Saint-Henri, a Montreal neighbourhood guide
The Saint-Henri neighbourhood is probably one of the best hidden-gems in Montreal. While most visitors often stick to the beaten path of the Old Montreal the Plateau and Downtown, Saint-Henri is a neighbourhood where people live the city rather than visiting it. This vibrant, quirky and eclectic hood has beautiful parks & architecture, public markets and great places to eat, drink and shop. Saint-Henri is the perfect place to visit Montreal like a local!
First things first, where is Saint-Henri and how to get there?
Located in the South-West borough, it borders the Little Burgundy and Griffintown neighbourhoods and the Lachine Canal to the south. It is also part of the Quartiers du Canal. Most of the action takes places on Notre Dame West from Atwater Street to Courcelle Street. The hood is only minutes away from the city center by car or public transport.
There are 2 metro stations to get that serves the area: Place Saint-Henri & Lionel Groulx. Lionel Groulx is the junction between the green line and the orange line which makes the area very accessible.
Architecture & a pinch of history
Today, Saint-Henri is considered an up-and-coming neighbourhood that is going through an intense gentrification era. Historically, it has always been a working-class neighbourhood that was inhabited by a mixture of francophone and Irish immigrants who were working in the factories along the Lachine Canal during the 19th and 20th century. In the 19th century, the area was called Les Tanneries because it was where leather tanning used to take place.
Saint-Henri has always played an important role in the city and it was even immortalized by the song "Place St. Henri" by the famous Jazz player and singer, Oscar Peterson, who used to live nearby.
The architecture reflects this industrial past with large red bricks factories that have now been refurbished into condos, artist studios and office spaces. Uneven 2 floors house buildings with red bricks or stone contribute to the style of the neighbourhood. The outside spiral staircases, that have become an icon of Montreal, are scared here. However, houses have coach gates and intricate wooden details on their doors and windows. Don’t forget to spot these beautiful details while you stroll down the streets.
There are a few Art Deco buildings which were designed by the renown Montreal architect Ludger Lemieux. These buildings are the Atwater Market, the main landmark of the area, and the historic No. 23 fire hall. The old post office, now a gym, is also of the Art Deco style.
Things to do in Saint Henri
The Lachine Canal is one of the best attractions. The Canal is the perfect mix between the calm of nature & the buzzing city life. The park spans for more than 10km, from the Old Port to Lake Saint-Louis in the west side of the island. The canal is a park that bears witness to the booming industrial era of yesteryear.
In the Canal, you can walk, bike, skate and kayak, to name a few activities. A stroll to the banks is a must do to catch the astonishing view of the city’s skyline. I highly suggest renting a bike and hop into the bike path that will take you to the old port.
The public market is the heart of the neighbourhood. Similar to the Jean-Talon Market, the Atwater Market has many farmers stalls which sell both local and imported products. This is the perfect place to buy local products, eat in the many restaurant stands, have a picnic on the Canal or to do some groceries to bring back to your hotel or Airbnb. In the summer, the market is full of flowers and plants, which are a delight to your senses.
Murals and graffiti have become a stable of the city. Notre-Dame street gathers some of the most beautiful street art of the island. It also has pieces by international acclaimed like Sabogal and Nelio. If hunting for street art is your jam, head to my other blog post to know where to find the best street art in Montreal.
While the area is not full of stores and boutiques like downtown, Saint-Henri has a few stores that are worth the stop. There are two thrift stores, La Gaillarde and Shwap Club. In the later one, you can swap your clothes for other pieces; cool concept no? La Gaillarde also offers clothing made by local designers. There is also a library, for all the bookworms that love to get a new book about their new favourite destination.
Camomile Beauty Store
The store which offers green and cruelty-free cosmetics products. If you care about the environment and animals, this should be one of your stops. This newly comer to the hood is a one-stop shop for all your make-up and toiletries. The friendly staff is very knowledgeable and will help you find the right products for you.
Where to eat and drink?
The Southwest borough is one of the foodie hotpots of the city. Here is a compilation of my favourite stops.
If you have a sweet tooth, this is a must stop! The bakery hand makes all their products using real butter, sugar, flour, and fresh seasonal produce. Most of the fruits and vegetables come from the Atwater market to preserve the freshness. The bakery is famous for its pies but they also offer Wunderbar (a crunchy chocolate peanut butter and caramel bar), cakes in a jar, cookie sandwiches, and cinnamon rolls. Trust me, you will want to taste every single item on the menu. The best-selling pies are the Lemon Meringue pie, the classic Québec Apple pie, as well as the Key Lime pie. As Rustique plays with seasonal products, they also have seasonal pies.
Pss: Their Chai Latte is delicious too!
If we continue into the sweet delights, this doughnut shop will make droll! The handmade doughnuts are delicious and one of a kind! These high end and decadent treats are freshly made everyday so be sure to arrive at the bakery early in the morning to have all the choices. The bakery was part of Saint-Henri before it became cool and is one of the darlings in the area. They change flavours according to the seasons and the inspiration from the chef. They bring back old favourites and try to introduce cool new flavours as well. The recipe of the dough is always the same but the toppings and fillings are always changing and being reinvented. They try as much as possible to do everything in-house with local ingredients. They also offer vegan doughnuts for the delight of the vegan and lactose intolerant gang.
My favourite doughnut is the passion fruit glazed one! I can still remember the first time I discovered Léché Desserts, I was in a car driving down on de Courcelle and the smell of the bakery entered through the open windows and I knew I had to stop and find this delicious place! I have fallen in love with this place ever since.
The bar is the neighbourhood’s playground. If you happen to visit Montreal during the Hockey playoff season and the Canadiens are playing, this is THE place where to catch a game. The bar also offers numerous retro nights and live music. Enjoy a pint of beer or one of the delicious cocktails in this hipster ambiance.
Atwater Cocktail Club
The ACC is one of the few bars in the city that offers original and delicious cocktails. The bar is a fairly newcomer to the hood and has brought a nice addition for the night owls. The bar has more than 30 original recipes and the menu changes every 6 months. Come and enjoy their most popular cocktails: the Smokeshow, Mexican Donkey & Mad Whale. These drinks are probably the best in town. Every drink is crafted around a thematic wich gives a unique touch. The bar also offers food from their restaurant next door the Foiegwa.
This is a speakeasy so finding the place can be a little tricky, the entrance is in a small dark alley with a graffiti door behind the Foiegwa restaurant.
Notre-Dame is often called the restaurant alley for its numerous restaurants. If you are looking for a classic poutine or Montreal’s smoked meat head to Green Spot, this dinner has been open for more than 70 years.
The neighbourhood has many restaurants from around the world. Sumac offers delicious Middle East cuisine with Sabich and falafel that will make you transport on the other side of the globe. There is also Tacos Victor and Lupita for great Mexican cuisine. If you are a big fan of Portuguese restaurants , places such as Bitoque and Restaurant 3734 are your spot. On another hand, Rasoi, an Indian restaurant with a beautiful decor, offers delicious Indian recipes.
So, what will be your stops in Saint-Henri?
Disclaimer: Rustique, Leche Dessert, Atwater Cocktail Club and Camomille Beauty contributed to the article A big thank you! All opinions are my own.
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