HORN PLEAJ? OK

Mumbai has realised the menace of honking; at least Mumbai Police realised it.  They call Mumbai the ‘Honking Capital of India?‘   Do other cities and towns of India differ in any way??

A few weeks back, I rented a chain-saw from the store to cut a tree. Along with the chain-saw came the ear protection mufflers. On inquiry with the store man, he said that it was mandatory that the ear mufflers be issued with the equipment whose noise levels were higher than the prescribed limit, but it is up to the user to use it or not. My mind raced back to my young officer days in the Indian Army. It was considered not manly enough to wear the ear plugs while firing the heavy caliber guns. As usual, after every firing practice session, one heard a thousand bees buzzing in the ears for the next few days. We all got used to this sound as we got used to the firing, without realising that we were getting into a world of Noise Induced Hearing Loss. The effects of it still continue and I have a hard time listening to whispers or low noises.

horn
Recently I called up an old friend in India and he must have been on the road, I could make out from the ear piercing horn sounds of horns of the vehicles coming through my ears. A sound I missed for the good.

While driving our SUV, this SUV has been with us for the past seven years, our 14 year old son wanted to know where the horn was and how it sounded. I tried to blow the horn and pressed very hard in the middle of the steering wheel and nothing was heard. On reaching home, I pressed real hard applying all the force my body could place and the horn made a feeble noise, when compared to the screeching noises I heard over the phone. I now realised that I had never used the horn in my seven years of Canadian driving and may be that the springs in the center of the steering wheel might have been jammed.

My mind went back to an article which appeared a few years ago in a newspaper here by an old man who had been to Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala, as a medical tourist for a knee replacement surgery. He describes his taxi ride from the airport to the hospital, a 20 km drive which took an hour, with the driver honking twice as many times as what he had done in fifty years of driving in Canada.

Out here in North America, honking is considered indecent. It is done to alert some erring driver who has done some action that might have lead to an accident and you really want to abuse him with all your might. Else its only to attract the other driver’s attention to some thing serious like a not fully closed car door, deflated tyre etc which may lead to a fatality.

While driving in India, one always honked, required on not, or may be that was the only way to get ahead in the confusion that existed on our roads. For some it was a practice set out by the driving instructors in driving schools.

Can you for once imagine the noise pollution being created by the honking of the horn? May be its pretty irritating for me here as I have not been used to hearing this high pitched noise out here.

The rules that lay down the pitch, tone and volume of the horns may be same in India keeping with the world standards, as most car manufacturers provide you with a ‘weak’ horn and the noisy ones are add-ons.   May be in India to drive, the shrillness and volume of the horn may depict the size of your vehicle. That’s why the trucks have their horns sounding like an elephant trumpet.

Air-horns even though illegal is fitted on most of the buses and trucks in India. These shrill horns pose a direct threat to road safety as they embolden drivers to drive more rashly and negligently. Road rage incidents go up as it gives drivers a false self-confidence as they believe they can shove through the traffic and scare away pedestrians. Many bus and truck drivers use it as an effective tool to clear the road.

World Health Organisation in its report has stated that prolonged or excessive exposure to noise, whether in the community or at work, can cause serious permanent medical conditions like hypertension and ischemic heart disease. Noise can adversely affect performance, for instance reading, attentiveness, problem solving and memory. Use of air horn may cause severe physiological and psychological impacts on the pedestrians and can damage the eardrum.

The Indian Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 specifies that all vehicles can be fitted with an electric horn or other devices, specified by the Bureau of Indian Standards for use by the driver of the vehicle and capable of giving audible and sufficient warning of the approach or position of the vehicle. The rules further specifies that no motor vehicle shall be fitted with any multi-toned horn or with any other sound-producing device giving an unduly harsh, shrill, loud or alarming noise except ambulance or fire-fighting or police vehicles. These rules are often broken and the police merely hear these shrill horns, many not realising the damage it has done to them, that they are welcome into my world of Noise Induced Hearing Loss.

May be that we in India are pretty used to this honking and it may be very difficult to drive on the roads, shared by hawkers, cycles, animals, pedestrians etc with all the potholes and with the density of traffic, without honking. At least you can try and limit the number of honks.

If everyone can reduce one honk a day, may be we will achieve less noise pollution on our roads in India.

