Market Place

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.

Marché Jean-Talon is in the geographic center of Montréal. And being virtually a part of Little Italy, the rich aroma of coffee is ubiquitous, though it has plenty of competition from patisseries. Since it opened in 1933, it has been a focal point for neighborhood shoppers, so the flavor of this market is, in many ways, more Italian than French – noisy, gritty, incredibly appealing – think Sicily!

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.

One cheese shop worth stopping into is Fromagerie Qui Lait Cru!?! The punctuation is essential in the name because this is actually a play on words in French. Spoken, it means “who would have thought?!”, but written, “lait cru” refers to the raw milk used to make many of the cheeses in this shop. Indeed, while they aren’t all raw milk, 70 percent of the cheeses here come from Québec farmers.

Jean-Talon is easily accessible by subway (Jean-Talon station), car or bicycle.

One of Montréal’s main public markets, the gorgeous Beaux-Arts building of Marché Maisonneuve draws gourmets from around the entire Hochelaga-Maisonneuve area. In front, a statue by Alfred Laliberté (1915) depicts a market gardener of the 17th century and is said to be the figure of Louise Mauger, one of Montréal’s earliest settlers (her descendants survive to the present). The 1912 building, designed by Marius Dufresne, began life as a market, was later converted for use as a community center, and is today the heart of the marketplace.

Though not as large as the other two markets, it has the advantage of being right next door to the Olympic dome (Biodôme de Montréal) inside which are the remarkable biosphere exhibits of North America’s four ecosystems. It’s well worth a visit and so is Marché Maisonneuve just next door.

Here, you’ll find cheese shop (Fromagerie Maisonneuve which stocks cheeses from around the world as well as distinctly Québec offerings), an organic foods boutique (Aliments Merci), the inevitable Boulangerie Première Moisson, and meat and fish vendors. All are fascinating stops, but much of the color and bustle seems to be generated by stalls of flowers, fruit, and vegetables. It’s all a little reminiscent of a Paris market. Aux Champêtreries is a good vendor to visit for distinctively Québecois offerings. And during the summer months, there’s an organic farmers’ market every Saturday.

Marché Maisonneuve is easily accessible by subway Pie-IX station), car or bicycle.