How many times can I say favorite? Because here I go again. The cemeteries on Mont-Royal, largely grouped around the second, Outremont summit, are another highlight of a good long walk on the mountain. There are four: Notre-Dame-des-Neiges – Catholic, Mount-Royal – Protestant and various other denominations, and two Jewish cemeteries – The Spanish and Portuguese (Shaeret Yisrael) which is Montreal’s oldest congregation and the Shaar Hashomayim, another of the city’s earliest synagogues.
Designed between 1830 and 1860, the four take up close to two thirds of the two peaks, Mont-Royal and Outremont. This may seem excessive, but they were planned to be public spaces as 19th century designers recognised the need for city dwellers to have access to green spaces. I can spend too much time in them when I add them to my route. I always want to slow down to read names, take pictures, congratulate myself on meeting the famous and influential dead of Montreal. The two largest have one official and a couple of clandestine openings between them, which allow for simultaneous greetings of the catholic, protestant and other buried there. More importantly, it opens up the entire area of Mont-Royal for as long a walk as you want.
You can start your visit by walking up Mont-Royal Boulevard, the street named for the cemetery. You can continue along the road, past some impressive homes through Outremont, a swanky neighbourhood perched on the hill. Alternately, shortly after the intersection of Camilien-Houde, the roadway coming off the mountain, there is an entrance, one of three along that street, to a forested hillside, the Boisée d’Outremont.
Part of this wood was the residence of the park superintendent (still looking for the foundations….). There was also a quarry for the earliest First Nations inhabitants of the island, where they found sharp stone for their tools and weapons. Although you are never far from a road, the paths through are a great alternative for walking towards the cemeteries. The entrances and main routes were formalised recently as part of the Chemin de ceinture, the Loop Path, a multi-use pathway that circles the two summits. Approaching the cemeteries, the higher path ends at the fence of the Shar-Hashomayim, which you can follow uphill to the back of the Mount-Royal Funeral Complex.
The complex houses one of the first crematoriums in North America as well as chapels and function rooms. Whether you enter here or the main entrance, there are many choices. Keeping to the roadways and staying to your left, you can follow the eastern and southern boundaries, and traverse some of the oldest and newest sections of the cemetery: some have views out across the city, particularly in the winter. Sometimes there are sweeping vista’s back to the cemetery itself, a bucolic, tombstone-planted, glen.
If you stick to the most peripheral roadways, eventually there is some downhill scrambling, working your way to the southern entrance which leads into the Park. The main road roadways will get you to the same place, minus some of the adventure.
You can continue past the administration buildings, which you pass on your right if you enter the main gate and turn right, up towards the north-western hill or the Mountain View section. The western edge of the cemetery shares a fence with the larger, catholic Notre-Dame-des-Neiges. There is one official gate between them at the site of the large military cemetery that extends to both sides of the fence. The gate unites all of those who served and lost their lives at war, regardless of their religious affiliation.
I use this route to walk from the west of the city, Cote-des-Neiges or NDG, over the mountain and home. Sadly, the gate is closed once there is significant snow accumulation, but don’t be discouraged. If you continue upwards, you will reach the highest section of Mountain View.
While pretty nondescript, there is a hidden secret; another exit. Small pathways through the woods lead to the Boisée Saint-Jean-Baptiste. This adds interesting, alternative routes to cross through the cemetery when on a long walk. If you stay close to the fence, you will arrive at the newest of Mount-Royal’s lookouts.
Outremont Summit and Boisée de Saint-Jean-Baptiste
This summit looks to the north of the Island, and is at the top of a former ski hill used by the University of Montreal ski team until the 1970’s. There is also an official entrance to Notre-Dame-des-Neige, so you can access either site.
From here you can go east, back through the Boisée along the Loop Path. Although apparently altered by construction, this steep but quiet wood is another escape from the surrounding city.
The path will take you back to Outremont, (stay tuned…) exiting behind the former Saints-noms-de-Jesus-et-de-Marie mother house, built between 1923-25.
You are also close to the Vincent d’Indy Music School, and the University of Montreal’s stadium and phys-ed facility. Fun fact: you can bee-line up the (ski) hill from there to the look-out itself (a bit of a scramble).
You can also go west from the lookout to Tiohtià:ke Otsira’kéhne », (pronounced djodjâgué otchira’guéné) park, named by the First Nations of Montreal. Continue, and you soon reach the upper campus of the University of Montreal, subject of another report, (eventually).