To Read or Not to

Recently I saw a video clip of Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, quite infamous for his idiosyncratic use of English language, wherein, a high school student asked him to give out a difficult word from his vocabulary which she had not heard.  Pausing for a moment, he said “READ”.

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body” said Joseph Addison – essayist, poet, playwright and politician.  Who does not want to exercise his or her mind?  Reading is bound to make you smarter; stimulate critical and analytical thinking; assimilate new information; improve problem solving skills; and the list is endless.

One who does not observe cannot paint, one who does not listen cannot sing and one who does not read can never write.  Shashi Tharoor attributes his vast vocabulary and spelling to his extensive reading.  He claimed that he hardly used a dictionary, but made out the meaning of difficult words, contextually, as it occurred in different passages or paragraphs.

Most students appearing for Medical/ Pharmacy College Admission Test (MCAT or PCAT), Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and admission tests for various management and business schools, the world over, inter alia, generally need to take on the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) test. To many, this test is a sort of Waterloo.  It is mostly a test of comprehension based on a passage(s) followed by some questions, which needs to be answered in a very short time. The CARS test is a more advanced form of the good old comprehension question that was (and perhaps sill is) a part of the English language examinations at various levels. While the latter tested only one’s language skills, the former tests ones knowledge, critical analysis and power of reasoning also.

Many students struggle with this section because it requires a certain level of intuition, or some previous knowledge of the subject.  One should be familiar with various difficult words in the passage and more or less know their precise meaning in the context in which it is used; else one is sure to take a lot more time in comprehending the passage.  Most students appearing for such admission tests are quite uncomfortable with CARS, as they are more used to formulas, theorems and theories based on scientific subjects.  Indeed, quite a few have managed to cram the subject matter without really understanding the conceptual aspects.  Unfortunately, the CARS section is not something that you can cram for, but you must prepare for it over time.  Armed with a vast array of knowledge (gained through extensive reading) and lots of practice, a student would be well ready to take on the CARS test.

CARS section is designed to test comprehension, analytical skill, and reasoning power by comprehension and critical analysis of a given passage.  To develop this skill, one suggested way is to read through the editorial page of a leading English newspaper and also any economic news paper.  While reading, even if you can assimilate ten percent of what is written, your knowledge base will increase.  Ultimately it is all about reading.

To become a better reader, the only way is to read more.  One needs to develop stamina for reading and it needs to begin at a young age.  It is obvious that the children of parents who read turn out to be better readers – they surely imitate what their parents do and perhaps the habit gets into your genes.  So, put down your mobile phones and put off your television when you are in the company of your children.  That is the time to take up a book and commence reading.  Everything from books to magazines is good material to build up your reading stamina. Remember that the CARS section will generally not contain passages pertaining to the natural sciences, it encompasses everything else.

While practising for CARS, read the passages like you would read normally.  Never try to skim through it, never skip lines – you may think that you are reading the passage fast, but you are sure to miss out on some essential information.  You are sure to ‘miss the woods for the trees.‘  If you practice ‘normal’ and perhaps a bit deliberate reading, you will realise that you are able to pick out relevant information faster.  Previous knowledge about the passage will help you immensely, but should never become a hindrance in your ability to answer the questions.

Let us take an example of the following simple passage: –

  • “While Nelson Mandela is the father of South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi is our grandfather,” Harris Majeke, South Africa’s ambassador to India, said. “Mandela was inspired by the Satyagraha campaign led by Gandhi. It was a compelling act of passive protest against oppression. This would later inspire the formation of the African National Congress and strengthen Mandela’s belief in our shared humanity.”  It is true that there is a direct connection between Gandhi’s campaign against discrimination in South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement there.  “The African National Congress, which in 1952 launched the first mass movement against apartheid under the leadership of Dr. Albert Luthuli, had been founded in 1912 on the model of the Indian National Congress, with which Gandhi had been closely associated,” writes Claude Markovits in “The Un-Gandhian Gandhi: The Life and the Afterlife of the Mahatma.”

A student who is not aware of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Claude Markovits; developments in South Africa; practice of Satyagraha as a passive protest; evils of apartheid and other such concepts will not be able to comprehend the passage well, analyse it and satisfactorily answer the questions that follow.

