Paul Wilson: Ten things Hamilton should know about Montreal

Hamilton wanted a velodrome. Montreal got one, then tired of it. So they've filled it with monkeys and penguins. That, and nine other essential facts.
In Montreal's Plateau neighbourhood, art is easy to find. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

We’re just back from an extended weekend in Montreal, the city where I spent the dangerous half of my teenage years. Those taverns where they let you in at 16 are gone, but the city is still an exotic place. I gathered some information to share with you.

The view from the top deck of the $20 Megabus. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

Take the bus

1.The days when you can get to Montreal direct from Hamilton ended with Air Canada’s half-hearted attempt to provide service from Mount Hope seven years ago. Who cares? Now there’s the Megabus out of the Bay Street terminal in Toronto. Big double-decker, glass ceiling, free WiFi – our fare, $20 each to Montreal, and $20 back. Takes about the same time as the train.

The Plateau is supposed to have more artists per square inch than anywhere else in the country. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

Try The Plateau

2. This time Marnie and I stayed and played in The Plateau, a neighbourhood just east and north of downtown. Picture many multitudes of James Street North. They say The Plateau has the highest concentration of artists in Canada – and you don’t have to go into a gallery. There’s art right there on the old brick walls, several storeys high. More murals – yes, that would be a good thing for downtown Hamilton.

Hymie Sckolnick opened Beauty's Luncheonette 70 years ago. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

Richler, Cohen and Sckolnick

3. In Montreal, if they think of us at all, it is with some sympathy. "Ah, Hamilton, the Steel Capital. You used to be the Pittsburgh of Canada, and then there was that whole post-Industrial thing." That’s from Larry Sckolnick, who runs Beauty’s Luncheonette in The Plateau. His Dad Hymie opened up in 1942 and he’s still on duty, nearly 92. He tells us Mordecai Richler lived near by, and that Leonard Cohen still does.

Hamilton had a hard time figuring out where to put a stadium; Montreal built one in just the right place. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

A downtown stadium

4. Some Montrealers do know Hamilton for the Ticats. And Montreal does know where to build a stadium. It’s downtown, nestled at the foot of Mount Royal. By the way, it’s only a 15-minute walk from the stands to Schwartz’s. Former Spec football writer Ken Peters would hustle to Schwartz’s (established 1928), wolf down a big smoked-meat and get another to take back to the hotel. Good thing the Cats weren’t in town often.

There's a curb to keep the cars away on some bike lanes in Montreal. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

Take the bike

5. You may have heard that sometimes it gets cold in Montreal. But these people do cycle. You see bikes locked up to every immoveable object around. And the city is way ahead of Hamilton in keeping those cyclists safe. All over there are bike lanes for cyclists, separated from the cars and trucks by a concrete median. Plenty of room to be doing something like that on King and Main.

There are birds, animals, a jungle and lakes in the Montreal velodrome these days – but no bikes. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

Velodrome to Biodome

6. Yes, Hamilton missed out on a velodrome for the Pan Am games. Montreal got one for the 1976 Olympics, but discovered afterwards they didn’t really need it. So in 1992 they transformed their empty velodrome into the Biodome, which lets you explore four ecosystems. Watch the golden lion tamarin monkeys swing about in the rain forest. In the Arctic, see the penguins walk funny. I do like bikes, but this is just as much fun.

The Montreal news – and maybe the odd blooper – is made on Main West in Hamilton. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

Hamilton's Montreal Gazette

7. You may not know that Montreal’s news is made in Hamilton. At a plain-box plant near the Wendy’s on Main West, more than 100 Postmedia employees edit copy and write headlines for stories that appear in major-market newspapers across Canada – including the Montreal Gazette. And a letter to that paper on the weekend complained about the spelling in this headline: "The Dutchess is in a royal family way."

This old high school in Montreal shut down, but they didn't knock it down. It's condo lofts now. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

Montreal protects heritage

8. It looks like Hamilton’s mighty Sanford School, which began as the Central High School of Commerce in 1932, will be lost to the wreckers soon. So it stung a little to walk past old Thomas D’Arcy McGee, the city’s first English Catholic high school, and see another example of how Montreal protects its heritage. The school closed 20 years ago. A dozen years ago, developers converted it into beautiful lofts.

The bagels in Montreal, like these at St-Viateur bakery, are good. But Hamilton makes one kind that's better. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

Montreal's famous bagels

9. Montreal is famous for bagels. I had the sesame seed at St-Viateur and at Fairmont, both bakeries around for generations. Excellent – chewy, just a little sweet. But at Fairmont, I also got a pumpernickel. And I have to say that you can get a pumpernickel that’s better in every way – size, texture, bite – at our own Locke Street bagel bakery.

If you're looking for beer or a bottle of wine, the corner depanneurs are convenience stores of the first order. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

Grocery store wine

10. I’d have a tough time casting my ballot for Conservative Tim Hudak, but I wish some other party in this province would steal the beer-and-wine-in-the-grocery-store platform he pulled out last week. There was a big grocery right across from our hotel in Montreal and I frolicked at the wine aisle. Several little depanneurs could have looked after me too, all just a short stroll from the lobby. Friends, a toast to Montreal. |  @PaulWilsonCBC

Read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson here.