Walking the perimeter of the island of Montreal is a scheme I dreamed up when warming up to the idea of long distance walking. Once I set out, completing the walk took me four years. This report summarises my walks along the northern shore of the Island.
Day 6 Rivière-des-prairies – Montréal Nord (13k)
The day started off in the shore line park where the last walk ended; le parc des Cageux. Cageux is french for raftsmen, those crazy brave souls who rode huge log rafts down rivers to get them to larger ports. Active for close to 100 years from early 19th century to 1911, they frequented the taverns of the village of Rivière des prairies. We can feel the original village on this part of Gouin Boulevard, with its buildings hugging the edge of the road. Here, the edge of the Island is very accessible. For 4 km Gouin boulevard follows the shore, giving more intrepid walkers the opportunity to scramble along its rocky edges. This kind of scrambling is dependant on one’s own level of fitness and adventurousness, but also on the goals for distance on a given day; it is much slower paced than walking along a path or sidewalk.
The shore is also appreciated by locals who leave traces of their use.
Some of highlights that day, natural and built; the bridges (Highway 25), a mini airport, a fantasy ice-cream stand and the pink roots of willows in the river.
Another discovery was a neighbourhood of residential towers for the ‘golden girls’ and boys (seniors) that take over about half a km of shore in Montréal North: a lesson in demographics, if not architecture.
There is another excellent stretch along La route de Champlain, a combined walking and bike path which starts at Aimé-Léonard Park and continues until the days second bridge, Hwy 125.
My day ended soon after at a park which was the gateway to the fantastic walking to come.
Day 7 Montréal Nord to Cartierville (11km)
I knew there was a lot coming up on my route, so I was chuffed to be out again, the very next day (if my photo dating is reliable). There was the Rivière des-Prairies dam, just before the Parc de la visitation, and the eponymous island just off the shore. This was a settlement, associated with Sault-au-Recollets, another area of rapids where one the Islands oldest churches still stands.
I’ll admit to one detour onto the Island, enjoying the beautiful new walkway back. One could probably detour over there earlier, to lengthen that section of the walk.After a welcome visit of said church, the walk soon returns to the shore through a series of parks, Louis-Hébert, Gouin, Maurice-Richard, behind some impressive historical institutions and than back to Gouin Boulevard, to see the Bordeau prison.
There were bridges and bikepaths, and finally the day’s end at the Sacre-Coeur (Sacred- Heart) Hospital, the emergency room of my childhood.
Day 8 Cartierville –Pierrefonds (9km)
This was last walk of the season, a beautiful December day. I did a bit more than 9 km given the exploring, dead ends and unnecessary diversions I took trying to confirm some of my shortcut hypothesis on the ground.
My only success was the shortcut under the Autoroute 13 bridge from Parc Bois-de-Liesse. From there, I arrived at the first of a series of religious institutions that seem to proliferate for a couple of km along the shore.
These were former summer estates, sold to different religious orders in the early part of the 20th century. Some are abandoned, some have been transformed into other uses, and some still serve as religious retreats along the beautiful Rivière des prairie. The next highlight was the small section of road, Boul. Lalande, in Roxborough. It is a shore road, which while quite developed, still feels like the cottage country it once was.
After a short stint of absolute suburbia, and many unsuccessful attempts to regain access to the water, I had no choice but to deviate back to Gouin Boulevard, at this point a less than lovely strip of shops and fast moving traffic. My day was over, and I would continue and complete my walk the following year (or the next paragraph…).
Day 9 Pierrefond/Roxborough to Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue (25km)
Maybe not the best choice, hot, end of June, but I had a rare day off from guiding and decided it was time to finish off this puppy. My shoes were not meant for 25 km and I had only one bottle of water but even in the heat, I was not in the wilderness.
The first reward was a detour to the shore, over the railway tracks and out through the Parc des arbres. Next, was a hit of the river before the bridge to Ile Bizard. I have biked by and over this bridge, but on foot I followed Gouin Boulevard past it, into the former village of Sainte-Geneviève.
The first interesting building was the Cégep Gerald Godin. Originally the ‘noviciate’ of the Frères de Sainte-Croix, built in 1932, it has been a Cegep since 1999.
50 minutes from the village, you arrive at Cap Saint Jacques.This beautiful 750 acre park has beaches, pathways and an ecological farm. My appreciation for it increased 10 fold during this particular walk: I stopped for a full head-dunk in the river, off a boat launch very close to Gouin Blvd. A life-saver in the heat!
From here, it was a mere 7 km to finish my walk and, happily, it was a beautiful route. Senneville is a small but very wealthy on-island suburb which was originally settled as summer residences for some of Montreal’s business and political élites. The road is just two lanes lined by large estates, woods and occasional farm fields.
Once you reach the heart of the village, you have almost arrived at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue
Passing under Autoroute 40 you can sense your approach to an even denser neighbourhood. I was feeling the 20 odd km in my body but was happy to round back to the waterfront promenade along the canal where I had started 3 years earlier.
This was cause to celebrate with an end-of-walk Pint, Scotland-style. I chose one of the canal-side patio’s and plunked my self down at a table with some random guys; (nb: It’s just not done). I did explain myself, although they were too surprised and tipsy to be impressed – (so I imagine). Nonetheless, I was happy to savour my beer, and silently congratulate my walking self for this grande finale of an excellent adventure.