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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)

The Canadian Grand Prix

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The Formula One Canadian Grand Prix has been held in Montreal since 1978, on the artificial island of Île Notre-Dame. Held every year at the beginning of June, the race is eagerly anticipated by the city’s residents, to whom it represents the unofficial start of summer.

It almost seems to perfect to be true, but the champion of Montreal’s first Grand Prix was a French Canadian: Gilles Villeneuve. A hero throughout Quebec, he died tragically a few years later, during a qualifying run for the Belgian Grand Prix, and Montreal’s track was renamed in his honor. Today, the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit is considered one of the most exciting tracks on the F1 calendar, with long straightaways that allow cars to reach 300 kph and a couple hairpin turns.

Jürgen and I aren’t exactly racing fans. In fact, if you’d asked me who I expected to win the 2016 Canadian Grand Prix, I’d probably have said “Michael Schumacher,” because that’s the only racing name that comes to mind. (In my defense, he is the all-time leader at Montreal…) No, the winner of this year’s race was Lewis Hamilton, who I’m pretty sure I’ve also heard of. The Brit edged out Germany’s Sebastian Vettel by five seconds to notch his second-straight victory in Montreal.

Formula 1 Montreal

Sadly, this year’s race was marred by ugly, cold weather. We didn’t get tickets, but went out in the old town to sample some of the atmosphere. And although we found some outdoor terraces decorated with checkered flags, they were all empty. Everyone seemed to be huddled indoors, watching the race at sports bars. Apparently, the real party is at Crescent Street, which claims to be the biggest Grand Prix festival in the world, drawing half a million people over three days.

Montreal has a love/hate relationship with the Formula One. The city estimates that the race brings in up to $90 million, but a lot of people complain bitterly about it. Why should anyone be glamorizing pollution-spitting race cars? And there’s not much to love about racing’s vulgar macho culture, with all the sexy model-type women posing next to luxury cars, and unsavory associations with high-end prostitution. As a general rule, Jürgen and I dislike any event that reeks of elitism, and the Formula One certainly qualifies.

Oh well, we were happy enough for the race to be held, because it meant that summer had officially begun. Congrats to Schumacher, Hamilton, Dick Dastardly, or whoever it was that won this year’s race!

Location of the Track

Formula 1 Gear

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June 22, 2016 at 10:22 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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