The best suggested way to practice for CARS is to read for pleasure and entertainment and also to make use of the Dead Time at one’s disposal.  Dead time is the time available at your disposal while you are travelling, waiting for someone or an event to happen, etc.  As Shashi Tharoor brought out, you are bound to pick up on new words and phrases, practice forming opinions, and have the opportunity to reason beyond the text.

As against reading for pleasure and entertainment, when one reads to learn, the ability to grasp the essentials conceptually from what one reads and retain it in memory for ever, is a skill that varies from one individual to another. This skill is a highly developed common denominator amongst all successful people who primarily use their brain for their success. Fortunately, this is a skill that can be acquired, enhanced and fine tuned.

The best seller “Unlimited Memory” by Grandmaster, Kevin Horsley deals with ‘how to use advanced learning strategies to learn faster, remember more and be more productive’. Be that as it may, reading for pleasure and entertainment is primary to all reading; without this habit, ‘reading to learn is nearly impossible’. Reading for pleasure is habitual, a habit that needs to be developed very early in life. Like swimming and cycling, it’s a skill that becomes increasingly more difficult to acquire with advancing years.

Our niece who used to travel by train home (four hours) on weekends from her university in Kerala once complained about ogling and eve teasing by some young male co-travellers, which used to irritate her a lot. Here the victim and the perpetrators, both have no concept of utilising dead time.  I advised her that reading would divert her attention from the ogling Romeos, many of whom, would get intimidated just by the sight of a girl with an English book (for obvious reasons) and she on the other hand, would gain knowledge, improve her vocabulary and enhance language skills.  After a month she reported success.   Now, after five years of my advice, she still continues to carry a book with her during travels and I must say that she has evolved into young woman with good general awareness.

The result of a study by Kingston University, London, showed that book readers were more empathetic than those who mainly watched television.  While watching a movie or a television show based on a book, one perceives it from the angle the director wants the viewer to perceive it, whereas while reading a book one has the liberty to pause when   needed, make assumptions and perceive  it the way  the reader wants.  Television viewers were in fact found to have more anti-social behaviour than others.  It is interesting to note that amongst readers, fiction readers showed the best social skills; comedy readers were the best at relating to people; Romance and drama lovers were the most empathetic and most skilled at seeing things through other’s eyes.

Good readers make great leaders.  Abraham Lincoln had only one year of formal education, but his reading made up for the rest.   Roosevelt was believed to have read two books a day. Thomas Jefferson had one of the most exhaustive personal libraries of his time.  Bill Gates reads about 50 books a year and as per him “Reading is absolutely essential to success.” Even in the military profession, I have observed that those who rise to the top rungs of the hierarchy possess varied qualities of the head and heart, but reading invariably is a common denominator.

  • Coming into contact with a good book and possessing it, is indeed an everlasting enrichment.”    Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam
  • “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man”  Francis Bacon
  • “Books are uniquely portable magic”    Stephen King
  •  “Time is a river and books are boats”     Dan Brown
  • “Any book that helps a child to form of a habit of reading, make reading one of his deep and continuing needs is good for him”  Maya Angelou
  • “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it”  Oscar Wilde

 

A Cruise on the Saint Lawrence


After a sumptuous lunch, we walked down to the Vieux Port (Old Port) of Montreal to embark on our cruise boat – Le Beteau Mouche – meaning ‘The Riverboat.’  This 50 passenger boat is 37meter long and 7meter wide with two decks.  The terrace on top as well as the two decks offer a panoramic view of Montreal.  The Old Port stands at the very spot where the City of Montréal was founded.


The Old Port like most ancient docks around the world fell into decay, but today, thanks to the Old Port of Montréal Corporation, one can stroll, cycle, skate, rollerblade and eat along the waterfront.  Today the port is the starting point for many vessels offering a cruise on the Saint Lawrence River.


Our boat cast off from the Old Port at 3 pm on its journey up North, and under the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.  This steel truss cantilever bridge with a five-lane highway is 3,425.6 meter long, across the Saint Lawrence River and allows access to Saint Helena’s Island.  Originally named the Montreal Harbour Bridge (pont du Havre), it was renamed in 1934 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s first voyage up the Saint Lawrence River.


As the boat cruised away from the port, we could see the Old Montreal’s buildings, mainly Notre-Dame Basilica, Aldred Building, etc.


