You can have too much of a good thing, and sometimes it is difficult to burst the McGill bubble. Everything students need can be found within a few miles’ radius, and when there is an endless list of things to do, the impetus to get out and explore some of Montreal’s nicer areas is lacking. Yet, there are many places on the island worth visiting that will richly reward those who seek a change of scenery. With finals season here, The Bull & Bear has put together a short list of places outside the McGill bubble that provide a much-needed chance to replenish depleted energy levels.
If you’ve had it with the noise and stress of the city, but don’t have the time to leave the island, consider a trip to the Morgan Arboretum. This 245-hectare forested reserve allows its visitors to recall that for so long our natural habitat did not consist of iron and concrete skyscrapers, but birch and pine trees. Located in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue on the McGill Macdonald Campus, it hosts 18 collections of trees and shrubs, including the American Elm, the Black Cherry and the Bitternut Hickory. To enjoy these, there are both skiing and walking trails of varying lengths which, together, make up more than 25 km.
Five minutes into the woods, you will have forgotten you are on the island of Montreal: the cacophony of trucks, cars, and buses as they navigate traffic can’t be called to mind. The near-constant buzz of voices raised at once will seem an improbable memory. Within ten minutes, you become spoiled by the warmth of the sun and the freshness of the air which, at this time of year, smells of new earth. Soon, your ears will have become accustomed to the silence, and find it actually full of noise, thanks to the many and varied bird songs (from over a hundred species).
There is a fee for the day pass, but for students it is only $4.50. The Arboretum can be reached by taking the McGill shuttle to the Mac campus and then making the quick walk through the corn fields towards Chemin Sainte-Marie. While the travel time is not negligible, if you are in need of a complete recharge, there is hardly a better way to spend your morning.
Westmount Public Library
A quicker fix can be found in the Westmount Public Library, only a twenty minute bus ride down Sherbrooke from the McGill downtown campus. If you have too much work to spare for an hour or two’s amble in the woods, but feel nauseous at the thought of walking into McLennan yet again, this is the perfect alternative.
Constructed in 1898, this stately red-brick building with green windows allows for a pleasant environment in which to study. The spaces dedicated to work and study boast arches, tall windows letting in an abundance of natural light, and long wooden tables. Although it is not far from campus, there is certainly less of a chance that you will run into the usual crowd – while it is true that misery loves company, it is also sometimes a relief to be left alone with your work. Instead of looking up from your computer to the tense faces of fellow students, you might instead land on an older gentlemen nestled comfortably in an armchair. It puts things in perspective; at the very least, it may motivate you with the thought that one day, however far off, you too will be able to spend the morning at the library reading a book you picked up just for the heck of it.
Once your studying threshold has been reached, there is the option of taking a walk in Westmount Park, in which the library is nestled, before heading back to campus. The park is nothing to write home about, but it is pleasant for both its size (neither too small, nor too large) and its community feel. Besides, is a good dose of vitamin D ever amiss?
Jean Talon Market
Perhaps Jean Talon Market differs a little from the previous spots in that this is not a place to come for solitude. Located in the heart of Little Italy and just a few blocks from Jean Talon metro station, the summer months see it teeming with activity. As it is still early spring, the outdoor stalls are not yet occupied, but the covered section gets a fair bit of business year-round. While there is much for sale, it is not necessary to come here with money in hand; it is pleasure enough to meander round, peering into the shops or picking the fruit samples from the stands.
If you are looking for a particular ingredient however, there is a good chance that you will find it here. Fresh fish, specialty meats, spices, quality olive oils, products unique to Quebec, fresh pastas, healthy eggs from local farms, gourmet ice cream, and, of course, loads of produce are all on offer. The flower tents add extra splashes of colour to the already vibrant scene.
It is also an excellent spot for people-watching, and therein lies the true joy of this place. All sorts frequent the market and this is not somewhere most come if they are in a hurry. There is a soft and rewarding quality to setting aside even twenty minutes – in a day otherwise filled with activity – in order to observe people who also have temporarily shrugged off the feelings of urgency and worry which plague most. This is what Jean Talon can offer you.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Admittedly, this is not outside the McGill bubble, but that doesn’t mean we should rule it out. It would seem that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is a gem hidden in plain sight; there are surprisingly few students who frequent it, despite having lived close to it for years. This is regrettable, because it is a quiescent refuge and a place for the mind to be filled with images and scenes that transport us far from the present.
The permanent collection is free and comprises six sections, so you are almost sure to find something to your taste. The recently added Michael and Renata Horstein Pavilion for Peace contains the Early to Modern International Art Collection. The other sections, Archeology and World Cultures, Quebec and Canadian Art, International Contemporary Art, Decorative Arts and Design, and Graphic Arts and Photography are spread throughout the remaining pavilions.
Because these collections are free, you are under no pressure to cram as much as possible into one visit. You would be perfectly justified in remaining before one painting for a whole thirty minutes if it so struck your fancy. Silence is encouraged in the museum and the atmosphere facilitates contemplation and stillness of spirit, two things students lack. Because it is so close to campus, it is perfectly justifiable to head there for shorter breaks, when you know your brain is too fried to get any serious work done. You are sure to come out of the museum’s doors less high-strung than when you walked in. Staring at one of Guardi’s stormy seascapes for twenty minutes will do that for you.
This list is by no means comprehensive, but hopefully may serve as a starting point for those who seek a break. The view is not always be pretty from behind your pile of books and there is nothing like getting up and walking away from it all for a couple of hours to help regain some perspective. Whether or not you make it to some of these refuges, The Bull & Bear wishes you the best of luck with your exams and a sane and satisfying transition into the summer holidays (horrible April weather notwithstanding).