MONTREAL - Dozens of laughing children are running after huge floating bubbles. My son Noah is among the mix of locals and tourists chasing the super-suds along Place Jacques-Cartier.
Tiny hands gleefully squish the bubbles faster than the man with the biggest bubble wand I’ve ever seen frees them into the sunlight.
As I stand watching the happy confusion, I overhear two middle-aged women contemplating if they are too old to jump for bubbles.
“Go for it,” I tell them and seconds later they are running with the giggling children chasing the bubbles.
So impressed with the mock Montreal Canadiens dressing room he saw at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Noah insists that we come here in search of French Canadian hockey players.
Little did we know that Montreal is one of the most kid-friendly cities in North America. If you have any doubt, just come to Place Jacques-Cartier and see the kids chasing the bubble man.
The handsome square is the main meeting point in Vieux-Montreal, the oldest part of this 17th century city. Named after the French explorer who discovered Canada, Place Jacques-Cartier is surrounded by lots of field-stone buildings and the narrow streets leading off it are home to some of Montreal’s best restaurants.
Noah takes a brief break from bubble-smashing to enjoy a true French Canadian delicacy – thick maple syrup drizzled over ice and rolled on a stick. The $3 treat from Cabane A Sucre brings a sweet smile to Noah’s face and the owner tells us he’s been operating at this location for more than 20 years.
The maple syrup is boiled right from the tree with nothing added, so hungry patrons enjoy the pure taste. Next to us, a street performer belts out “Hallelujah” while playing guitar. We give him some change and continue on our way. But before leaving Old Montreal we enjoy a delicious pizza at Bevo Bar and Pizzeria on Rue Saint-Vincent – the wood fire oven adds to their authentic meals.
Left: Meeting Yuppi, the mascot of the Canadiens, was a thrill for Noah. Right: Chasing bubbles with other kids delighted Noah.
With full tummies, we hop on Montreal’s Metro, and head for the renowned Science Centre where Noah explores science and technology through interactive devices in the kid’s discovery area.
We check out the temporary exhibit, the Caves of Lascaux (on until Sept. 14 this year), where we step back in time to discover the Cro-Magnon era.
The Science Centre also boasts an IMAX theatre, and I insist we watch the French version of Galapagos in 3D. After all, Noah attends a French immersion school in Toronto, so this will be educational. The movie’s images are spectacular, but I don’t understand a single word; my high school French is of little help here.
As the credits roll, though, Noah exclaims, “That was awesome, I understood the whole thing!”
Afterwards, we explore Parc Mont Royal – a forest right in the heart of the city. No matter the season, tourists make it a point to come here to get a spectacular view of this sprawling metropolis. The park that wraps around the mountain was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also co-designed New York’s Central Park.
It’s the weekend before Noah’s 8th birthday so we celebrate with a special dinner at Aux Vivres on Rue Saint-Laurent. This vegan restaurant boasts delicious organic proteins, fresh locally grown veggies and no artificial preservatives in their wide assortment of salads, bowls and burgers. Noah makes a wish and blows out a candle on top of the best chocolate apple cake we have ever tasted.
The next day we hop back on the Metro and head over to the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium and learn about our solar system. We lie back in comfy seats and watch stars, planets and entire galaxies whiz past us at ferocious speed.
Noah is in awe at how big the universe is and my hockey-obsessed son curiously asks, “If there are aliens out there I wonder if they play hockey?” We explore the multi-media exhibit and Noah operates a robot on the surface of Mars and examines the largest collection of meteorites in Quebec.
After our out-of-this-world experience, we decide to learn about plant life at the Montreal’s award-winning Botanical Gardens. On our walk up the hill, we pass the famed Olympic Stadium, where Montreal hosted the 1976 Summer Games. Noah excitedly hops onto the podium and pretends to accept his gold medal … for hockey, of course.
The Botanical Gardens have a collection of 22,000 plant species, 20 gardens, and 10 exhibition greenhouses spread over 75 hectares. After seeing more exotic plants than we’ve ever seen before, we end up in a greenhouse among thousands of butterflies. The Butterflies Go Free exhibit is seasonal (February to April) and the main greenhouse is transformed into a butterfly sanctuary. These gorgeous creatures represent every colour of the rainbow and land right on happy visitors. We learn about the mysterious chrysalis process and the magical transformation these creatures make from caterpillars to butterflies.
But let’s not forget the reason we came to Montreal in the first place.
It’s NHL playoff season and locals are proudly wearing their Canadiens’ jerseys, cars drive by with fluttering Canadiens flags and everyone is talking about hockey.
Hockey is a religion in Montreal and the storied Canadiens, winners of more Stanley Cups than any other NHL franchise, are revered by everyone. The Toronto Maple Leafs are the enemy, so we make sure Noah’s Leafs jersey is well hidden under his winter coat.
As we walk along Rue Sainte-Catherine, Noah suddenly lets out a glorious yell.
“Look Mommy, it’s Youppi!” he shouts and runs off to hug the Canadiens’ famous mascot like he’s a long-lost friend.
Within minutes, Noah has a hockey stick in his hand and is playing with Youppi and some local kids.
It’s truly a magical moment for my hockey-loving son. Suddenly, in the quiet streets of Montreal, Noah screams SCORE!!
Finally, some French I understand.