I am spending a bunch of time this fall and winter, post guiding, walking. Sometimes epic walking, two or three hours across different neighbourhoods on my way to an engagement or an event. My most favorite routes inevitably include one or two of the three peaks of Mont-Royal which are my closest neighbours. This covers parks, cemeteries, universities and residential neighbourhoods. Given the variety and the connections between them, my route can change and change again during any walk; it also means I am never bored.
- Wide, well graded pathways through the park, or scrambles up steep inclines, check;
- Monuments to the famous, not so famous and dearly departed, check;
- Fancy houses chock a block, some historical, some pretty, some pretty ugly, check;
- Hallowed halls of learning, english or french, check.
What follows is what many of my afternoons and evenings look like. In this first of a series of posts (because I have WAY to much to say) I will tell you about Mont-Royal Park. Full disclosure, I am still finding new places and pathways to follow. That means that I could update this ‘report’ at any time. I’ll keep you posted.
My natural inclination is to head up Mont-Royal Park from the statue, or Monument to Sir George Étienne Cartier. Starting at Park Avenue, in the axis of Rachel Street, this is the easy way up, smooth with a fairly gentle rise. Although it can be icy during the freeze and thaw, it gets you up out of the streets nice and easy. It’s also the route of choice, early in the morning, before sunrise or winter nights when you can see the lights of the city through the trees. Without the foliage, the city illuminates the snow making it a comfortable walk.
Many of the smaller pathways through the park become cross country ski or snow shoe trails during the winter, the former being a favorite activity of mine. All that equipment is available for rent at the Beaver Lake Pavilion, along with skates, for their refrigerated skating surface.
But that Pavilion is rarely my goal; a bathroom stop sometimes or a pause on an epic walk. It is nonetheless a beautiful view point for looking at Beaver Lake, the park’s large, artificial pond. Many tourist buses use it for the facilities but are pleased as punch by the scenery. It’s also a lovely evening destination, particularly in the winter, with its festive lighting and warm interior.
My favorite building is the Chalet at the Kondiaronk lookout, built in the 1930’s.
The central hall of the Chalet is vast, almost equal in size to the building’s foot-print, with a high ceiling and beautiful wooden beams and trusses. There is café seating, some Muskoka chairs and a few wing-backs that are usually drawn around the large fireplace. Paintings of Montreal’s history form a decorative band just below ceiling level, and each beam is decorated with a tourist favorite, the squirrel.
The lookout is the main viewpoint of the park, looking over the downtown and the Monteregian hills to the south-east.
Although I can visit the park many times a week, I don’t always make it to the lookout. When I do, I consider it a treat to linger over the view. If I am out for a walk, or with a group of tourists, I may stop to use the ‘facilities’ at the Chalet, but generally, I am not that interested in actually taking a break.
Alone, I may decide to walk around the upper loop by the cross. Starting towards the east, on a sunny winter afternoon, you end up walking into the warming light.
Depending on my mood, I may take a smaller path, just downhill from the loop, while staying close to the main route, it eventually deviates away, giving you the option to join the Escarpment path, or to head down the eastern side of the Mountain, via the Camelien-Houde car lookout. You can also move back up to the main path, and follow it back to the Chalet, to Olmstead Road, the main way back down, or the southern entrance of the Mount-Royal Cemetery.
There are so many more: a series of paths that head through the woods on the south side of that summit, between the main path and Smith House. These multiple routes are great for adding a little terrain during a run or a challenge in the winter on cross-country ski and snowshoe trails.
On the eastern flank, the Piedmont area is another quieter series of paths for a stroll, or a little cross-country ski loop. It connects back to the Camillien-Houde lookout (see above). While it is close to the Park Avenue entrance, it can be relatively calm on a busy weekend.
The main access from the downtown is the Peel Street Entrance. Off Pine Avenue, it is a combined serpentine pathway and stairs, beautifully designed by local landscape architects Cardinal Hardy. On the southern and western flank, there are a number of smaller entrances: beside the former Shriners Hospital, across from the Montreal General Hospital, and across from the beautiful Trafalgar and Gleneagles apartments on Côte-des-Neiges. A new one is almost complete on the North-East corner of Ceder and Côte-des-Neiges.
I am hopeful that there will soon be even more ways to get into the park with the redevelopment of the former Royal Victoria Hospital site. The more opportunities for the city to connect to this, its wild heart, the better.