Emerging Montreal: walk the less touristed neighborhoods
Montreal is a collage of language and history, a sum of its eclectic and evolving parts, where well-known neighborhoods like the Plateau Mont-Royal attract and charm visitors with their multicultural heritage and Quebecois cachet. But beyond the bagels of Mile End and cobblestones of Old Montreal are districts that, despite being off the tourist trail, remain vibrant parts of the city’s unique tapestry. Here are some of our favorites.
A long, low and covered boat is pulled up to the edge of a tranquil canal, with a spanning bridge in the distance in Montreal.
The Canal Lounge is a boat bar on the Lachine Canal © Jason Najum / Lonely Planet
Snuggled up to the shores of the Lachine Canal, a few streets south of the downtown core and a dozen or so blocks west of Old Montreal, you’ll find Little Burgundy. From the late 1800s to the mid-20th century, the canal was the primary waterway connecting Canadian cities to traffic from the Atlantic Ocean. Boroughs like Little Burgundy formed along its shores, home to smokestack industries, French Canadian port workers and Irish shipbuilders.
In the early 1900s, the area became a hub for Montreal’s English-speaking black community, attracting immigrants from the US and the Caribbean. It also became known as a musical incubator, producing world-renowned jazz legends like Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones. Walk through Little Burgundy from east to west today, and the buildings change from smoky gray stone to working-class, brown-brick two-stories. The district’s architecture reflects the city’s history like tree rings.
Westward along Rue Notre Dame toward the Marché Atwater, you’ll find a neighborhood in full bloom, with high-end bistros like Joe Beef, hip neighborhood pubs like La Drinkerie, and welcoming local cafés like Lili & Oli.
Two green spires rise in the background as several store- and bar-fronts open from colorful buildings onto a shared patio.
Rue Notre Dame is one of the most charming parts of St-Henri © Jason Najum / Lonely Planet
Still walking westward on Rue Notre Dame, cross Ave Atwater (maybe stopping for a quick drink at the Canal Lounge boat bar), and you’re in St-Henri, the neighboring borough that has grown with the area’s resurgence. St-Henri today is a classic example of a neighborhood in transition, with quaint residential streets sprouting northward from the canal, industrial buildings repurposed into stylish lofts and an evolving jigsaw puzzle of gentrification. Along Rue Notre Dame Ouest, you’ll find both chic hipster cocktail bars and 70-year-old hot dog joints – a hodgepodge that, for the moment, manages to serve both St-Henri’s wealthier new arrivals and longtime working-class residents. Have an outdoor beer along the canal at Terrace St-Ambroise, hang with locals at Bar de Courcelle or chow down on a poutine at GreenSpot, one of Montreal’s most famous greasy spoon diners.
Pubs with brightly colored awnings fill the lower floors of several three-story brown brick buildings, with outdoor eating areas.
Several local businesses open onto a patio in the Monkland Village section of NDG © Jason Najum / Lonely Planet
NDG is a perfect example of Montreal’s charming suburbs. Only a 10-minute drive from downtown, the residential neighborhood is full of tree-lined streets and century-old cottages. Originally settled by the city’s middle-class English community, NDG is full of beautiful old protestant churches and family-friendly green spaces. But this isn’t just a stroller-suburb. Monkland Village, the main commercial thoroughfare on Boul Monkland, is a lovely strip of restaurants and boutiques. Home to summer festivals and cute patios, Monkland makes NDG a popular choice for the city-living. Check out Lucille’s Oyster Dive for great seafood, Monkland Tavern for a trendy bistro-bar and Shaika Cafe for local coffee and culture.
Red brick buildings surround a bright plaza just right for food market, small festivals and summer events.
The Place Simon-Valois is a public space in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve © Josie Desmarais / Getty Images
Named for the First Nations Iroquois village of Hochelaga, where the first French explorers settled in the 1500s, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve has always been one of the city’s more infamous quarters. Located in the east end, the borough historically has one of the highest poverty rates in the city and was once known for its biker gangs and other seedy industries. But ‘HoMa,’ as it’s called today, is finally experiencing a rejuvenation.
Decades of decline kept rents low and stopped corporate gentrification, setting the stage for an influx of younger francophone professionals and creatives to help rebuild the community. Around the Olympic Stadium there are festivals like First Fridays, the largest gathering of food trucks in Canada; La Rue de la Poésie, a small street in the heart of HoMa where poems are displayed along flower-filled sidewalks; and Montreal’s famous Jardin Botanique, one of the biggest botanical gardens in the world. You can also walk and shop at the updated Maisonneuve Market on busy Rue Ontario.
A red brick industrial heritage landmark with a distinctive water tower is on the right with two people bicycling along a trail on the left.
A bike path runs along the CN railway tracks that separate the neighbourhoods of Mile End, Mile Ex and Petite Patrie © Patrick Donovan / Getty Images
Moving north up Boul St-Laurent, through the famously hip neighborhoods of the Plateau and Mile End, and hidden just to the west of Little Italy, you’ll find Mile Ex. This unofficial district has grown from the overflow of Mile End creatives looking for cheaper rents and interesting industrial spaces. The warehouse-heavy commercial area has suddenly become the latest spot to find craft beer pop-ups and sleek co-working lofts.
Despite the slightly harsh industrial environment, the location is good, with Little Italy and the Jean Talon Market just a few minutes away. Still in its nascent stages, Mile Ex is already gathering a reputation as a place to be. Have a local brew at the popular garage-style beer bar AlexandraPlatz, or eat at the trendy Restaurant Mile-Ex and Manitoba, two of the first gastronomy settlers of this new urban wilderness.
Three young people sit along the side of a pretty residential street as they garden in the small bit of soil between the sidewalk and street.
Youth collective gardening in the Rosemont neighborhood of Montreal © Magazine Mothers Milk Inc / Getty Images
Rosemont – La Petite-Patrie
This borough is one of the biggest in the city. Smack in the center of the island, it actually is the bureaucratic home to Mile End, Little Italy and the Jean Talon Market. However, in practice, those names have carved out their own corners, and the neighborhood casually known as Rosemont starts as you move east from Little Italy.
Still a humble middle-class residential area, Rosemont has begun to receive some ‘spillover cool’ from its trendy neighbors. Covering many micro-neighborhoods, the best way to explore is by starting in Little Italy and making your way east. Starting at Boul St-Laurent, try walking down Rue Beaubien Est, where you’ll find cute cafés mixed with local diners. As you pass the Beaubien metro station, turn left on Rue St-Hubert for some shopping and eats at Plaza St-Hubert. Head all the way east (preferably by car or metro), and you’ll hit the northern border of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, where you can hang out at the impressive Parc Maisonneuve or check out the Olympic Village.