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The Islands: Île Notre-Dame

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An artificial island created for the 1967 World Expo, the Île Notre-Dame is found in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River. The Notre-Dame and its sister island, the Île Sainte-Hélène, together make up the Parc Jean-Drapeau, which is among Montreal’s most popular summertime hangout areas.

Ile Notre Dame

Jean Drapeau was the mayor of Montreal for nearly three decades, and presided over some of the city’s most exciting years. In the 1960s, during his second term, he brought a World Expo to town, and initiated the underground metro system. The rocks and dirt unearthed during excavations for the metro were used to create an artificial island along the side of the existing Île Sainte-Hélène. The park which spans the two islands was named in his honor in 1999.

For the Expo, more than sixty nations built pavilions on the two islands. Although most of them have since been demolished, a few of Notre-Dame’s pavilions have survived into the present day: the Montreal Casino is housed inside the former pavilions of France and Quebec, while both the small Jamaican Pavilion and its much-larger Canadian counterpart (known as The Tundra) can be rented for weddings and special events.

Ile Notre Dame

The Île Notre-Dame was also a venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics, when a giant two-kilometer rowing basin was carved into the land: still the largest artificial rowing basin in North America. And the island is also home to the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit, which has been the scene for the Formula One’s Grand Prix of Canada since 1978. For most of the year, this 4.7-kilometer track is open to the public, and its flat, smooth surface is popular with bikers and rollerbladers as well as motorists who want the thrill of completing the same loop as their favorite racers (although, because of the bikes and pedestrians sharing the track, thrills are restricted to 20 mph).

Most of the people who visit the Île Notre-Dame, however, aren’t here for the rowing basin or to take a lap around the F1 circuit: they’ve come either to gamble or to tan. We’ve already written about Montreal’s fantastic casino, but also popular is the Jean-Doré Beach, which opens in the summer months. The beach consists of a decent stretch of sand next to an inland lake, whose water is apparently clean enough to swim in. For Montreal’s heat-exhausted citizens, it’s as good a “day at the beach” as they’re going to get.

Locations on our Map: Canadian Pavilion | Olympic Basin | Jean-Doré Beach

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June 26, 2016 at 3:21 pm Comments (0)

A Walk Along the Lachine Canal

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The opening of the Lachine Canal in 1825 signaled Montreal’s ascendance as a major center of industry and commerce. The canal was made obsolete by the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1970, but today has found new life as a park, with an excellent urban trail running along side its length.

Lachin Canal Montreal

Although it’s mostly known as a biking path, Jürgen and I decided to walk alongside the Lachine Canal, since we’d be stopping for pictures every few minutes, anyway. From the Old Port to the Lachine Lock, the trail’s length is 12.2 kilometers, and it took us about three hours to complete. Luckily, it’s easy and absolutely flat, so isn’t overly fatiguing despite its considerable length. But if you’re not taking tons of pictures, bikes are the best option.

The Lachine Canal takes you on a journey into Montreal’s industrial past, when the city’s economy was powered by industries like steel, iron and wood. Most of the factories which once lined the canal have since been turned into luxury condominiums, although some are simply ruins, and a few are still in operation.

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The trail bounces between the north and south banks of the river, leading you over a few bridges, including the pale-green mechanical bulk of the Guaron Bridge, which was able to raise to a perpendicular level within a few minutes. You can also see the Lachine Coke Crane, which is the only remnant of the Montreal Coke and Manufacturing Co, established in 1927 (that’s “coke” as in “fuel made from coal“, not “bubbly caffeinated beverage.”)

Most of the touristy highlights are in the first half of the canal’s path, between the Old Port and the Coke Crane. The final five kilometers aren’t all that spectacular, as the highway runs next to the canal and ruins the mood with its noise. But even here, the trail is attractive, as it goes through woods and alongside the water.

At the end of the path, you’ll find the small Lachine Museum, which we decided to skip — after twelve kilometers of walking, we couldn’t bear the idea of even another fifteen minutes on our feet. Instead, we collapsed in the park near the Lachine Lock, the final stage before ships would re-enter the Saint Lawrence, and allowed the sun and the nearby sound of rushing water to lull us to sleep.

Locations on our Map: Guaron Bridge | Coke Crane | Lachine Lock

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June 24, 2016 at 3:33 pm Comments (0)
The Islands: le Notre-Dame An artificial island created for the 1967 World Expo, the Île Notre-Dame is found in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River. The Notre-Dame and its sister island, the Île Sainte-Hélène, together make up the Parc Jean-Drapeau, which is among Montreal's most popular summertime hangout areas.
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