The Canadian Grand Prix is a bucket list item that I have now checked off. The 7th race of the 21 race 2016 Formula 1 calendar took place from June 10th to 13th on Isle Notre Dame at the Circuit Gilles Villineuve. My dad and I took in all three days of racing in varying amounts with Sunday being our longest day at the track. In our off track time we tried to explore as much of Montreal as possible on foot.
The race itself was as enjoyable as I’d hoped. Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes took the top spot after a race long battle with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. My favourite driver and team, Jenson Button and McLaren Honda, didn’t make it to the end suffering an engine failure bu the MP4-31 looks and sounds great.
Getting to the track was a breeze on the Metro. We stayed a few blocks from Berri-UQAM, the central Metro station. From there it’s a short one stop trip under the river to Jean Drapeau Station and a short walk to the track. We bought 3 day Metro passes for $18 and had little trouble navigating the system.
There are free festivals that coincide with the GP weekend. Mural Festival, a massive street festival on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, and Francofolies, a 6 stage music festival centered around the Place Des Arts along Rue Sainte-Catherine. They’d be reason enough to visit Montreal on their own let alone the Grand Prix.
Old Montreal was my favourite part of town. The Saint-Sulpice Seminary being the oldest building dating back to 1687 and the Notre-Dame Basilica (1829)… I have no words to describe how beautiful and grand it is. Narrow cobblestone streets lined by old buildings give a European charm to the area. One could be forgiven for thinking they were in Prague or Paris. Restaurants, shops, bars, the area has a great vibe and was in full swing over the race weekend. Make sure to check out the Old Port of Montreal while you’re in the area.
There are 2 places you simply have to go if you want an authentic, old school Montreal meal. First is Schwartz’s Deli, the quintessential spot for Montreal Smoked Meat and Poutine. It’s been serving the hits at 3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard since 1928. Be prepared to line up and wait, which is totally worth it.
The second place is Bar-B-Barn, a chicken and rib joint that has been frozen in time since 1967. Dark wood, dim lighting, amazing ribs and chicken, and all the nostalgia you can handle. Come hungry or be prepared to leave with a doggy bag.
Street art, both visual and performance, are everywhere in Montreal. Epic murals, street performers, musicians. Buskers in Metro stations have dedicated spots and seemed to be doing quite well playing for the massive GP crowds that swept through the stations daily.
A few tips. Try to speak French, even if you’re terrible. Everyone we dealt with, minus our airport bus driver, spoke fluent English but we noticed a marked improvement in service if we attempted to speak French. A simple Bonjour or Merci will get you a long way. That being said, service in Montreal was disappointing on all fronts. It was a busy weekend but I was surprised that things took as long as they did in restaurants and bars, some not full at all.
Learn the Montreal Metro system before you go. It uses a tap system similar to a lot of major transit systems but only requires you to tap in, not out. Learn where the stations are, where you can get to, look up the 747 Airport Bus, a cheap and decent way to get from Trudeau Airport to Downtown Montreal.
Montreal is a wonderful place that I am anxious to return to. So much history, so much culture, so much potential. I’ve only scratched the surface and I can’t wait to return.
Thanks to my wife Lyndsey for arranging the Grand Prix tickets and my dad for arranging our flights. All photos in this post (minus the food photos) we taking using Fujifilm X series cameras and lenses. Thanks to Fujifilm for their continued support (they let me borrow stuff, it’s awesome).