Montreal is the largest city in Quebec and the second largest in Canada. It is an island in the middle of the Saint-Lawrence River first seen by Europeans through the eyes of early French explorer Jacques Cartier who encountered its original inhabitants, the Iroquois, in 1535.
Montreal had several names before finally taking on its present and best known, which refers to the Mount Royal, mountain at the centre of the island. But it was with the arrival of Samuel de Champlain, 70 years later, that the settlement became the permanent trading and strategic centre of what was then called New France. Although French colonists were the first Europeans to explore much of North America, New France was conquered by the British 150 years later, although their fierce historic attachment to Quebec remained.
Separated by culture, language and class for two centuries, the English and French nonetheless co-existed in Montreal, sometimes uneasily, for many decades before the mid 1950s, when a "Quiet Revolution" slowly, but permanently, gave French-speaking Canadians their due place in a society which they had initially founded and in which they had historically remained a majority.
Despite the vastness of Quebec and its many distinctive regions, Montreal remains the cultural and economic heart of the province; the place where French-Canadians and Canadians of other ethnic origins mingle in a vibrant urban setting—a truly cosmopolitan city, and a city like no other.
Often cited as one of the best places in North America to live, Montreal is well known for its architecture, cultural festivals, fine dining, nightclubs and overall "joie de vivre". Montreal is the gateway to the Canadian interior and hugely important to commercial and human transportation, thus remaining the primary link between Inuit and the world beyond.
Activities in Montreal are dictated by the four seasons, all eminently livable if you know what to do. Montrealers and tourists alike enjoy the beautifully restored Old Montreal, from which the city began.
Mid-winter activities include Montréal en lumière, in late February, a 2-week celebration of everything the city has to offer, including its renowned international cuisine and unique 32 km of "Underground City", where hundreds of retail outlets offer seasonally reduced prices on top-quality merchandise.
Aboveground, St-Catherine and St-Laurent streets are also a must for shoppers and diners.
For more information on what to do in Montreal, Tourisme Montréal's website.