The RMS Titanic Walking Tour, Montreal

The RMS Titanic Walking Tour (Self Guided), Montreal

Built as the ship of dreams, the RMS Titanic went down in history as the one that carried “both the hopes and the tragedies of a generation.” The luxury cruiser sank on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic in the early hours of April 15, 1912, and today is largely remembered throughout the world, in part, due to the blockbuster movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Although Montreal's association with the Titanic is not as prominent as that of other locations like Belfast or Halifax, there are still several sites in the city that are connected, albeit indirectly, to the ill-fated boat.

One such is the local Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts), believe it not – for its exterior carries the frieze made by one of the Titanic passengers who did not survive the disaster. The Baxter Mansion is the former residence of yet another victim, the one who did make it through and died several years later.

The Christ Church Cathedral holds a memorial plaque dedicated to some of the unfortunate ones who perished along with the Titanic and had previously worshiped at this church. The Grand Trunk Railway Building was constructed by a Titanic passenger who inadvertently prophetised the disaster just a few hours before it actually happened. The Allan Building is where the message of the Titanic hitting an iceberg and sinking was first received in Montreal.

A reminder of the consequences of overconfidence, the RMS Titanic represents the fragility of human ambition in the face of the uncontrollable power of nature, yet at the same time remains forever a symbol of the indomitable human spirit. If you're interested in maritime history and wish to pay tribute to the victims and survivors of the Titanic in Montreal, this self-guided tour is just what you need.
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The RMS Titanic Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: The RMS Titanic Walking Tour
Guide Location: Canada » Montreal (See other walking tours in Montreal)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Museum of Fine Arts (Musee des Beaux-Arts)
  • Baxter Mansion
  • Christ Church Cathedral
  • Grand Trunk Railway Building
  • Allan Building
  • Molson Bank
  • Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Building
Museum of Fine Arts (Musee des Beaux-Arts)

1) Museum of Fine Arts (Musee des Beaux-Arts) (must see)

The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts is housed in three separate buildings on either side of Sherbrooke Street, which are connected through underground walkways. One ticket, valid for a full day, allows access to them all (except for the special exhibit which costs extra and is often not to be missed), taking you on a perfectly balanced art-history tour.

The five pavilions, with their distinct designs, speak volumes about the museum's exhibitions. The modernist Desmarais Pavilion (where the main entrance and the restaurant are located) is filled with light and houses most of the permanent collection of exquisite artworks from around the world, including treasures from Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Oceania and the Americas dating from the 4th millennium B.C.E. to today. The back of this building connects to the recent addition of the Hornstein pavilion, which hosts 750 classical-to-early-modern artworks and actually goes the length of using projectors and LCDs to create that moonlight-in-a-forest atmosphere that so many people find "romantic".

After enjoying traditional paintings and sculpture, you may transition to more modern, contemporary and Canadian exhibits, or visit the pavilion dedicated to decorative arts, featuring fun and funky stuff to delight the eye and imagination. It's all rather spread out on a very complex layout, so give yourself enough time to make the experience worthwhile.

***The RMS Titanic Walking Tour***
The frieze on the building's exterior is the work of second class passenger Leopold Weisz, 33, who drowned in the disaster. A Hungarian-born Jewish stone carver, Weisz got the job in Canada carving the frieze for the Museum of Arts building in 1911, following which he was contracted to do the stone shields which decorate the Dominion Express Building at 201 Saint Jacques Street W. He had gone back to England to fetch his wife and the couple were to have returned on another vessel, but because of the coal strike, were transferred to Titanic. Mrs Weisz survived, but was about to be deported as an indigent from Canada until her husband's body was recovered, with $15,000 worth of gold sewn into the lining. It was returned to her, and she remained in Montréal.

Why You Should Visit:
If you're happy to discover artists you are not already familiar with or to stop and spend time with at least one masterpiece, this place is a good choice, especially when the weather isn't great to be outside. Collections are well spaced out in appropriate themes and one can't help but be impressed by the lighting and staging of the artwork.

Note the reduced admission fees to major exhibitions between 5–9pm on Fridays.
In addition, the first Sunday of each month is free for all and sundry.
Baxter Mansion

2) Baxter Mansion

At the height of his banking career, James "Diamond Jim" Baxter lived with his family in this huge mansion in the Golden Square Mile, which was inhabited by other two bankers and later became the head offices of The Corby Distilling Company. Following her husband's death in 1905, Hélène Baxter was well provided for given the family's investments in France, Switzerland and Belgium as well as properties in Montréal. On April 15, 1912 she was returning home from France on Titanic with her son, Quigg, and daughter Zette, having booked passage on one of the vessel's most expensive suites.

Mrs Baxter was ill with nausea during most of the voyage, and found the throb of the engines relaxing. When the ship stopped in mid-ocean, she had an anxiety attack. Her son, Quigg, carried her up the Grand Staircase and put her and his sister into lifeboat 6. As he kissed them goodbye he gave his mother a sterling silver brandy flask so she might keep warm on the open ocean, and she berated him for his drinking. After the disaster, she returned to Montréal but never recovered from the effects, having died in her apartment on 19th June, 1923.

One of the few remaining mansions downtown on Sherbrooke Street, it is also of significant heritage interest due to its interior with a very fine mahogany staircase and beautiful chimneys in marble and walnut, among other features.
Christ Church Cathedral

3) Christ Church Cathedral

This landmark of downtown Montreal is an excellent example of Gothic Revival style in Canada. The detailed exterior of pointed arches, buttresses, and crenellated turrets conceals a sober but elegant wood/marble interior. Built between 1857-60 to a design by the distinguished architect Frank Wills, the structure reflects an Anglican ideal of its time: namely, a return to the English medieval church in both liturgy and architecture.

