Day two in Montreal was spent walking until chafed — mostly in Old Montreal. This historic area is a strange mix of beautiful architecture and tourist hell. Many buildings are empty of tenants and endless shops of ‘Canadian’ art and souvenirs seem to be the only businesses, other than restaurants that, if our lunch is any measure, offer only adequate quality cuisine.
Our first museum visit was the Montreal History Centre, located in a beautiful Beaux Arts style fire hall built in 1903. Like many other museums, they also had an exhibition about Montreal in 1967 (this is where I found a second example of a Quebec hostess uniform on display after the first one I saw at the McCord.) The exhibition was not artifact rich, and used films and various computer presentations instead. My favourite was a virtual reality ride on an Expo monorail. Another was a touch screen mosaic with dozens of stories about everything from political unrest to pop songs in Montreal during the era. The best story was a recollection by a man who was 13 when he bicycled from Michigan to Montreal to see Expo 67 – with his parent’s blessing!
Our second exhibition was a random surprise. I had forgotten to check the Point-à-Calliere Archeology and History Museum to see what they had on display, so it was a pleasant surprise to find a superb exhibition of Amazonian Native dress and tools on loan from the Ethnographic Museum of Geneva, and the Royal Museums of Art and History of Brussels. The exhibition included colourful parrot feather-trimmed headresses, decorative arm bands, and woven loin cloths, baskets, and masks. The presentation used stunning lighting and sound effects to evoke the Amazon river and heavy tree canopy. This is not a part of the world I know much about, so it was a great learning experience and visual treat. Amazonia is on until October 22.
Our final museum visit was to the Bonsecours market where the Musee de la Mode has 3,000 square feet of exhibition and administrative space – the same size as the FHM. Their current exhibition is called Established in Montreal and is about Montreal manufacturers and retailers. There are plenty of examples in their department store inspired presentation, but the majority of artifacts date after 1965. I know one of the biggest problems of having a small space is trying to keep a balance of artifacts on display that appeal to the broadest market, and I would have liked to see more older items mixed in. This exhibition continues until the end of the year.