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Revisiting My Happy Place: A Weekend Getaway in Old Montreal’s Hotel William Gray

Sailun Tires

By Jeff Silverstein

There is something incredibly comforting about returning to a familiar place.

With the world racing by at such a pace, and the explosion of choice that the internet has unleashed when it comes to travel, it’s deeply satisfying sometimes to choose old standbys.

Photo: Old Montreal Image Bank

That’s exactly what we did one weekend when we drove from Toronto to Old Montreal and checked in to one of our favourite spots, the Hotel William Gray. Revisiting the familiar has lots of perks. All the stress around planning and wondering if what you booked is going to live up to the hype, or the photos, disappears. 

Don’t get me wrong. I love the unknown, and discovering hidden gems and places I have never visited. But there is an exquisite beauty in the known and returning to the reliable.

We knew exactly what to expect when we arrived at the hotel located right in the heart of one of the city’s most charming neighbourhoods. With just a couple of nights to explore, enjoy a few awesome meals and do some serious relaxing at one of the coolest spas I have ever visited, Old Montreal is the perfect getaway.

Photo: Alexandre Cossette

There are a handful of charming hotels in this part of the city, but the Hotel William Gray never disappoints. With a glass tower sitting atop two historic buildings dating back to the 18th century, the hotel has a very hip, modern vibe.

Our corner room offered a bird’s eye view of Old Montreal. With golden hour starting to envelope the city, we headed out for a walk along Rue Saint-Paul with its shops and gourmet bistros tucked in buildings nearly four centuries old. 

Montreal’s ability to preserve its past while embracing its future is what makes this city so special. Modern buildings seem to happily coexist with some of the oldest and most fascinating, giving the city a distinctly European feel. 

Photo: Old Montreal Image Bank

Not surprisingly, Old Montreal has some of the city’s most sophisticated rooftop terraces, and the Terrasse William Gray, the hotel’s stylish rooftop bar and restaurant, is one of the best. It’s a perfect spot for pre-dinner drinks while you take in some of the neighbourhood’s remarkable architecture, iconic landmarks and epic views. 

One of those landmarks is Place Jacques-Cartier, the city’s old merchant market that is now Old Montreal’s most lively and entertaining squares – a perfect spot for people watching and trying one of the many restaurants that line the square. 

Photo: Old Montreal Image Bank

The hotel’s restaurant, Maggie Oakes, has a lovely patio facing the square, and has collaborated with a number local producers and suppliers for a seasonal take on what they dub a modern steakhouse. They offer a variety of dry-aged cuts of beef, the most popular of which are bone-in striploin, T-bone, Porterhouse and Tomahawk. You can’t really go wrong with any of these, and a dozen oysters on a bed of crushed ice to start was a great choice when we dined there our first night.

Photo: Maggie Oakes

After dinner we went for a stroll through Old Montreal and wandered along its cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways, and side streets.  After dark it’s an even more enchanting place, and that evening we happened to stumble on one of the many short films that are projected on the walls of a number of historic buildings.

Scattered throughout Old Montreal, these videos explore the city’s history and diversity and are part of a project known as Cite Memoire. Created by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon in collaboration with Michel Marc Bouchard – the same folks who have collaborated with Cirque du Soleil – it is said to be one of the largest video installations of its kind anywhere in the world. 

There’s a Cite Memoire app you can download so you can listen in multiple languages to these short films. Some of these projections are artistic and whimsical like the one on the Old Port’s Clock Tower on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. With the music of “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, a woman is dancing in mid-air on the tower beneath the moon. In another video installation, a tribute is paid to Joe Beef, a tavern owner who devoted his money and energy to feeding the poor in the 1800s.

The one we came upon was a about Marie-Joseph Angelique, a slave escaping from the great fire in Montreal in 1734. She appears to be running out of a building after being accused of starting the fire, a crime punishable by hanging. Then we see Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in Major League Baseball come running out of the same building after hitting a home run.

Photo: Yubari

The following day, after a spectacular sushi lunch at the newly opened Yubari which is inside the Hotel St. Paul, we headed out to Bota Bota, a Nordic spa located in the shadows of a massive grain silo in the Old Port area and a short walk from out hotel. 

This isn’t just any spa – Bota Bota has taken the spa experience to a whole new level. Originally a ferry, it took a team of naval architects, designers, plumbers, carpenters, and electricians more than two-and-a-half years to convert this old abandoned vessel into a floating spa complete with four decks, a floating terrace, a restaurant, and fabulous river views from the various saunas and hot tubs. 

Photo: Bota Bota by Marie-Reine Mattera

When you check in, your given a plush bathrobe, a towel and a locker key as well as a wristband with $50 pre-authorized from your credit card so you can make seamless purchases at the restaurant. The change rooms are located where the old engines on the ferry used to be and visitors are reminded to respect the no talking no cell phone policy.

Photo: Bota Bota by Marie-Reine Mattera

We alternated between hot and cold experiences and rounded out our three-hour visit just chilling by the pool – a perfect ending to a perfect weekend in one of Canada’s most iconic cities.

That evening, we went to our favourite local haunt in Old Montreal, a restaurant called Barroco. Located in one of the most historic buildings in the city, the exposed beams and 200-year-old stone walls give it a distinctly old world charm. This intimate 40-seat restaurant is a perfect date night spot, and the food which leans French Mediterranean never disappoints. The paella and short ribs are a must, and the cocktails are legendary. Not surprisingly, seats at the bar are highly sought after. 

Photo: Groupe Barroco

The weekend seemed to fly by, and the road trip home was pretty uneventful. But I felt a sense of renewed energy after my weekend getaway in Old Montreal. Maybe it was the spa, or that feeling that comes with being somewhere that’s not only stylish but also has a real sense of history. One thing is certain – my love affair with Old Montreal is still very much alive and well and this is one standby I will keep returning to when I feel the need to getaway.


Hotel William Gray
421 rue Saint Vincent, Vieux-Montreal, QC 

Bota Bota
Entrée McGill et, R. de la Commune O, Montreal QC

Cite Memoire

312 rue Saint-Paul W., Montreal QC 

Yubari – A chic new Montreal restaurant that takes Japanese cuisine to a whole new level. Open for lunch and dinner. Located inside Hotel St. Paul, this has quickly become a new fave spot in the city.
355 rue McGill, Montreal, QC


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