Brace yourselves, friends: Indoor season is here. In Montreal, where the days between September and June can range from freaking brutal to Battle of Winterfell, it’s critical to find reasons to leave your house that don’t involve a lot of outside exposure. That’s where galleries and museums come in: They’re classy, they teach you things and occasionally they even throw parties with wine. Here are the best galleries and museums if you’re looking for warm things to do in Montreal—that just so happen to be enlightening and inspiring, too.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Find it: 1380 Sherbrooke St. W., mbam.qc.ca
The rundown: With more than 43,000 works housed in five pavilions, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is an all-day commitment. The museum’s app (download it ahead of time, it’s a big ask for the public Wi-Fi) can guide you through the highlights with an hour-long tour of “museum musts” including works by Canadian painter Tom Thomson and 17th-century Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn. Major exhibitions change every few months, but they’re always ace; past faves include a showcase of French designer Thierry Mugler’s couture creations and a tribute to the music, culture and revolutionary spirit of the late 1960s.
Cost: Free for under-20s and on the first Sunday of the month, $16 for 21–30-year-olds, $24 for general admission and $12 on Wednesdays after 5 p.m.
Hot tip: If you’re local and 30 or under, it’s worth upgrading to a year-long membership: For $35, or less than the cost of two visits, it’ll give you access to every major exhibition, plus invites to VIP Fridays, exhibition previews and Chiaroscuro soirees with music, snacks and free admission for your two non-member besties.
Times: Open Tuesday, Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Closed Monday
Find it: 1455 Rue Peel, Suite 206, expobarbie.ca
The rundown: It’s so wonderfully strange to think that the world’s largest permanent exhibit of Barbie dolls lives in the Cours Mont-Royal shopping centre. Half childhood fantasy, half current daydream, this is literally a collection of 1,000+ Barbies—but they’ve had a massive transformation from the dolls you collected as a kid. Some are dressed in tiny, perfect designer creations, everything from a replica of Dior’s Tailleur Bar to a Hervé Léger bandage dress; others are styled like beloved celebs and movie characters, or sport uniforms inspired by brands (Harley Davidson, Hard Rock Cafe) and works of art (Van Gogh’s Starry Night, a Fabergé egg).
Cost: 100% FREE baby—but donations to the Make-a-Wish Canada foundation are gratefully received
Times: Open Monday to Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
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Find it: 350 Place Royale, pacmusee.qc.ca
The rundown: Located in the exact birthplace of Montreal—on a national archaeological and historic site—it is fascinating that Pointe-à-Callière has been built around archaeological ruins and they pay tribute to their roots with cutting-edge multimedia installations that provide opportunities to interact with these fragments of Montreal’s past. While local history is at the heart of Pointe-à-Callière’s permanent exhibits, the museum’s temporary showcases are more outward-looking. Recent exhibits include European cabinets of curiosities, often heralded as the ancestors of modern museums, and the history of French gastronomy from BCE to present day.
Cost: $15 for 18–30-year-olds, $22 for adults over 30
Times: Open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Monday
Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal
Find it: 185 Saint-Catherine St. W., macm.org
The rundown: Standing opposite the Place des Festivals in Montreal’s vibrant Quartier des Spectacles, the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal is part of Place des Arts—a cultural hub that also comprises several performing arts venues and restaurants. “We have no permanent collection,” ticket desk employees warn out-of-town visitors. Instead, the MAC has temporary exhibitions both upstairs and down; and they can often be seen in about an hour. (An ambitious expansion project is expected to open by 2024.) Expect the avant garde: Recent exhibitions include Francis Alÿs’s Children’s Games, with looped videos of kids at play around the world, building sandcastles in Belgium and playing musical chairs in Mexico; and Rebecca Belmore’s Facing the Monumental, featuring the artist’s gut-punching performance piece Vigil, a commemoration of Vancouver’s missing and murdered Indiginous women.
Cost: $7 for students, $15 for adults; half price on Wednesday evenings. Free for Quebec residents on the first Sunday of the month
Times: Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Monday. Check website for holiday opening hours
Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner
Find it: 1001 Lenoir St., Room E-206; moeb.ca
The rundown: Named for the inventor of the gramophone, Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner is tucked inside Montreal’s former RCA Victor electronics factory. This museum is somewhat of a hidden gem but it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call it underappreciated: It’s served by passionate volunteers, its collection of audio artefacts has grown exponentially thanks to hundreds of donors, and it captures your whole heart in a single visit, creating evangelists in the process. Still, MOEB flies under the radar, so you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled upon a secret as you discover vintage radios, gramophones, recording equipment—an array of objects so cool, even non-audiophiles will geek out over them. Visit on the weekend or on Friday after 2 p.m. for a guided tour.
Cost: $5 for adults, $3 for students
Times: Open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday to Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Find it: 690 Sherbrooke St. W., musee-mccord.qc.ca
The rundown: You’d never guess it looking around this mind-blowing little museum of social history, but the McCord’s collection comprises more than 1.5 million artifacts (most of them not on display at any given time, obvs—you’re only seeing about 1% of those holdings). The McCord has ambitious plans to triple its exhibition space with a 10-storey expansion, which will also comprise the recently merged Stewart Museum and Fashion Museum, so keep an eye out for potential closures in the coming years. For now, you’re going to want to spend some time checking out Wearing Our Identity: The First Peoples Collection, a permanent display exploring the ties between clothing and identity in Indigenous cultures. A temporary exhibition on Montreal fashion designer Jean-Claude Poitras will take place from October 24, 2019–April 26, 2020.
Cost: $19 for adults, $14 for students. Free on Wednesday evenings, for Quebec residents on the first Sunday of the month, and to Indigenous Peoples
Times: Open Tuesday, Thursday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Monday
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Find it: 745 rue Ottawa, fonderiedarling.org
The rundown: Before Caroline Andrieux came along, the Darling Foundry was just another abandoned industrial building on the edge of Griffintown. Andrieux, who has a history of transforming unoccupied buildings into art spaces, is the founder and artistic director of the visual arts centre that launched here in 2002; before that, she spent the second half of the ’90s cultivating an artistic community in this neighbourhood. The Foundry has two rooms, but they aren’t always in use. The main hall is long and open, with high ceilings and big factory windows; it seems impossible for any exhibition to fill the space. But the works shown here are pretty cerebral—according to curator Ji-Yoon Han, the recent display, Two Ways to Disappear Without Losing the Physical Form by Chilean artist Javier González Pesce, explores “how objects can escape from our impulse to rationalize and control things”—so the breathing room is welcome.
Cost: $5, or by donation on Thursday
Times: Open Wednesday, Friday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday
Find it: 400 rue Saint-Paul E., margueritebourgeoys.org
The rundown: Marguerite Bourgeoys was Montreal’s first teacher. She opened a school in 1658 for the few young children living in Ville-Marie (now Montreal), returned to France to recruit teachers, then expanded the school to accommodate more students. While her story is interesting, it’s admittedly not the primary reason to stop by. The Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum is attached to Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, and a guided tour will take you through an archeological site in the crypt. The chapel tower is also accessible when you visit the museum, and offers the prettiest views of Old Montreal and the St. Lawrence.
Cost: $12 for adults, $9 for students
Times: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in May to October. November to January 15 and March to April, open on Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Monday in November to April and January 16 to February 28, 2020