Saturday morning was another early one, as our small group of visitors were treated to a guided bicycle tour of the vibrant Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood, courtesy of Tourism Montreal. We returned to the Fitz & Folwell bike shop - who were organizing the tour - and met Frank, our (highly knowledgeable) guide for the morning. They loaded up our Linuses into the back of an truck, and shuttled us to the top of the 600-metre Mont-Royal. There we enjoyed stunning panoramic views of the city and surrounding area, whiles Frank filled us in on the vast geological, social, and economic history of the region.
From there, we jumped on our bikes, and made the swift descent to the base of the mountain, stopping at various points of interest to learn more about the significance and design of the park. Once we reached the bottom, we headed straight to Café Santropol, where a delicious breakfast of fresh croissants, homemade banana bread, and yogurt and granola awaited us. We dined in their secluded garden patio, a beautiful, hidden oasis that is perhaps one of the best kept secrets in Montreal.
After we had our fill, we continued to pedal around the Plateau neighbourhood, learning more about its working-class roots, pedestrian malls, and shared streets. In particular, the Plateau is renowned for its Green Laneway program, a scheme initiated by the borough in order to foster local pride, cooperation, and a sense of ownership in the community. These former concrete back alleys turned shared green space were a delight to witness first-hand, particularly where neighbours were working together to maintain and utilize them.
I then returned to the hotel to get some writing and photo editing done, but soon received a call from Clarence of Streetfilms, to see whether I was interested in going on an adventure. Much like me, he had visited Montreal numerous times, but had never walked or cycled over the Jacques Cartier Bridge to Parc Jean Drapeau, a small island park in the middle of Saint Lawrence River. So we set off on our way, getting (briefly) lost once or twice, but never once feeling in danger. As with much of our weekend cycling around Montreal, the vast majority of our trip was made in protected bike infrastructure, very rarely having to share the road with automobiles.
Clarence and I improvised a 10 or 12 kilometre loop, which took us over two bridges and onto two different islands in the river. It also put us right past Moshe Safdie's iconic Habitat 67, a unique, prefabricated housing project built for the 1967 World's Fair. Despite visiting Montreal at least a dozen times prior, I had only seen the building from across the river, which was all the more impressive up-close.
We returned to the Port in Old Montreal for a much-deserved Blizzarino (think French-Canadian version of the Dairy Queen treat), which we enjoyed sitting on a nearby patch of grass, chatting and watching the crowds of people passing by. The Cirque du Soleil were currently performing on the waterfront, which meant two giant blue and yellow tents, and plenty of people there to see the show. From there, I rushed back to the hotel room for a quick shower, and then joined some friends and colleagues from Velo Quebec for dinner and drinks in the Plateau. It had been another remarkable day, and Sunday promised to wrap up our visit in style.
I awoke bright and early Sunday morning, and after a quick breakfast, and pedalled out to Parc La Fontaine - the starting point for the 30th annual Tour de l'Île. The sun was already high in the sky, and the crowds in the park were gathering in anticipation. There were an estimated 30,000 cyclists of all ages who had registered to ride a course of either 25-km., 50-km., or 100-km. of open streets around Montreal. While many were dressed in serious cycling attire, including Lycra, cleats, and helmets; some (like myself) were out for a leisurely day of slow cycling, conversation with friends and family, and the opportunity to see their city in a totally different light.
The fact that the Tour de l'Île has been running for 30 years is truly a testament to how deeply ingrained the bicycle culture is here. And Velo Quebec (somehow) manages to completely change the route every single year, bringing the sights and sounds into new (sometimes not so bike-friendly) neighbourhoods. However, the residents were genuinely appreciative, lining the sidewalks, balconies, steps, and street corners with flags, bells, whistles, and shouts of encouragement to the passing cyclists. "Hopefully, that kid sees us and says to his parents: 'I want to do that'", a colleague commented as we passed a family waving from the sidewalk. That's the true beauty of events like this: They really do inspire citizens to think differently about how they move around their city.
Our group completed the 50-km. route just after lunchtime, my legs and buttocks feeling the strain of the countless miles travelled over the course of four days. We had just enough time for a quick bite in the park, before heading back to the hotel to shower, pack, and drive to the airport for the long trip home. I couldn't be more grateful for this opportunity provided to me by Velo Quebec, and had an absolute blast fulfilling it. Please head over to Montreal Cycle Chic for my photos from today, and additional posts in the coming days, as I delve through the hundreds of images on my digital camera. Clarence has been editing up a storm and posting his Streefilms about Montreal here. I will also be writing articles about my experience for Momentum and Spacing Magazines, so be sure to follow along on social media for updates, as they become available. Until then... À bientôt!