As much as Montrealers would hate to agree, they all know that Mount Royal, their adored mountain, is only a hill. That said, however, the “mountain” is chock full of interesting things to do in Montreal, year-round! And, it’s also rich in history and culture, which is why Mount Royal Park is one of the main Montreal landmarks and attractions, covering 10 km2.
Did you know? Fun Facts about Mount Royal
Mount Royal has 3 peaks – Mount Royal Summit, Westmount Summit, and Outremont Summit.
The mountain was named Mount Royal by Jacques Cartier, in 1535 and was created as a park in 1876.
Mount Royal Park was designed by the same American architect who designed Central Park in New York, Frederic Law Olmsted.
Beavers did swim in Beaver Lake! But, this was about 11,000 years ago.
Why is there a Huge Cross on Mount Royal?
Montreal was threatened by a dangerous flood in December of 1642 when the city was a fortified settlement, then called Ville-Marie. The city’s founder, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, prayed to the Virgin Mary, vowing to raise a cross to honor her if the settlement remained safe from the flood.
Maisonneuve’s prayer was answered and the water receded. Maisonneuve fulfilled his promise, carrying a wooden cross to the top of Mount Royal on January 6, 1643, raising it in the Virgin Mary’s honor.
The Maisonneuve Cross Replaced
The Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste decided in 1874 to raise a new, metal cross to honor de Maisonneuve. The project was funded by public subscription, however, and faced financial difficulties. So, the cross wasn’t raised until 50 years later in September 1924! It was then given to the city five years after that.
The Dominion Bridge Company, a local steel bridge constructor, built the cross which originally sat on a stone pedestal and held on observatory in the arms. Free electricity was provided to light the cross by the Montreal Light Heat & Power company.
The cross remains illuminated at night, to this day, sometimes displaying colored LED lights. The colors have symbolic meanings with purple indicating the current pope has died.
The huge cross is one the most visible of all Montreal landmarks, measuring 30 meters tall (about 100 feet) with a total height of 251 meters (823 feet)! Visitors can see the cross from around Montreal and on clear days, it can be seen from up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) away.
To visit the cross, walk north on the inner loop of Chemin Olmstead to the Mount Royal Chalet.
Mount Royal Chalet
The Mount Royal Chalet opened in 1932. The spacious chalet is beautifully decorated pictures tracing Montreal’s history of which many are painted by famous artists.
The front of the chalet, the Kondiaronk Belvedere scenic lookout provides a glorious view of both downtown Montreal and the St. Lawrence River.
Education on the Mountain – The Birth of McGill University
The mountain’s landscape and attracted rich businessmen, like James McGill of Scotland, who upon his death, left his domain on the mountain to become a school. So in 1821, McGill University was established on Mount Royal – one of Canada’s first academic institutions.
Creation of Mount Royal’s Cemeteries in 1852
With the city thriving, a resting place for the departed had to be established and far from the urban center, for reason of health and hygiene, as well as for lack of space. In 1852 the first cemetery was created – the Mount Royal Cemetary that welcomed departed Anglophone Protestants.
The Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Catholic cemetery followed in 1854, which is now the largest cemetery in Canada!
Finally, the Jewish people buried their dead on Mount Royal in 1854.
The First Hospital on Mount Royal Montreal
Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal left its location in Old Montreal in 1861, becoming the first hospital on the mountain. Not too long after in 1983 the Royal Victoria Hospital opened on Mount Royal. Later, the Shriners Hospital for Children followed in 1925.
St. Joseph’s Oratory
What has been since it was built in 1904, and continues to be one of the city’s most prominent symbols, helping shape the landscape of Mount Royal is Saint Joseph’s Oratory.
Any Montrealer will tell you that the Beaver Lake on Mount Royal that we know today is actually an artificial basin. So, how was Beaver Lake named so? According to historians, the basin created in 1938 was fitted on a former swamp on the mountain. It was given the name Beaver Lake because, during the work, they discovered an old beaver dam there.
Things to Do on Mount Royal Park Montreal
Mount Royal Park offers residents and tourists lots of things to do in any season and any type of weather. Enjoy sightseeing, with incredible views of Montreal, for starters.
In wintertime, go snowshoeing, skating, tobogganing, hiking, or cross-country skiing.
In warmer weather, head out to the mountain for a walk or a run surrounded by nature. Maybe, rollerblading or cycling is more your thing. Maybe just go for a picnic or to bask in the sun at Beaver Lake.
The Tam-Tams on the Mountain
If you’ve never heard of the Tam-Tams or the Tam-Tam Jam, you’ll want to know more about it. It’s no secret and it’s open to all no matter what your background or age.
This free weekly festival takes place around the George-Etienne Cartier Monument in Montreal’s Mount Royal Park. Each Sunday during the summer, the Parc Mont Royal is overcome by the Tam-Tams. The festival is a fun, hippy-like spectacle where dozens of tam-tam players perform simultaneously.
Join in on the fun – dance or participate in the battle with foam-padded weapons! Be prepared for authorities to be tolerant of marijuana use, which is common.