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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.

Lachin Canal Montreal

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 Montreal Botanical Garden

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Comprising an area of almost 200 acres next to the Olympic Park, Montreal’s Botanical Garden opened in 1931, and is considered to be among the most important in the world. The garden is separated into over twenty thematic zones along with ten greenhouses, dozens of kilometers of trails, and over 22,000 plant species. In other words, you better get started.

Botanical Garden Montreal

There’s no way you could see everything in the Botanic Garden during a single visit. So perhaps the best course of action is to ask one of the staff what happens to be in bloom. That’s what we did, and the guy at the welcome desk pulled out a map, circled “Lilacs” and “Rhododendrons” and recommended a route that would take us to a few of the park’s other highlights.

We had visited the Botanical Garden’s greenhouses shortly after our arrival in Montreal, to see the annual “Butterflies Go Free” exhibition, so today we were able to concentrate on the outdoor sections. That was useful, because the greenhouses themselves are worth hours of your time.

Botanical Garden Montreal

Starting on the western edge of the park, we walked through three small zones: the Perennials, Economic Plants (such as those that produce dye) and the Garden of Innovations (where new hybrid flowers and the latest gardening trends are showcased). We then arrived at the field of lilacs which, as the employee had promised, were in fragrant bloom. The weather was perfect, and I could have spent all day under the shade of the trees with a book; in fact, a lot of visitors were doing exactly that. It doesn’t make sense for tourists, but for a reasonable price, residents can become “Friends of the Garden,” which gives them free access for a year.

We continued north, through the First Nations Garden (featuring trees of North America and a few totem poles), and with some trouble found the Leslie Hancock Garden. This is a small, shaded plot filled with heather and rhododendrons, which feels as though it’s been purposefully hidden away in the forest.

Botanical Garden Montreal

Heading back towards the greenhouse, we passed through the Shade Garden, where low-light plants like ferns and Quebec trilliums thrive, and moved on to the Japanese Garden. They’ve done a good job replicating the atmosphere and layout of the gardens we had become so fond of while in Tokyo. Montreal’s Japanese Garden is the work of horticulturalist Ken Nakajima, and includes a zen stone garden, a bonsai collection, and even a traditional pavilion where you can participate in a tea ceremony.

Next to the Japanese Garden is the Chinese Garden, which is supposed to be fantastic. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation during our visit (it’s set to reopen in 2017) so we wandered through the Alpine Garden. This zone isn’t as immediately beautiful as the others, but shows off a completely different kind of landscape, with the rocks and flowering shrubs of the Alps.

The Botanic Garden isn’t cheap, and it’s so large that I can only recommend going when you have a lot time to spend there. Keep in mind that your ticket will also get you into the neighboring Insectarium. We loved the garden, and even after spending the whole morning there, I wasn’t nearly ready to leave.

Location on our Map
Montreal Botanical Garden – Website

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June 20, 2016 at 2:08 pm Comments (0)

Mont Royal’s Twin Cemeteries

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Mont Royal is a lot larger than we expected. Sure, we figured that the hill which provides the city its name would be big, but we didn’t know this hill would be roughly the same size as the city itself. So it came as a shock to learn that the northern side of Mont Royal is nothing but cemeteries… half the mountain, dedicated to the dead.

Mont Royal Cemeteries

We spent a gray Sunday morning walking around the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges and the Cimetière Mont-Royal. Well over a million souls have been laid to rest in the two cemeteries, and with the seemingly endless network of trails, there’s no way you could hope to see all the gravestones. Unless you’re weirdly obsessed with gravestones.

We started in the Roman Catholic cemetery of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, which is by far the larger of the two. In fact, this is the largest cemetery in Canada and third-largest in North America. With tens of thousands of tombstones and nine mausoleums, the Notre-Dames covers an area of over 343 acres and has over 55 kilometers of paved road. It was founded in 1854 in response the city’s booming population, and has remained a mostly Catholic place of rest, although today it will accept anyone of Christian faith.