As we steamed out of the port, we came to the Clock Tower, a 45 metres tall structure.  It marks the entrance to the port and is a memorial to the sailors lost at sea in wartime.  The clock is still said to be extremely precise with its legendary accuracy.  The clock’s mechanism was made in England by Gillett and Johnston and is a replica of Big Ben in London.   The Clock Tower was the port’s time keeper in an era when wrist watches were not common.


Past the Clock tower is the Molson Brewery, a relic of the glorious industrial past of Montreal.  In 1782, at the age of 18, John Molson sailed on a leaking ship from England to Canada, with a thirst for a better beer in a new country. In 1786, he founded the Molson Brewery, the oldest brewery in North America, and subsequently, Canada’s second oldest company (the oldest company is Hudson’s Bay Company established in 1670).  Through expansion and rebuilding after Montreal’s Great Fire of 1852, the facility still stands in its original location.  John Molson who also built the first steamship and the first public railway in Canada, was a president of the Bank of Montreal, and he also established a hospital, a hotel, and a theatre in Montreal.


This is the entrance to the 306-kilometer long Saint Lawrence Seaway between Montreal and Lake Ontario, built in the 1950s.  It stands as a symbol of challenging engineering feats in history.  The seaway consists of seven locks – five Canadian and two US – in order to lift vessels 75 meters above sea level as they transit from Montreal to Lake Ontario.  Opening of the seaway diminished the importance of the Montreal Port as ocean going ships could now traverse through the Great Lakes and there was no requirement of offloading Great Lakes going smaller vessels from ocean going larger ones.


As we touched the Northern tip of Saint Helena’s Island, we saw La Ronde (Round)- Quebec’s biggest amusement park with more than 40 rides and attractions.  It was built as the entertainment complex for Expo 67.  (More about Expo 67 in a subsequent post.)


We then sailed to Habitat 67, a much sought after residential complex in Montreal.  It is considered an architectural landmark and one of the most recognisable and spectacular buildings in Montreal.  This housing complex was designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie as part of his Master’s thesis in architecture at McGill University and then built as a pavilion for Expo 67.


We then came to Silo Number 5 and the boat took a turn on its return trip.  It was in 1906 that Silo Number 5, formerly known as Elevator B, came into operation.  At that time Montreal Port was known as a hub of the grain trade in North America.  It was built with brick and non-combustible materials to avoid the risk of explosions due to grain dust.  Grain dust which is highly combustible can form explosive clouds.  A fire or an explosion can happen at a large grain-handling facility if accidentally ignited.  The Silo consists of three distinct parts linked together by aerial galleries. Its floating elevators allowed offloading of grain from the holds of smaller lake going ships and the simultaneous loading of trans-Atlantic vessels without ever coming into contact with the quays.  Disused since 1994, the site is today plagued by vandalism and graffiti.


As the boat turned around we could see Bota Bota Spa.  Located on a ship anchored in the Old Port of Montreal, Bota Bota, offers its passengers the healing benefits of a spa while being lulled by the natural movements of the St Lawrence River.  Bota Bota consists of five decks, a floating terrace, restaurant, and a modern garden area which houses the various spa installations.


The Sixty-minute cruise on the Saint Lawrence River was educative and comfortable.  It is surely one of the best ways to learn more about Montreal as an island. Our tour guide gave very many details of all landmarks as we cruised along.  We were amused by many of her fun facts, trivia and anecdotes.


From the church we drove to Saint Helena’s Island, crossing Saint Lawrence River over Jacques-Cartier Bridge.  Our exploration of Saint Helena’s Island is covered in the next post.

 

Major General Dharmendar Singh Gill – A Soldier Friend


Though Dharmendar and I underwent training together at the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Indian Military Academy (IMA) and having being commissioned together as Second Lieutenants to Regiment of Artillery in December 1982, we hardly ever interacted.  Rather we hardly ever met during our Academy days or during our initial regimental service.

We got acquinted only during our Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC) in 1989-90 at School of Artillery, Devlali, Maharashtra.  Veteran Brigadier GM Shankar was my desk-mate, but he was a bachelor then, staying in the Officers’ Mess.  Dharmendar and I were living in Married Officers’ Accommodation close by.


