Growing up in Toronto, I loved Montreal. Not the Habs, mind you, but the city; it was exotic and exciting – something that could not be said of Toronto, a city at the time that was so dull you couldn’t even buy a beer in the ball park.
 
Through connections made with fellow travellers and friends of friends in university, I managed to visit fairly often – always with a place to crash. It was nothing to hit the highway after work on Friday and fly down the 401 for five hours to Montreal, arriving in plenty of time before the bars shut down. Then limping home on Sunday.
 
But it wasn’t all Laurentide and Brador; there was Schwartz’s and Bens (delis that still animate my dreams today), the inestimable Bar-b Barn on Rue Guy, St-Viateur bagels, and, if we were lucky, the odd Canadiens game at the fabulous Forum. (Such was the hubris of Montreal fans at the time that I can recall the Habs leading the Mario Lemieux-led Penguins 3-0 and still being booed for not scoring on a power play!)
 
Best of all, there was a different feel to the town. A Halloween party I once attended can only be described, in hindsight, as pre-Cirque du Soleil in style and vibe. It wasn’t spooky, but weird – though in an amazing otherworldly way. 
 
I’ve been to Montreal enough times now that the wonder has worn off, but it’s still a special place. It was the first “holiday” for my son when he was only six months old – Schwartz’s yes, Ste. Catherine Street, no. I still get tingles.
 
If you do too and are craving a visit, or have the opportunity to send some clients this winter, here are just a few of the things going on to consider – if that is, you can tear yourself away from the bagels and smoked meat sandwiches:
 
Family Pass: Until January 2018, families that reserve a Family Package (https://www.mtl.org/en/deals/family-package#laissez-passer-en) at participating hotels receive an All-Access Family Pass to visit some of Montreal’s most popular attractions. Packages start from $179 per night and are available at participating hotels such as the Delta Montreal, Fairmont Queen Elizabeth and Le Sheraton Centre Montreal. The family pass is valid for seven days and provides free admission for two children (12 and under) at several top Montreal attractions with the purchase of one adult admission. Sample attractions include the Montreal Science Centre, Space for Life (including the Insectarium and Planetarium), and A/Maze Escape Game.
 
New Ferris Wheel: La Grande Roue ferris wheel is now operating in the Old Port. The ride offers panoramic views from 60 metres high over the river, Old Montreal, downtown and the mountain, and is operating year-round from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends and holidays, so visitors can enjoy a day or evening view from a heated cabin. There will also be a bar, bistro and coffee shop on site soon.
 
Remembering John and Yoko: A $140-million investment has brought the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth’s noteworthy past alive again. In addition to the common areas and main guest rooms, the hotel has also renovated suite 1742 where John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their famous “bed-in for peace” for eight days in 1969. The suite’s redesign features virtual reality exhibits, archival TV and radio footage, and furnishings and artwork inspired by the historic event. Guests who book the 1,370-square-foot suite before the end of 2017 will be charged a promotional rate of $1,969 per night – a nod to the year the bed-in took place.
 
Leonard lives on: This fall, Montreal will celebrate a famous Montrealer’s life. Well before he passed away last year, the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montreal (MAC) was planning a retrospective of Leonard Cohen’s life. Through April 1, 2018, Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything will pay homage to this global star and feature a collection of new works created by artists who were inspired by Cohen’s works and include visual art, performance art, music, written word and film.
 
In addition, a newly painted mural has gone up behind Schwartz’s deli in the Plateau neighbourhood (just off St-Laurent Boulevard). The nine-storey portrait work by mural artist Kevin Ledo was inspired by Cohen’s later work, especially his last two albums.
 
Winter festivals: Montréal is known for an exhilarating summer calendar of entertainment and festivals, but there is also an impressive line-up of winter festivals each year. The following are just a few highlights:
 
• Igloofest (Jan. 18-Feb. 3): Igloofest is Montreal’s annual outdoor winter playground and dance party. Attendees don snowsuits and full winter gear and head to the Old Port to enjoy electronic music en masse.
 
• Fête des Neiges (Jan. 20-Feb. 11): Held at Parc Jean-Drapeau over four winter weekends, Fête des Neiges is a popular family-oriented winter event with a program geared toward enjoying the outdoors, including dog sledding, snow tubing, skating and ice carving. Popular Montreal food trucks are also on site serving up warm winter comfort foods.
 
• Montreal en Lumiere (Feb. 22-March 4): This annual festival is one of the largest winter festivals in the world and has an all-encompassing line-up with gastronomy, music, theatre and art in downtown’s Quartier des Spectacles. Food is always a focus of Montreal en Lumiere with elite chefs from around the world converging in the city for the festival’s gourmet program. A free outdoor site offers activities for all ages, including a Ferris wheel, zipline, curling, free shows and food kiosks for gourmet pit stops.
 
• Illuminart (Feb. 22-March 4): Back for a second year, Illuminart is part of the Montreal en Lumiere experience and runs over the same dates. The project brings together public artworks fusing together light and technology in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles district.
 
• Nuit Blanche (March 3): Montreal en Lumiere also includes Montreal’s version of Nuit Blanche on March 3, which attracts 300,000 art lovers overnight. This one night of the year features almost 200 mostly free cultural, musical and culinary activities available to the public from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning.
 

 
montreal hockey mural

There’s plenty going on in Montreal this winter besides hockey.

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