There is a museum that has intrigued me since I moved to Montreal. Each time I go to my favorite microbrewery Dieu du Ciel in Mile End, I pass a palatial fire station with a sign advertising the Musée des Pompiers (Firefighter Museum). I hadn't visited it yet, as it has the smallest window of opening hours imaginable: 1:30 to 4pm on Sundays.
What was this little hidden museum, open two and half hours a week?
The mystery was unveiled this Sunday, when the stars aligned and I was in the right place at the right time to catch the narrow window of opening hours. I visited with my dear, self-identified museum-allergic husband, assuring him it was probably just one room of objects. We climbed the stone steps, opened the doors, and...
Bam! Bam! Bam!
An alarm sounded. Unsure if we were in the midst of a fire drill, we almost turned around and left. Then two men in uniforms approached us, welcoming us to the museum (the alarm was just what happens when the front door opens). The men asked us if we would like a guide. I thought they meant a booklet or audioguide, and I was delighted when one of them began to give us a private guided tour!
A Fascinating History
Our guide led us through the museum's galleries, over two floors (more than the one room I had promised my husband). The rooms are full of relics covering the history of firefighters in the region. They also present the development of Montréal's auxiliary firefighters, who are charged with supporting firefighters at the scene of fires since 1944.
We learned so much from our friendly guide. There were so many instances where I exclaimed: I hadn't ever thought of that! Have you ever thought about how they dry fire hoses, or how people called for firefighters before radios? Our guide had so many fun facts: like how the horses who pulled the fire trucks had special snowshoes with cleats (they looked like horseshoes with spikes), or how firefighters used to have big beards and mustaches which they would soak in water to make a sort of mask when fighting fires.
I was overwhelmed by how brave you have to be in order to be a firefighter. It is such a dangerous job. There were several memorials to fallen firefighters, including a wall with the helmets of men who had died in the line of duty.
That time I climbed in a fire truck...
While our time in the galleries was fascinating, my favorite part of the visit was when we descended into the garage of the actual firehouse. My inner-preschooler almost had a heart attack when our guide asked us if we wanted to climb into the driver's seat of one of the fire trucks. Guys, it was awesome. After the surprisingly steep ascent, I giddily checked out out all the equipment stuffed into the interior.
Fire trucks are like toolboxes: there is so much gear meticulously organized into limited space. Our guide opened every nook and cranny on the sides of the truck. He told us that every fire truck in Montreal is organized in exactly the same way, so that firefighters from different teams can efficiently work together.
My husband and I loved this museum. Our guide was friendly and informed, the collection was interesting and a manageable size, we got to climb in a fire truck, and, to top it all off, it was free (though we happily left a donation).
Address: 5100 Saint-Laurent, Montréal ∣ Métro: Station Laurier (Orange Line) ∣ Opening hours: Sunday from 1:30 to 4pm (groups visits can be organized during the week by calling ahead)