Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, a neighbourhood with myriad attractions

From the fascinating Space for Life museum complex, which includes the Botanical Garden, to the monumental stadium built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, the restaurants and cafés lining the Promenade Ontario, the Maisonneuve Market full of stalls laden with delectable offerings, the Dufresne-Nincheri museum and its interesting history, and the enormous rink in the Maurice-Richard arena, the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve—or HoMa as the locals call it—district doesn’t lack for attractions!

Green, spacious and peppered with cozy bars and small restaurants, HoMa is easy to get to by public transit and definitely worth a visit.

A look back

In 1883, the old village of Hochelaga was annexed to the city of Montreal. The east end of the city decided to go its own way and, on an initiative of farmers and French-Canadian merchants, the town of Maisonneuve was founded. Starting in 1889, Montreal’s port facilities expanded into the area, paving the way for the city’s development. In 1918, the formerly autonomous city was annexed to Montreal, becoming one of its main working-class neighbourhoods, with a 90% francophone population.

Over the course of its history, the area now known as Hochelaga-Maisonneuve was profoundly influenced by men who wanted to make this a place where people could thrive together. Among them was Brother Marie-Victorin, who founded Montreal’s Botanical Garden, and Mayor Jean Drapeau, who initiated the construction of the immense sports complex that was used for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

Gardens and the Olympic Park

Since 2013, the Botanical Garden has been part of a vast natural science complex called Space for Life, which also brings together the Insectarium, Biodôme and the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. Open to the public from spring to the fall, 30 outdoor themed gardens, created to instruct and enchant visitors, stretch across the northern section, while greenhouses can be found in the western part. Among the highlights are the stunning Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden and the exotic Chinese Garden. Montreal being a sister-city of Shanghai, this garden was designed to be the largest of its kind outside Asia. In the fall, these two Asian gardens are decked out in hundreds of lanterns that create a magical show of blooms and lights!

To the east of the Botanical Garden and the Insectarium is Maisonneuve Park, a large green space that’s perfect for a walk or a picnic in the summer. In winter, there’s a skating rink and 10 km of cross-country ski trails to delight gliding and sliding enthusiasts.

Whether you’re a sports buff or simply curious, the 56,000-seat Olympic Stadium is a sight to behold! Its unusual 165 m high tower never fails to astonish. The story surrounding its construction is an epic unto itself. Each year, the Olympic Stadium hosts a variety of shows and sports events, in addition to the scores of activities held on its Esplanade throughout the year. The Montréal Tower funicular takes visitors on a breathtaking ride up to the Observatory, where they can enjoy a spectacular view of the entire eastern section of Montreal. Various exhibitions are presented on the Observatory’s second floor. The Olympic swimming pool complex is located under the Montréal Tower, and a multiplex cinema can be found at the back.

Not far from the Olympic Stadium, the Montréal Biodôme, an artificial habitat for plants and animals, is housed in the former Olympic velodrome. This 10,000 m2 museum linked to the Botanical Garden contains replicas of five distinct ecosystems: the Tropical Rainforest, Laurentian Maple Forest, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Labrador Coast and Sub-Antarctic Islands.

The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium wonderfully complements the Space for Life complex around the Olympic Stadium. With its truncated aluminum cones symbolizing telescopes, the futuristic building contains an exhibition space and two hemispherical theatre domes. The interactive digital exhibition Exo and the shows presented in the theatres are the highlights of any visit, while the projections on the surface of the domes offer visitors an extraordinary immersive experience.

Ice hockey holds a special place in the hearts of Montrealers, and the Maurice-Richard arena in the HoMa neighbourhood is considered a shrine of sorts. It precedes the Olympic Park, with which it is now affiliated, by 20 years. The facility is one of the few in Eastern Canada whose ice surface respects international standards for speed skating and hockey. Today, the arena is mainly used as a training site for top-level athletes.

The Dufresne-Nincheri Museum, housed in the Château Dufresne, is a must-see for museum lovers. Classified as a historic monument, the building is inspired by the Petit Trianon in Versailles. Built in 1916 by brothers Marius and Oscar Dufresne, it is one of the finest examples of Beaux-Arts style French architecture in Montreal. Also part of the museum is the Nincheri Studio, the workshop of Florentine artist Guido Nincheri, whose stained-glass windows adorn some 200 churches across North America.

Stroll around HoMa

From Pie-IX Boulevard to Saint-Germain Street in the west, the Promenade Ontario, a section of the street of the same name, is home to most of the area’s businesses. With popular, long-established shops that coexist alongside trendy new cafés, restaurants and bars, it’s highly representative of the slow transition taking place here, between working-class Hochelaga and hipster Maisonneuve. At the corner of Valois Avenue, the Place Simon-Valois square is a great example of successful urban renewal. In the summer, it serves as an outdoor stage for shows that liven up the neighbourhood.

Since 1995, the Maisonneuve Market has been one of Montreal’s prized public markets. You’ll find stall upon stall brimming with seasonal displays: fruit and vegetables, meats, fish, baked goods, specialty fine foods... The market is housed in a newer building than the one next door, which it once occupied. This older building had been influenced by an urban planning concept inherited from the teachings of the École de Beaux-Arts in Paris, known as the City Beautiful movement in North America.

If you’re looking for a novel way to explore the neighbourhood, hop aboard a Vélopousse pedicab and let yourself be wheeled around by one of the young tour guides, who will bring you to excellent restaurants, such as Le Valois or État-Major. Or, if you want to pick up a few things, stop of at the terrific Arhoma bakery, or the adorable Coccinelle Jaune boutique, where you’ll find a vast choice of original, made-in-Quebec jewellery, accessories and gifts, or its charming neighbour, the Folle Guenille clothing boutique!