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Montreal, Canada's second-largest city, is geographically as close to the European coast as to Vancouver, and in look and feel it combines some of the finest aspects of the two continents.
Its North American skyline of glass and concrete rises above churches and monuments in a melange of European styles as varied as Montréal's social mix.
This is also the second-largest French-speaking metropolis after Paris, but only two-thirds of the city's three and a half million people are of French extraction, the other third being a cosmopolitan mishmash of les autres including British, Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Italians, Greeks, Jews, South Americans and West Indians.
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The result is a truly multidimensional city, with a global variety of eateries, bars and clubs, matched by a calendar of festivals that makes this the most vibrant place in Canada.
Montréal has always played a major role in advancing Québec separatism , as it's here that the two main linguistic groups come into greatest contact with one another. The tension between English and French culminated in the terrorist campaign that the Front de Libération du Québec focused on the city in the late 1960s, and the consequent political changes affected Montréal more than anywhere else in the province. In the wake of the "francization" of Québec, English-Canadians hit Hwy 401 in droves, tipping the nation's economic supremacy from Montréal to Toronto. Though written off by Canada's English-speaking majority, the city did not sink into oblivion. Instead, the city has undergone a resurgence, becoming the driving force behind the high-tech industry that's transforming Canada's economy.
Everywhere you look there are the signs of civic pride and prosperity. In the historic quarter of Vieux-Montréal , on the banks of the St Lawrence River, the streets and squares are flanked by well-tended buildings, from the mammoth Basilique de Notre-Dame and steepled Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours , to sleek and stately commercial buildings. Old houses have been converted into lively restaurants and shops, abandoned warehouses into condos and the disused Vieux-Port into a summer playground with landscaped parklands facing onto the St Lawrence. Beneath the forested rise of Mont Royal, downtown 's boulevards and leafy squares are alive from the morning rush hour right through to the wee hours, when revellers return from the clubs that pulsate along rue Ste-Catherine and the more intimate bars and lounges of the Plateau and Quartier Latin . Below ground, the walkways of the Underground City and the outstanding Métro system link the nodal points of the city, while towards the eastern outskirts, the Stade Olympique 's leaning tower overshadows the vast Jardin Botanique , second in international status only to London's Kew Gardens.
In addition, the city boasts some excellent museums. The Centre Canadien d'Architecture has one of the continent's most impressive specialist collections, the Musée d'Art Contemporain is Canada's only museum devoted entirely to contemporary art, and the Musée des Beaux Arts is the oldest fine-arts museum in the country. Equally fine are the museums devoted to Montréal and Canadian history; of these, the Musée McCord has a mint collection of native artefacts, while the Musée d'Archéologie et d'Histoire de Montréal delivers a state-of-the-art presentation of archeological findings at the site of Montréal's founding in 1642.
Beyond the city limits, Montréalers are blessed with superb holiday regions, most within an hour or two of the metropolis. To the west, the forested region of the Outaouais makes for great outdoor activities, while to the north the fertile banks of the St Lawrence and the lake-sprinkled mountains of the Laurentians offer a reprieve from muggy summer temperatures and an escape from the winter blues. To the east, the charm of the Cantons-de-l'Est (Eastern Townships) lies in the acres of farmlands, orchards, maple woods and lakeshore hamlets popular among antique collectors. En route to Québec City, the Mauricie valley, the province's smallest national park, has a web of waterways and lakes amidst a landscape of mountainous forest.
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