Beyond the celebrated Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the sprawling Biodome, there's a world less explored. A museum dedicated entirely to musical artifacts, a niche sanctuary chronicling Montreal's banking history, and a haven of optical illusions.
You can bypass the crowds at the Old Port and sidestep the downtown buzz, and, instead, venture into the heart of Montreal where unassuming museums stand as sentinels to tales untold, artifacts unsung, and art pieces that remain delightfully undiscovered.
Within these walls, Montreal's quieter stories come to life. You'll encounter fascinating medical oddities and step into the world of a legendary strongman from the past. Here are a few highlights:
E.musée Musée de l'Ordinateur
Courtesy of E.Musée.
Where: 1055, rue Bégin, Saint-Laurent, QC
When: Mondays to Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Reason to go: A private and compact yet profound showcase of the titans of tech that paved the way for today's digital age. You can come face to face with the keystones of computing history.
Standing prominently among the exhibits is the Altair 8800b, often considered the spark that ignited the personal computer revolution. You can also check out the Apple Lisa, a precursor to the ubiquitous Macintosh, and delve into the world of NeXT, a venture by Steve Jobs that fused avant-garde design with cutting-edge technology.
From the iconic Commodore that many a programming enthusiast cut their teeth on, to a diverse array of over 500 artifacts, E-musée promises a deep dive into the epochs of electronic evolution.
Maude Abbott Medical Museum
Where: Strathcona Anatomy and Dentistry Building, 3640, rue University, Room 2/38E
When: Tuesdays to Fridays, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Reason to go: Named in honor of Dr. Maude Abbott, one of Canada’s pioneering female physicians, this museum is not for the faint of heart—literally and figuratively.
Beyond its homage to Dr. Abbott's commendable contributions to heart pathology, the museum offers a rare display of medical anomalies. From intricately preserved malformed organs to fascinating brain specimens, each exhibit challenges the boundaries of the usual museum experience. These unique and occasionally unsettling displays give visitors an unparalleled insight into the complexities and mysteries of the human body.
Musée des Hospitalières
Where: 201, ave Pine Ouest
When: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Reason to go: Located on the historical grounds of Montreal's first hospital, Hôtel-Dieu, the Musée des Hospitalières chronicles the evolution of the city's medical landscape. With exhibits ranging from antique surgical tools to the groundbreaking methods of early plastic surgeons, like William H. Hingston, who ventured into skin grafting and microscopic exploration, the museum underscores the milestones of medical advancement.
Equally central to the narrative are the women of the era. As key players in Montreal's healthcare framework, their roles and contributions are documented within the museum's walls.
The Musée des Hospitalières provides a snapshot of Montreal's medical history, highlighting its intricacies, achievements, and challenges. It invites visitors to engage, reflect, and draw their own conclusions about a pivotal chapter in the city's narrative.
Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner
Where: RCA Building, 1001, rue Lenoir
When: Weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and weekends, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Reason to go: For those eager to uncover the transformation of audio over the decades, this St-Henri spot is a prime destination recognizing Emile Berliner, a pioneer who revolutionized the way we consume sound.
The pièce de résistance is an original Berliner Gramophone, a turning point in audio playback. You can marvel at the RCA Victor’s Nipper logo, where the iconic image of a dog listening to a phonograph became a global sensation. Plus, there's the extensive collection of 78 rpm records, a testament to Berliner's genius and the birth of mass-produced music.
Further into the museum, you'll find an impressive lineup of broadcasting equipment. Vintage radio transmitters, early microphones, and pre-tape recording devices showcase the leaps and bounds of 20th-century audio technology.
Museum of Illusions Montreal
Where: 54, rue Saint-Antoine Ouest
When: Daily, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Reason to go: This unique institution in Old Montreal takes visitors on a whirlwind journey through the fascinating world of perception and deception.
Each corner of the museum offers a new challenge for your brain. From mind-bending holograms and intricate mirages to rooms that defy the laws of physics, your understanding of reality will be tested at every turn. Walk into the Vortex Tunnel and feel the ground shift beneath you, or try the Chair Illusion that plays tricks on scale and perspective.
But it’s not just about visual trickery. Interactive exhibits engage all your senses, offering auditory riddles, tactile mysteries, and puzzles that require a blend of logic and intuition. Snap surreal photos in the Infinity Room or shrink and grow in the Ames Room, creating memories that will have your friends and family scratching their heads.
Bank of Montreal Museum
Where: 129, rue Saint-Jacques
When: Mondays to Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Reason to go: Located within the majestic confines of BMO's historic head office in Old Montreal, this mini museum is filled with exquisite artifacts, like mechanical piggy banks and vintage banking equipment.
As you meander through its grand halls, you'll encounter an impressive collection of vintage currency, spanning rare coins and intricately designed banknotes from an era when finance and artistry overlapped.
One highlight is the preserved office of an early bank manager, offering a snapshot of the bank's operations in its formative years. Interactive displays explain the intricate processes behind banking, currency production, and the evolving role of financial institutions in shaping Canada's growth.
Where: 859, rue Sherbrooke Ouest
When: Tuesdays to Fridays, 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Cost: Free, but donations encouraged
Reason to go: A beacon of natural history in Montreal, this Victorian-era institution will captivate you with its eclectic array of exhibits. Upon entering, you'll be greeted by towering dinosaur skeletons, including the imposing Gorgosaurus. Further inside is a shimmering collection of minerals and gemstones, with standout specimens like iridescent Labradorite and intricate formations of native Canadian ores.
The museum's World Cultures gallery is a testament to human diversity, showcasing artifacts from Ancient Egypt, including genuine mummies, to indigenous cultures of the Americas. The comprehensive fossil collection transports enthusiasts to bygone eras, with its trilobites and ammonites narrating Earth’s evolutionary journey.
Not to be missed is the museum's unique collection of curiosities, including a famed "shrunken head."
Maison Louis Cyr
Where: 215, rue Sainte-Louise, Saint-Jean-de-Matha, QC
When: Wednesdays to Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Reason to go: This museum, just over an hour north of Montreal (so it's a bonus), pays tribute to a man whose strength became the stuff of legends. Within this preserved home, visitors can trace the footsteps of Louis Cyr, celebrated as the "Strongest Man in the World" during his prime.
While the museum showcases replicas of the staggering 500-pound weights he lifted and his record-setting feats, it also offers a more intimate look at Cyr's life. You'll find his personal belongings, from his custom-made clothing and shoes, accommodating his massive frame, to letters and photographs that chronicle his journey from a young boy in Quebec to an international sensation.
The museum also delves into Cyr's role as a police officer in Saint-Henri and his dedication to his family, especially his beloved daughter Émiliana. The stories of his efforts to ensure a better life for her provide a heartwarming counterpoint to his towering public persona.
A visit to Maison Louis Cyr lets you explore the legacy of a physical powerhouse while also getting a snapshot of Quebec in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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