Montreal has a long and complex colonial history, not only shaping its historic architecture but also giving rise to the wide variety of history and art museums for which Montreal is known and celebrated. As you plan your next trip to Montreal, here are some of the city’s must-see museums.
The Maison Saint-Gabriel Museum focuses on Montreal’s French colonial roots, collecting artifacts showcasing the heritage of the settlers of what was then called New France. Now a designated historic site of Canada, the Maison Saint-Gabriel is set in a small farmhouse and grounds overseen by the sisters of Congregation of Notre Dame, a religious community founded by Marguerite Bourgeoys in Montreal in 1658. The farmhouse and barn, restored in the 1960s, now showcase over 15,000 artifacts and offer a glimpse into daily domestic life in 17th- and 18th-century New France.
Pointe-à-Callière Museum was established in 1992 to honor Montreal’s 350th anniversary, but its historical foundations are much deeper than that. The museum was built on important archaeological sites, adding another dimension to the centuries of history on display, from the settlements of the region’s indigenous people to the present day. This is the most-visited museum in the city, and in addition to its permanent exhibitions, Pointe-à-Callière holds a multimedia show and three annual national and international exhibitions.
The oldest museum in Quebec is the Château Ramezay, established a former New France governor’s residence in 1705. Exhibits are arranged throughout the grand mansion, allowing visitors to explore five centuries of history surrounding the city of Montreal, and the grounds also include a French-colonial-style garden.
The Montreal Holocaust Museum, dedicated to Holocaust education and awareness, holds over 418 original artifacts, 372 photographs, and 20 films. Established in 1979 and inaugurated in 2003, the museum also hosts programs such as the annual Holocaust Education Series, the Holocaust Survivor’s Speakers Committee, and the Witness to History Program. It is home to a number of permanent exhibits as well as traveling and virtual exhibits.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts) has the reputation of being the city’s most prestigious museum. It was originally by a group of local art collectors and patrons founded in 1860, and today the museum holds over 41,000 works dating from antiquity to the present day—from paintings, sculptures, graphic arts, photographs, and decorative art.
Situated in the Quartier des Spectacles, the Musée d’art contemporain (MAC) has been exhibiting some of the best contemporary art from around the globe since 1964. Here, visitors can explore an array of digital and sound pieces, installations, paintings, ephemeral works, sculptures, and more. MAC also organizes art performances and other festive events.
Dedicated to studying and preserving Canadian history with particular emphasis on celebrating the history, people, and communities of Montreal, the McCord Museum was founded in 1921. With more than more than 150,000 visitors, its collections include ethological and archaeological objects, costume and textile pieces, photographs, paintings, prints, decorative artworks, and textual archives.
The Ecomusée du fier monde, a history and community museum, emphasizes Montreal’s “grassroots and working-class” culture. Its goal is “reinforcing the connection between the museum and its social surroundings and environment.” Interestingly, the Écomusée is housed in what used to be the Généreux public bathhouse, and as such, it is a notable example of 1920s architecture.