Dharmendar and his wife Babita were the most friendly couple in the neighbourhood.  They were better known as parents of Honey, their chubby chirrupy little daughter.  Honey was an adorable kid and every officer in the course knew who she was.  Marina and I being newly married looked forward for their company.

Dharmendar was a honest and hardworking student and he did put in his best efforts during the entire course.  He always admonished me for taking the course ‘cool.’  He often reminded me “You are very intelligent and will top the course if you put in little effort.  Why are you holding yourself back?”

After LGSC, I met him while travelling to India from Canada on vacation in 2015.  I had a stopover at Mumbai and whom will I call up – it was surely Major General DS Gill, then Additional Director General (ADG) National Cadets Corps (NCC), Maharashtra.  That evening he organised a get-together of all our course-mates stationed at Mumbai.  We had a grand dinner that evening.

It is pertinent to mention here that under the premiership of General Gill as ADG, the Maharashtra Contingent of the NCC struck gold in 2015  – the contingent has created history by winning the prestigious Prime Minister’s Banner for the sixth consecutive year at the Republic Day Camp held in New Delhi.  Maharashtra NCC was also adjudged the Champion Directorate from out of 17 NCC directorates in the country.  In 2017, the Directorate bagged the Runners-up Trophy.

Maharashtra NCC also has the unique distinction of winning the Prime Minister’s Banner and the Champion Directorate Trophy 17 times since its inception. The achievement is particularly remarkable since as many as 17 NCC directorates and 2070 Cadets from across the country participate in Republic Day Camp every year.


I am sure General Gill made a difference to many young cadets while serving with NCC.  They stand proof to his dedication and selfless service to NCC.  Performance of the Directorate when he was at the helm is commendable.

Soldiers like General Gill helped many soldiers and officers  to be groomed to be thoroughbred gentlemen and soldiers.   When a soldier as wonderful as General Gill finally hangs their boots, it makes many heart melt, especially those who benefited under his guidance.   I am sure General Gill will continue to do well or may be even better post retirement.

General Gill , please think about it, now you never have to ask for a day off ever again.  You may presume that you are your own boss, but wait!  You now left your old boss and start a  life with your new boss, your wife.  You are now a ‘Go Getter’ – your wife will now order you to go get something and like an obedient husband, you will go and get it for her – which you never did in your life.

Now that you’re retired you can do all the things you enjoy;  all of the wonderful things in your bucket list – including a visit to Canada.   In reality after retirement only the body grows older, but the heart grows fonder and the mind becomes younger.  You in fact realise that all these years you were trying to be mature, but now  is the time when you can get back to being a child.

Happy retirement General Gill!  Retirement is when you stop living at work and start working at living.  Please also make sure you work just as hard at relaxing as you worked hard soldiering.

You’ll be missed but never forgotten!

Exploring Montreal on a Calèche

From the Place d’Armes square, we embarked on a horse drawn chariot (Calèche) ride with our hostess Sue to explore the area of Old Montreal. The city of Montreal has decreed that Calèches will be off the city’s cobblestone paved pathways from the New Year Day of 2020.   There have been cases of horses being mistreated and horses dying while drawing carriages. The lawmakers felt that the resources employed to ensure safe operations of Calèches were causing a heavy drain on its budget.  The city plans to replace Calèches with electric vehicles.

Sue, an incessant chatterbox, kept us engaged throughout the tour with her commentary on the history of Montreal and the significance of each street and building, while simultaneously cursing motorists who blocked our way.  Most of her ‘constant cacophony’ was historically accurate, but every now and then she would come out with something outrageous which indeed needed the proverbial pinch of salt to digest


We rode through Notre-Dame street. On either side were shops selling their wares, mostly to attract tourists.  This is a historic street created in 1672 that runs parallel to the Saint Lawrence River.  The shops have large entry gates – these were meant for the horse-drawn carriages to pass through.


We came to the Old Courthouse, built in 1857, which today houses Montreal’s financial services.


Adjacent to it stood the modern Palais de Justice or Court House inaugurated in 1971.


Opposite to the court houses stood the Ernest-Cormier Building of 1926, from where once the Criminal Court operated.  The building features monumental granite, limestone and an imposing portico of 14 columns. The building now houses the Quebec Court of Appeal.