To be fair, it's a very unusual church for a number of reasons. One is that the whole of the terra firma beneath the church was sold to developers to create a huge underground shopping mall ("Promenades Cathédrale"), which links the Underground City to Eaton's. What further strikes as rather unusual is the "stave church" style of the roof's interior recalling Scandinavian Churches one may see around Bergen, Norway, while the beautiful old art may strike as perhaps more fitting to be in an Eastern Orthodox Church with its flat, gold-trimmed icon depictions of the Holy Family.

Unlike other main houses of worship in Montreal, the building is open most of the time and there are no admission fees. There is usually a warm welcome for visitors and the music is outstanding.

***The RMS Titanic Walking Tour***
A memorial tablet to 23-year-old Vivan Arthur Ponsonby Payne, "erected by 125 of his associates", can be found in the Chapel of Saint John of Jerusalem, to the left side of the main altar. Payne was a secretary of Charles Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad, whom he accompanied on a trip to Europe, his first trip abroad. The young man wrote his mother stating how astonished he was at how green the countryside in England was in March, but the vacation was cut short when Hays learned that his daughter Louise was having complications in the last stages of her pregnancy; also, he wanted to be back home for the imminent opening of his new hotel, the Château Laurier in Ottawa. Payne boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a first-class passenger, but died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified. Christ Church Cathedral is also where Harry Markland Molson, another victim of the Titanic disaster, worshipped.
Grand Trunk Railway Building

4) Grand Trunk Railway Building

Erected in 1902 by the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) company which managed a system in Quebec and Ontario prior to nationalization as the Canadian National Railway (CNR), this very well-preserved building on McGill Street is one of the most imposing in Old Montreal. Originally constructed by Titanic passenger Charles Hays, president of the GTR, as the company's corporate headquarters, it currently shelters offices of the government of Quebec and allows visitors to see a beautiful part of the interior which dates from its heyday in the early 20th century.

Charles Hays, whose office was in the building, boarded the Titanic with his family, his secretary and a maid. They were returning to Canada for the official opening in Ottawa of a brand new hotel Hays had built – the Château Laurier. The owner of the Titanic had personally invited him to take the celebrated new ship home, but the railwayman was not entirely impressed by ocean liners; in fact, he was reported to have made a prophetic remark on the evening of the disaster. Deploring the way the steamship lines were competing to win passengers with ever-faster vessels, he is said to have commented, "The time will come soon when this trend will be checked by some appalling disaster." Two hours later, Hays would be dead, before he could see the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway completed.

In 1919 the Grand Trunk company faced serious financial difficulties, and one year later the Government of Canada took possession of its assets and placed them under the control of the Canadian National Railway Company, a crown corporation. The inscription "Grand Trunk" and accompanying GT monogram clearly recall the origins of the building, however; also, the clock added to the top of the center section shows that the building was related to transport. Finally, on the upper part of the right tower one may recognize the two winged lions that symbolize the Grand Trunk's power.
Allan Building

5) Allan Building

On April 15, 1912, the Allan Company’s steamship Virginian picked up the Titanic’s first distress signal and wired the Montreal head office for permission to alter course to go to the ship's rescue. This is where the message that the Titanic had hit an iceberg and was sinking was received in Montreal. The information was immediately passed on to the marine reporter of The Gazette – the first newspaper in the world to learn of the disaster.

The offices of the shipping company were housed in this building until 1941, with some rooms being rented to various companies and organizations until the sale in 1978. In 1981 the Department of Public Works took possession and remained the owner until 2009, when the Society of the Old Port of Montreal took over ownership. Out in front is a statue of John Young, 1st Chairman of the Port Commission, responsible for enlarging and developing the port. His efforts were so important that after his death in 1878, he was considered to be the "father" of the port. A figure of Neptune, symbolically representing the Saint Lawrence River, sits at the base of the monument.
Molson Bank

6) Molson Bank

Molson Bank sits at the heart of the city's (and country's) former business center, in the western part of Rue Saint-Jacques, which speaks favorably of, and largely added to, its commercial prestige over the years. The bank's mansion-like appearance is in dramatic contrast with the very tall neighboring structures built in later periods; that notwithstanding, the Ohio buff sandstone facing, an innovation at the time, harmonizes well with the variety of stone used later in the area.

As part of the classical-minded composition, the ground floor's rusticated masonry, and the more delicately treated floor above, owe their architectural vocabulary to northern Italian Renaissance design, recalled by the mascaron keystones. The centre porch and all of the upper part of the building, on the other hand, derived their design from contemporaneous French architecture, as evidenced by the red granite twin columns, segmental windows, spiral-shaped window fins, the crowning sculpture, the mansard roof and the metallic cresting. Imported from London, this manner of combining Italian Renaissance and French influences made the Molson Bank building a participant, before any New York bank, in what would later be designated as the Second Empire style.

Harry Markland Molson, one of the bank's directors, was among the passengers who died in the Titanic disaster. He was last seen on board, removing his shoes with intentions to swim to a nearby ship. His body was never recovered.
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Building

7) Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Building

The five-storey building was designed by Darling and Pearson in the Edwardian Baroque style and is fronted by a monumental hexastyle Corinthian portico carved from grey Stanstead granite from Stanstead in Quebec's Eastern Townships. The building was constructed as the main Montreal branch of the Canadian Bank of Commerce (which merged with the Imperial Bank of Canada in 1961 to form the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce). From 1909 to 1939, it also housed the Montreal offices of the White Star Line, which sold tickets to the maiden voyage of Titanic in 1912.

In 2012, the owners of the Montreal landmark, The Rialto Theatre, purchased the former bank and crowned it The Saint James Theatre. While staying true to the history of the building and highlighting its breathtaking architecture, the Saint James Theatre is one of Montreal newest high-end venues for private events.

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