Mon­treal, Manch­ester and Pitts­burgh: They aren’t big-name cap­i­tals, but they are any­thing but second-class.

The best travel ex­pe­ri­ences are the ones that sur­prise you. Here are three cities worth go­ing that ex­tra mile for.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - Jacquelyn Francis steps out in Mon­treal’s up-and-com­ing Griffin­town.

When you re­ally like a city, half of the joy in re­turn­ing to it is find­ing your haunts ex­actly as you left them. While I was vis­it­ing Mon­treal last year, at the tail end of its 375th-an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions, it dawned on me that over the years, all I’ve done is re­trace my foot­steps in this town. This time, as I wan­der the streets of Griffin­town, on the banks of the La­chine Canal, I find an en­vi­ron­ment with lit­tle room for nos­tal­gia. This part of Mon­treal is in the thick of a con­struc­tion, re­tail and res­tau­rant re­nais­sance, and it feels dif­fer­ent.

Over drinks at the Lord William Pub on Des Seigneurs Street, René, my vet­eran city guide, says he’s never been busier and won­ders aloud if the “Trudeau Ef­fect” is at play here. “I have many peo­ple ask­ing for tours of Justin’s home­town,” he tells me, re­fer­ring to the coun­try’s tele­genic prime minister.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing the­ory but one that I’m sure has been helped by the nearly $1 bil­lion re­port­edly spent on Mon­treal’s 375th-an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions. The city’s es­ti­mated spend was roughly dou­ble what the fed­eral government spent on Canada’s 150th an­niver­sary, and Tourisme Mon­tréal pre­dicts that Mon­treal will earn ap­prox­i­mately 4.3 bil­lion in tourism dol­lars this year, which it is at­tribut­ing to the pro­jected 6.1 per cent increase in tourists vis­it­ing from over­seas.

Be­fore walk­ing into Le Rich­mond, one of Griffin­town’s “sup­per club” des­ti­na­tions, I see plenty of con­struc- tion cranes and store­front con­do­minium show­rooms. In­side the res­tau­rant—a con­verted theatre space—I en­joy a rus­tic North­ern Ital­ian ap­pe­tizer of grilled octopus on a bed of bor­lotti beans that is so flavour­ful, the in­sides of my mouth al­most hurt. I savour the nat­u­ral light pour­ing in from the floor-to­ceil­ing win­dows. But judg­ing from the scaf­fold­ing across the street, a new build might soon ob­scure that gleam.

Griffin­town is bor­dered by NotreDame Street West to the north­west and the once mighty La­chine Canal to the

south­east. Through­out the 19th cen­tury, Griffin­town saw waves of Ir­ish im­mi­grants who worked on the canal, the Vic­to­ria Bridge and the Grand Trunk Rail­way lines and even­tu­ally in the fac­to­ries that over­took the neigh­bour­hood. Then, when the nearby St. Lawrence Se­away opened in 1959, the area dein­dus­tri­al­ized quickly, forc­ing res­i­dents to find work else­where, un­til Griffin­town be­came prac­ti­cally a ghost town in the 1970s.

To­day, the canal is man­aged by Parks Canada and is a pic­turesque route for plea­sure boaters on the water and pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists on the 13.5-kilo­me­tre path be­tween the bor­ough of La­chine and Mon­treal’s Old Port. (Griffin­town is closer to the Old Port.) These days, the fac­to­ries have been re­placed by town­house com­mu­ni­ties, in­te­rior-de­sign stores and cof­fee shops, while the École de tech­nolo­gie supérieure (ÉTS) adds a wel­come stu­dent vibe to the area.

One of the more im­pres­sive con­ver­sions in Griffin­town is the mas­sive Ar­se­nal Art Con­tem­po­rain. The con­tem­po­rary gallery (with satel­lites in New York and Toronto) is lo­cated in a 7,400-square-me­tre for­mer ship­yard. This im­pos­ing sym­bol of Griffin­town’s aquatic past is also a hub for the city’s wild, if not un­der-the-radar, C2 (Com­merce + Creativity) con­fer­ence, which brings cre­atives from more than 50 coun­tries to town each year (May 23 to 25 this year) to talk op­por­tu­nity, the fu­ture and dis­rup­tion.

Af­ter a light meal at the fam­i­lyfriendly Meat­ball House on Notre-Dame West, it oc­curs to me that I haven’t had a Mon­treal bagel on this trip. It’s 10:30 p.m., and I’m ready to head back to my ho­tel, The Queen El­iz­a­beth, but my guide com­man­deers a taxi and points us north­west to­ward Fair­mount Bagel. The 24-hour bak­ery is lo­cated in the fa­mil­iar Mile End, where I spent many lost week­ends as a 20-some­thing es­cap­ing a dead-end job in Ot­tawa.

Within min­utes of my ar­rival, my arms are laden with dozens of fresh bagels bound for my train ride home. They’re pip­ing hot, so I leave the bags open to al­low steam to es­cape. I’m still full from din­ner but can’t re­sist eat­ing one right out of the bag. The bagel is de­li­cious and, in this in­stant, tastes ex­actly like the ones I re­mem­ber.

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