By Liz Campbell
There’s a real European ambiance in North America’s largest French-speaking city. In the warm months, Montréal’s squares (and there are many of these) are filled with the bright umbrellas and kiosks of artists and flower sellers. The sidewalk cafés are abuzz with cheerful conversation as customers sip rich café au lait and nibble on gorgeous patisseries.
In the early days, these squares were markets and formed the gathering places for citizens. They gathered for everything from sporting events to political rallies, and from the market, news was spread throughout the area. Today, no trip to Montréal is complete, especially for foodies, without visiting at least one market. They dot the city, so there’s always one close by. Here are three of the most famous. Bring a good appetite – you’ll need it!
Open since 1933, Marché Atwater’s distinctive Art Deco clock tower soars to the sky – it’s the tallest structure in St. Henri, near the Lachine Canal. Designed by architect Ludger Lemieux, it’s easily accessible by car, bus, subway (Lionel-Groulx station) or even bicycle – and it even connects to bike paths in the area.
During its history, this building has served as a meeting place for many political, social or sporting events. Its walls have echoed cheers for the speeches of famous politicians such as Camilien Houde (Montréal’s mayor when the market first opened) and Maurice Duplessis (Québec’s infamous Premier through three decades). There have even been wrestling matches here!
Although open year-round, Marché Atwater becomes a kaleidoscope of color in the summer months when huge baskets of fruit, mounds of vegetables, and enormous bouquets of multi-hued flowers cover every inch of available space. Indoors, a diverse range of merchants, including caterers and specialty boutiques selling meats, fish, baked goods, and fine foods, make this a popular market. In the warm months, the outdoor area is also filled with vendors. And ahhh, the wonderful smells – warm breads from Première Moisson Bakery, quiche fresh from the oven, the heady scent of blossoms newly cut, and – if you’re close enough – the tang of ammonia and lactic acid from one of the local cheese vendors. Atwater also has a SAQ (Société des Alcools du Québec) where one can buy any tipple, but in particular wine – cheap wine, good wine, great wine, it’s all here.
In the summer the fruit, vegetable and flower stalls spill into the area around the market, while inside, a tasty array of specialty shops feature spices, oils, cheeses, meats, and pastries. Visit Le Marché des Saveurs du Québec to find delicious products that are truly Québecoise – mussels and cheese from Iles de la Madeleine (the Magdalen Islands), locally smoked ham, Québec maple syrup, and beers from local microbreweries. Jean-Talon Market is also the place to find cheese from ACS member, La Moutonnière. And then there’s Olive & Épices who can tell you anything you could ever want to know about olive oil.
Jean-Talon is easily accessible by subway (Jean-Talon station), car or bicycle.