Next we came to the seat of Montreal’s local government, referred to as the Hôtel de Ville de Montréal – an imposing five-story building, constructed between 1872 and 1878.


We then came to Place Jacques-Cartier.  By the early 1800s Montreal was expanding and it had outgrown the old market square. In 1803 a fire destroyed dozens of buildings. This newly freed-up space became a public market square, Place Jacques-Cartier.  The market operated from here up until the 1950s.


At the North end of the Place Jacques-Cartier stands the Nelson’s Column, about a third of the size of the original.  It was erected by Montreal’s Anglophiles to celebrate Lord Nelson’s defeat of the French at Trafalgar in 1805.  It is also the city’s oldest monument and is the oldest war monument in Canada.  The monument caused plenty of angst and the local government proposed moving Nelson to some far off suburb but newer generations of Anglophiles fought tooth and nail to ensure that the idea was dumped.


Opposite the Nelson Monument is the Francophiles answer to the Nelson’s column, the statue of the French Naval Commander Jean Vauquelin.  He fought many battles in the mid 1750s against the British Navy.  The Francophiles honoured him with a square bang opposite the Nelsons.


The next point that we saw was the Place du Marché – or market place.  Prior to building of the Notre-Dame Basilica and the Place d’Armes square, this was the commercial hub of Montreal and also the gathering spot of the community.


Adjacent to the Place du Marché is the Old Customs House, now part of the Pointe-à-Callière museum. It was called Place du Vieux Marché until 1892.  On the 250th anniversary of Montreal’s foundation, it was renamed Place Royale.


As we rode through the cobblestone paved streets, Sue pointed to this building and said that most buildings in Old Montreal had windows of varying shapes that decrease in size and height with each higher storey.  According to her, it was to avoid the ‘Window Tax‘ being levied by the City of Montreal in those days.  I could not find any reference to any ‘Window Tax’ in Canada, however, a system of window tax, based on the number of windows in a house was in vogue in England and France.  In England this tax was first imposed in 1696, and was repealed in 1851 as it was more of a ‘tax on health, light and air’


This is one of the oldest churches in Montreal, the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, also known as the Sailors’ Church, since many sailors prayed here for safe passage.  In 1655, Marguerite Bourgeoys, a teacher, in return for her unpaid work, requested the construction of a new chapel dedicated to Virgin Mary.  The church was completed 13 years later.  This church burned to the ground in 1754 and the present church was built in 1771 over its ruins.


We then rode past one of the first fire stations in Old Montreal, now home to the Museum of Montreal History. The exhibits showcases the history of the building itself and how it transformed from a stable for horse drawn fire equipment to motorised trucks..


Next we came to the Customs House, erected in 1912, is closely associated with the growth of Canadian trade during the first decade of the 20th century. With Its responsibilities enhanced in 1916 with the introduction of direct taxation, this building gained prominence.


This building caught my attention, more for Sue’s commentary.  The inscription ‘Grand Trunk‘ and the accompanying GT monogram on this five-storied building indicates that it belonged to the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad Company.   The building was built in 1902 by Charles Hays, the President of the company.  Unfortunately, he was aboard the Titanic that sank on 15 April 1912, with his wife, Clara, daughter Orian and son-in-law Thornton Davidson.   The materials used are grey granite, beige limestone and chamois sandstone from India.

Sue commented that after the Grand Trunk Company closed down its Canadian operations in 1923 after its acquisition by the Canadian Government, the company moved its operations to India.  Again, I could not find any reference to this claim, but possibly the name ‘Grand Trunk’ being a proprietary trade name, could not have been used by the British-Indian Railway, unless the Grand Trunk Company had some association with it. So, Sue may have a point here.  The Grant Trunk Express, the legendary train in India may provide the link if any.


Thanking Sue and tipping her well for her ‘stories’, we alighted from her carriage and walked to Place Jacques-Cartier for lunch.  While waiting for the lunch to be served, I booked tickets for a boat cruise along Saint Lawrence River, for a story that follows.

Montreal : The Canadian Paris


When my eldest brother and sister-in-law came calling, how could we miss a trip to the great city of Montreal – even though it was my third trip to the city.  Montreal, a Canadian city in Quebec province is the third largest French speaking city.  The first would surely be Paris, but the second, you would not guess it in your wildest dreams!  It is Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  It seems virtually everyone speaks French in Kinshasa.


