Cycling Montreal: An Adventure Sans Auto

Exploring some of Montreal's iconic and obscure, solo on Mount Royal.
Exploring some of Montreal’s iconic and obscure, solo on Mount Royal.

Montreal by Bike is an Adventure

By Rick Millikan

calder statue
Cycling under Alexander Calder’s modernistic sculpture ‘Man’ – photos by Rick Millikan

Rolling our suitcases smoothly past neighborhood bistros to the heritage chateau-style train station, we boarded Via Rail for a scenic two-hour ride following three glorious days exploring historic Quebec City.

We were now off to investigate Montreal and new bicycle adventures.

After checking into our charming boutique hotel, we walk to the edge of Vieux Port to pick up bikes. Numerous bicycles are secured to parking meters along the way. Cycling, we suspect, has become a popular way to get to work.

The busy bike shop manager rented us light hybrid bikes, which include a handlebar pouch, map, lock, and icy bottle of water.

Pushing our bikes across the boulevard, we mounted up and pedalled the dockside trail through a two-kilometer (1.2-mile) linear park lined with grassy playgrounds, pools, and floral gardens.

Nearby stood Pointe-a-Calliere where thirty-five colonists landed to found Montreal in 1642. We returned later to visit its archaeological museum and discovered the evolution of their early settlement through its extensive underground exhibit.

Canada’s Industrial Dynamo

Winding under shady trees, we soon crossed Montreal’s historic port locks. A park ranger chatted with us about how the famed Lachine Canal transformed this city into Canada’s industrial dynamo.

More than six hundred businesses once sprawled along this waterway, powering manufacturing machinery and providing access to Canadian and U.S. markets. Many old red brick factories remain, refurbished as luxurious condominiums.

Looping eastward along the shore, Habitat’s jaunty million-dollar cubicles so prominent at Expo 67 are still impressive. From high on a bridge bike lane, we spotted the iconic Geodesic Dome over on Isle de Sainte Helene, also from Expo.

Lacine canal Montreal
The famed Lachine Canal

On the more distant Isle Notre Dame, the former French pavilion looks like a giant diamond ring; the Québec pavilion, a mirrored box resembles a gold bar. Both have merged into a government casino. With only a few fragments of the fair remaining, these manmade islands have largely reverted to nature.

Nearing Buckminster Fuller’s elegant dome, we learned from another cyclist it’s now the Environment Canada Biosphère presenting infotainment on St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes ecology and economy.

Roly-Poly Groundhogs

Cutting through wild greenery to Alexander Calder’s modernistic steely Man, we pedaled under his gargantuan bowed legs before twisting through a woodsy area filled with cheery bird songs. At a grassy area, we pass roly-poly groundhogs grazing and grunting.

Spinning upward along an idyllic stream past the island’s bygone powder house, we entered Fort Stewart. These defenses were built to fend off any future American invasions after the War of 1812.

old port
Montreal’s Old Port

From its ramparts, we sighted La Ronde, an amusement park legacy from Expo. Stopping on our return to chat with civic workers, they told us that this site just held an annual grand Prix race and also hosts concerts, swim events, fireworks competitions and winter galas.

“Let My People Go!”

City bike lanes, as well as this bikeway through Expo’s mid-river islands, resulted from the creative advocacy of self-proclaimed ‘velorutionaires.’ Their leader, Bicycle Bob once presented a ‘Cyclist’s Manifesto’ and a yellow bicycle to Mayor Drapeau.

And standing on one of the St. Lawrence’s motorist-only bridges like Moses in a white hooded robe Bob pleaded in ’81, “Let my people go!”

Fellow cyclists applauded and the media reported this colorful event. Subsequently, bike paths were created over two bridges. And bicycles were permitted on two ferries and non-rush hour subways…

Hearty Trappers

fur trader warehouse
The historic warehouse of the early fur traders

The next morning, we remounted our bikes and retraced the route of early fur traders. Portaging inland to avoid perilous river rapids, their route once followed the later-built Lachine Canal. Their historic stone warehouse still stands at the canal’s end and welcomes curious visitors like us.

Surrounded by replicated fur bales, cases of goods, and barrels of rations, a docent inside told us about those hearty native trappers, French Canadian voyageurs, and Scottish merchants.

It was also a chance to stroke the soft mink, fox, otter, and beaver pelts. She snapped a photo of us doffing once-prized felt top hats.

Nearby, Rene-Levesque Park exhibits an array of contemporary sculptures, including a stony quiche and baguette straddling a giant plate. There I befriended a marble dog sitting beside his marble toys, a ball, and slipper. We were not sure about the large coke bottle, yet pop art is always appealing…

dog sculpture
A wagging art interest

After viewing Lac St. Louis at the end of a long windy peninsula, we returned via St. Lawrence. A stone windmill appeared on a green hillside.

Centuries-old Moulin Fleming reminds us of hoped-for tailwinds. Alas, instead of blissfully sailing back to our abode, we faced stiff headwinds, yet the shady bike trail motivated our push through pretty parklands.

Colorfully clad cyclists of all ages zipped by. Many bikes lay on the grass or lean against benches while their owners bask in the sunshine, picnic or fish.

We braked to view kayakers and rafters playing and paddling in the historically treacherous Lachine Rapids. And in the distance, we glimpsed the tops of freighters passing safely through the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The Extra Spire

Returning via Atwater Locks, we savored gelatos on a wooden deck above its colorful flower market.

Caroule, in the heart of Old Montreal, offers bike tours and rentals.

Pointing at a church sprouting two silvery spires, I asked Chris, “Why the extra spire?” She replied, “It’s… doubly inspiring.” Suitably inspired, we were soon back in our home suite home, freshening up for dinner.

Just downstairs, we sipped robust wines and enjoyed wondrous, exquisite French cuisine at Restaurant Bonaparte.

Viva Napoleon! Viva Montreal!

When You Go:

Tourism Montreal offers updates on this happening city, as well as other helpful planning information.

Montreal Museums offers a $ 45 pass for 3 consecutive days for public transit and entrance to 30 local museums!

Two boutique hotels from among many in the historic district, Auberge Bonaparte and XIX siècle Hôtel provide a memorable ambiance in historic buildings & pleasing accommodations with wonderful breakfasts included.

Restaurant Bonaparte is popular for its delicious menu & marvelous service.

In the heart of Old Montreal, Caroule offers bike tours & rentals.

Rick MillikanRick Millikan widely publishes cycling adventures, writes a bicycling column for Adventure West, and contributed two ‘cycle logical’ stories to an anthology titled Traffic Life.

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