A girlfriend and I recently went to Montreal and I couldn’t have asked for a better time to go. Montreal, the largest French-speaking city in North America, was an absolute delight due to a fat man in a bad suit. I’m not talking about a French-Canadian lover… sorry. I’m talking about Santa!
As luck would have it our trip coincided with the Montreal Santa Claus Parade, a tradition since 1925. Also known as the Défilé du Père Noël, the parade takes place on Ste. Catherine Street and the Gothic Revival churches standing side-by-side with glass buildings serve as a stunning backdrop to Santa and his elves.
It was no Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, but that’s a good thing. The smaller scale was much more magical – less commercial Christmas and more Christmas as a joyous pastime.
The floats are not very large, so you’ll want to arrive early enough for a good spot as the crowd gets very thick. We grabbed egg nog lattes from Second Cup to keep warm as we watched the parade, but if you don’t have time stop for a latte before the crowd gets thick, pop into one of the various churches as a few were serving free chocolat chaud, or hot chocolate.
Once the parade starts the sidewalks are impossible to maneuver. If you need to get around after the parade’s start, prepare to get dirty looks from parents as you shove past their children who are desperately waiting for Santa.
Filled with the Christmas spirit post-parade, we decided there was nothing that would complete our Santa-filled day than shopping. Luckily, Montreal is a pilgrimage of sorts with – dare I say – far too many shopping options.
Since we were on Ste. Catherine Street we popped into Compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson. They are the oldest commercial corporation in North America, but we didn’t go there for a history lesson. We were there for TopShop! TopShop had a small pop-up shop inside the department store and we scored some fun pieces for holiday parties. Hello black peplum cocktail dress!
We then moved to Complexe Les Ailes, a typical North American mall with more than 50 stores. It was average; nothing exceptional. We weren’t wowed and the perfect remedy was Ogilvy. Before you even step into the store you know you are entering something special. The tartan awnings and vintage Christmas displays are dazzling and worth the visit to Ste. Catherine Street alone. Once inside, you won’t be disappointed. The store is comprised of a collection of designer boutiques all under one roof. From designer furs to monogrammed Louis Vuitton, you can do some major damager here. Be sure you plan your visit between noon and 1 pm as a bagpiper marches through the store each day celebrating a longstanding tradition.
The last stop on our Montreal shopping spree – for the day – was up Ste. Laurent Street. Many of the guidebooks boast about the impressive designer boutiques but I was making a face à la McKayla Maroney – not impressed. Most of the wares were from local designers and were far too artsy for our tastes and budget.
Altogether, it was a fantastic day. Montreal had us in the spirit of Christmas as we saw children’s face light up with joy at the site of Le Père Noël. There was a lot less joy on my face after I saw my bills from our shopping pilgrimage. But we were in Montreal… C’est la vie.