Cycling Montreal: An Adventure Sans Auto
By Rick Millikan
Rolling our suitcases smoothly past neighborhood bistros to the heritage chateau-style train station, we board Via Rail for a scenic two-hour ride following three glorious days exploring historic Quebec City. We’re 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 rents us light hybrid bikes, which include a handlebar pouch, map, lock and icy bottle of water.
Pushing our bikes across the boulevard, we mount up and pedal the dockside trail through a two-kilometer (1.2-mile) linear park lined with grassy playgrounds, pools and floral gardens.
Nearby stands Pointe-a-Calliere where thirty-five colonists landed to found Montreal in 1642. We’ll return later to visit its archaeological museum and discover the evolution of their early settlement through its extensive underground exhibit.
Canada’s Industrial Dynamo
Winding under shady trees, we soon cross Montreal’s historic port locks. A park ranger chats 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 spot the iconic Geodesic Dome over on Isle de Sainte Helene, also from Expo.
On more distant Isle Notre Dame, the former French pavilion looks like a giant diamond ring; the Québec pavilion, a mirrored box resembling 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 learn from another cyclist it’s now the Environment Canada Biosphère presenting info-tainment on St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes ecology and economy.
Cutting through wild greenery to Alexander Calder’s modernistic steely Man, we pedal 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 enter Fort Stewart. These defenses were built to fend off any future American invasions after the War of 1812.
From its ramparts, we sight La Ronde, an amusement park legacy from Expo. Stopping on our return to chat with civic workers, they tell 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 ‘velo-rutionaires.’ 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…
Next morning, we remount our bikes and retrace 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 tells us about those hearty native trappers, French Canadian voyageurs and Scottish merchants. It’s also a chance to stroke the soft mink, fox, otter and beaver pelts. She snaps 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 befriend a marble dog sitting beside his marble toys, a ball and slipper. We’re not sure about the large coke bottle, yet pop art is always appealing…
After viewing Lac St. Louis at the end of a long windy peninsula, we return via the St. Lawrence. A stone windmill appears on a green hillside.
Centuries-old Moulin Fleming reminds us of hoped-for tail winds. Alas, instead of blissfully sailing back to our abode, we face stiff head winds, yet the shady bike trail motivates our push through pretty parklands.
Colorfully clad cyclists of all ages zip by. Many bikes lie on the grass or lean against benches while their owners bask in sunshine, picnic or fish. We brake to view kayakers and rafters playing and paddling in the historically treacherous Lachine Rapids. And in the distance, we glimpse the tops of freighters passing safely through the St. Lawrence Seaway.
The Extra Spire
Returning via Atwater Locks, we savor gelatos on a wooden deck above its colorful flower market.
Pointing at a church sprouting two silvery spires, I ask Chris, “Why the extra spire?” She replies, “It’s… doubly inspiring.” Suitably inspired, we’re soon back in our home suite home, freshening up for dinner.
Just downstairs, we sip robust wines and enjoy 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 ambience 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.