Located on an island in the Saint Lawrence River, Montréal has prospered as a cosmopolitan hub of communications and trade. Jacques Cartier landed here in 1535 and took the territory for his King, François I of France. But it wasn't until 1642 that Paul de Chomedey, the god-fearing Sieur de Maisonneuve, founded a small mission station here. Called Ville Marie de Mont-Réal this was the original settlement that today is Montréal. It has grown to be the second largest French-speaking city in the world. Part of the Hochelaga archipelago, the city itself is an island with Mount Royal (233 meters) in the city center. Montréal's climate swings between the extremes of high humid heat in summer and heavy snowfalls in winter.
Montréal is a slice of old Europe in a pie of contemporary design. A day’s wander might take in the photogenic 18th-century facades of Old Montréal before a cycling tour of the lovely Canal de Lachine, or a wander through the glittering shops and restaurants of downtown before ending at the inviting terraced cafes of Plateau Mont-Royal. The architectural sweep of the city takes in a wealth of heritage churches such as the breathtaking Basilique Notre-Dame, as well as 20th-century icons like the Stade Olympique and Habitat 67. Montréal's hotels and museums additionally push the edges of contemporary interior design.
The Québécois love their summers and autumnal colors, but it is the winter that defines much of their lives, which slow down and become more insular in the grip of those long, dark months. With that said, the passion for life that animates Canadian Francophones does not truly dim in the cold, but is rather celebrated around cozy fireplaces, in friendly pubs, at steaming sugar shacks, and, of course, on the slopes of local mountains via skis, snowboards and toboggans.
Montréal remains the country’s cultural juggernaut. The city, standard bearer of an entire linguistic-cultural identity – Francophone Canada – simply lives for public celebration of the arts. There are some 250 theater and dance companies, more than 90 festivals and a fascinating medley of neighborhoods where artists, writers and musicians have helped cement the city’s reputation as a great arts center. The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is the headline event, followed by parties dedicated to world cinema, comedy and gay pride.