Mont Royal Cemeteries

Sticking to the main route, we walked past some gorgeous and ostentatious monuments, often adorned with crosses or weeping angels. We saw fields of gravestones dedicated to the heroes of the Crimean War and World War I, and went inside the stunning Pietà Mausoleum, which seems to be mostly occupied by Italian families.

Walking around such opulent tributes to past lives, I realized that I don’t have a plan for when I die. So, should whoever’s in charge of arranging my funeral be reading this, here’s what I want: a marble gravestone featuring a statue of me, which should be slightly larger-than-life and shirtless; feel free to exaggerate the musculature of my physique. I should be consoling a weeping angel, or feeding an orphan or something. Make me look good, you get the idea. (If there’s not enough cash to pay for all this, you can burn me and bury my ashes in a shoebox. I guess it’s all the same.)

Mont Royal Cemeteries

Our tour through the the Mont Royal Cemetery was somewhat shorter, but just as impressive as the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges. This cemetery dates from 1850, a few years earlier than its larger neighbor, and has around 200,000 interments. It started as a Protestant place of rest, although it’s now non-denominational. We saw English names, as well as German, Chinese and Greek, among many others.

The most impressive monument we saw here was the crypt of John Molson and his family. The founder of the Molson Brewery, he was one of Montreal’s most important entrepreneurs, and also active in politics and banking.

A visit to the two cemeteries of Mont Royal is the perfect “chilly weekend” type of activity. Walking around all this death, reading all the forgotten names, and reflecting on the fleeting nature of our lives, seems like something best appreciated when the wind is cold and the sky is gloomy.

Locations on our Maps: Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery | Mount Royal Cemetery

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May 29, 2016 at 8:15 pm Comment (1)

The Parc des Rapides

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As the St. Lawrence River winds its way from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean, most of its journey is smooth sailing. However, just before it reaches Montreal, the river hits a rough patch. Jürgen and I hiked to the neighborhood of LaSalle to check out the Lachine Rapids.

Parc de Rapides Montreal

We started our day at the Parc Arthur-Therrien, across from the Île des Souers (or, Nuns’ Island), so-named because of the Sisters of Notre-Dame who owned it for 250 years. From this park, it would be a five-kilometer trek south to the Parc des Rapides. There’s a popular bike path running along the the St. Lawrence, but we stayed on a smaller dirt trail closer to the water, and enjoyed the riverside walk.

The path stretches along the base of a tall embankment, behind which Montreal’s buildings were hidden from view, and we found it hard to believe that we were still in the city. The weather was beautiful, and our only companions during the journey were birds, reeds, trees, and the occasional jogger. The five kilometers went by in a flash, and soon enough we could hear the rumbling of the rapids.

Parc de Rapides Montreal

These white water rapids have long been a source of adventure for Montrealers. As far back as the nineteenth century, thrill-seekers would pack onto steamboats to navigate them. Even the Prince of Wales, Edward VII, wasn’t able to resist a ride during his visit to Canada in 1860. While in the park, we saw a few rafts full of modern-day adrenaline junkies trying their luck. These rapids aren’t the world’s most treacherous, but they look like a lot of fun.

Less adventuresome are the hoards of people who visit the Parc des Rapides for birdwatching. This is a sanctuary for migratory birds, most importantly the great blue heron. There were dozens of birders in the park, equipped with cameras and gigantic zoom lenses. While they were watching and identifying new species, Jürgen was watching them, jealously identifying their expensive photography equipment. If they’re “birders”, I guess that makes Jürgen a birderer (a word which, incidentally, seems to be impossible for Germans to pronounce).

The Parc des Rapides isn’t large; it’s about 800 meters in length, on a narrow strip of land which lays between the rapids and a tranquil inlet. You can walk up and down the entire thing in about twenty minutes, and we recommend you do so. The further south you go, the less crowded the park becomes, since not many of the birders bother to carry their heavy camera bags all the way to the park’s end.

Location on our Map

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May 26, 2016 at 8:46 pm Comments (2)
A Walk Along the Lachine Canal 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.
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