.
The city is also embracing one of the newest trends in the hotel scene, extended stay properties. These give business travelers extra living space designed to make a room feel more like their home. The Residence Inn, on the upper west side of downtown, provides guests with a separate living room, small kitchen, free wireless Internet, and complimentary breakfast and evening happy hour. Its designer digs give the accommodations a unique sense of colorful style while also pairing value with extra living space.
A Green Welcome
The numerous conferences and festivals that Montreal attracts on an almost weekly basis, bears witness to the city’s commitment to rolling out the welcome mat. In fact, the main convention center has recently undergone renovations adding new digital signage and pumping up its wireless Internet capability to a higher standard to allow as many as 20,000 simultaneous users. With the current pace of growth and innovation, it will attract larger events on a more global scale without affecting the city’s environmental beauty and plans for preserve its sustainable urban surroundings.
In 2007, Montreal became the first city in the world to sign the National Geographic Society Geotourism Charter, underscoring its ongoing commitment to promoting and maintaining sustainable tourism. Since then, more than 100 alleys have been pedestrianized and greened, and a new bike-sharing program has begun in the city’s downtown core.
The development of an Innovation District in the Griffintown neighborhood which began in 2012, has as its goal creating an “urban ecosystem” dedicated to fostering scientific, technological, cultural and economic growth. Enterprises from across the spectrum of business and industry can take part; participants include companies such as Bombardier and Pratt & Whitney. The projects can bring together businesses from one sector with similar objectives or create synergies for companies from different industries.
The idea behind the Innovation District is to spark collaboration between innovative and growth driven organizations, both in the private and public sectors. The incubator encourages these successful enterprises to develop creative ideas, new patents and social projects to create value for the neighborhood and economic growth for the city as a whole.
One question that is never in doubt, Montreal has more international appeal than many cities and its careful, controlled growth coupled with a competitive business environment are propelling it forward. Maybe it’s the warmth of la ville souterraine in the winter, or of its people all year round. Perhaps it’s the city’s youthful joie de vivre – there are 11 large universitylevel institutions representing a quarter of a million students in Montreal, making it second in North America for university students per capita. Or possibly it’s the Old World French influence.
However you define its magic, there is a spark in Montreal that attracts and retains fans for life.Visit for yourself and see; just save an extra notch on your beltline for the poutine calories. Bon appetit! BT