In 1603, explorer Champlain made his first of many voyages across the Atlantic to the St. Lawrence and planted the French flag here in 1603. Then the British and French fought over this land with the British victory in the 1760’s, Montreal was under British control. The French and Brits lived together but anger and warring was never far from the surface.

French was declared as  Québec’s only official language in 1974 when Charter of the French Language, commonly known as Bill 101 was passed by Canadian Parliament.  The primary purpose of the bill  was to encourage non-French-speaking immigrants to integrate into the francophone community.  For a traveller it gets trickier to read the road signs as they are only in French and most staff at hotels and restaurants tend to speak only French.  These were two handicaps I suffer whenever I travel to Quebec province, but has still not managed to learn French.


We set off from Toronto early morning and after seven hours of drive reached  Montreal’s old town, Vieux-Montreal.  Driving through the narrow cobblestone streets with lot of pedestrians, spotted with Victorian lamp posts, accompanied by horse-drawn carriages transported us into a different world, but driving through these narrow roads was bit uncomfortable for me being used to multi-lane roads of suburban Toronto.. Once Montreal’s financial hub, Vieux-Montreal is now home to hotels, restaurants, pavement cafes and art galleries.


How did these Scottish cobblestones came to be paved on Montreal’s streets?  They came over as ballast in the late 1700s in ships that returned to Montreal after unloading its cargo of fur and blubber.


We parked our car and set off on foot to explore Vieux-Montreal like most tourists.  We headed straight to the Place d’Armes square -said to be the heart of the city, though it mostly consists of office buildings.


The square is always bustling with activity, with musicians playing.   The monument in the center of the square is dedicated to Paul de Chomedey, founder of Montreal


In the Place d’Armes square, two tall bronze sculptors caught my attention.  These sculptors have been inspired by two snobs in the novel ‘Two Solitudes’ by Hugh Mac Lennon.  The two snobs depict the cultural distance between English and Francophone Canadians.  On the left is an Englishman holding his pug, staring at the Notre-Dame Basilica, a symbol of religious influence on Canadians.  On the right, two hundred feet away, stands a French lady with her poodle in her hand, giving an offended look at the Head Office building of Bank of Montreal, symbol of English financial power.


On the Eastern side of the Place d’Armes is the majestic Notre-Dame Basilica – built between 1824 and 1829 with two  towers reminiscent of Notre-Dame-de-Paris.  At that time,  the church was the largest in North America and remained so for over fifty years.


Entry into the church costs $5 – a token to help maintain the Basilica in pristine condition.  You will not repent paying $5 for a glimpse inside.  The interior of the church, based on Gothic Revival architecture. is decorated with golden stars, reds, purples, silver, and gold – all on a blue background.  It is filled with intricate wooden carvings and several religious statues.


The stained glass windows along the walls of the sanctuary do not depict paintings from the religious history of Montreal.


Rear top of the church houses a pipe organ, built in 1891.  The organ comprises four keyboards, 7000 individual pipes and a pedal board.


Adjacent to the Basalica is the Saint-Sulpice Seminary, a U-shaped building.  The building was completed in 1687and the clock added in 1713.


As we walked out of the Basilica, on our front left, across the Place d’Armes square, stood the Head Office building of Bank of Montreal,  Canada’s first bank –  Bank of Montreal  was founded in 1817.  This building was built in 1847, designed by British architect John Wells, resembling the Pantheon. On the bottom left,you can see the French lady with her poodle.  The building is in operation today as BMO’s main Montréal branch.


On to our right stood two classical buildings.  The white building called the Aldred Building built in 1931, designed by Ernest Isbell Barott, with a height of 96 metres or 23 storeys.  The building’s setbacks at the 8th, 13th, and 16th floors to allow more light on the square and create a cathedral-like effect, like the adjacent Notre-Dame Basilica.

The red building with a clock tower is Montreal’s New York Life Insurance Building (also known as the Quebec Bank Building) and was built in 1887. It was the tallest commercial building in Montreal at the time.


We now set out to explore Old Montreal on a horse-drawn carriage ride (calèche).  In recent years calèche has drawn the ire of animal rights activists and lobby groups.  The calèche will not be there with the turn of next year as the city has banned them from 2020.