Biking on the Lachine Canal – Industrial History Turned into Recreational Opportunity

I had thoroughly enjoyed my guided tour of Montreal by bike and being the bicycling enthusiast that I am I knew this would be a highlight of my trip. The great thing was that even after the tour was finished, I would get to hold on to my bike until 8 pm tonight since a full-day bicycle rental is included with any guided tour at Ça Roule / Montreal on Wheels.

The “Rendez-vous des cultures” festival in Old Montreal

So once our little group of bicycle explorers split up, we all went on different directions on our rented bikes. I stuck around for a bit in the Pointe-à-Callière area since a big multi-cultural festival, the “Rendez-vous des cultures” was in full swing. Several bands and drumming groups were entertaining the crowd, street stalls were selling ethnic food and street vendors were selling arts and crafts imported from all four corners of the world. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Zuruba, an Afro-Brazilian drumming group, whose energetic beats made the crowd hop.

Zuruba is enthusing the crowd

Energized from Zuruba’s performance, I decided to continue with my biking trip and explore the Lachine Canal, a historic waterway opened in 1825 to circumvent the Lachine rapids on the St. Lawrence River. The Lachine Canal was a major force in turning Montreal into an industrial powerhouse in the 1800s, starting with spinning and flour mills and later becoming the centre of a diverse group of manufacturing industries.

The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 ushered in the demise of the Lachine Canal and it was actually closed in 1970. During the 1990s discussions took place about reopening the Lachine Canal for recreational purposes and under the guidance of Parks Canada, the Canal was finally reopened for pleasure boating in 2002. Today the Lachine Canal is a Designated National Historic Site. Beside the canal is a 15 km trail network of bicycle paths that connects the Old Port of Montreal with the town of Lachine and a nice 30 km loop is available, connecting the Lachine Canal with a trail on the shoreline along the St. Lawrence River that features a beautiful view of the treacherous rapids.

Some recently restored former industrial buildings along the Lachine Canal

I started cycling on the nicely paved path and admired some of the remnants of the industrial buildings along the canal, some of which have actually been revitalized and turned into upscale condominiums. Hundreds of cyclists were out on this beautiful Canada Day and the Lachine Canal is accessible to riders of all experience levels, considering it is well-paved and located on flat terrain. Past some of the restored factory buildings I crossed the bridge to get to the north side of the Canal and I came upon an interesting building: the Atwater Market, an Art Deco Jewel opened in 1933.

The Marché Atwater – an Art Deco masterpiece

The market, one of four major public markets in Montreal, features a variety of stalls and stores selling fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, cheese, health food, bakery and pastry items, delicatessen, flowers and plants and more. It was great that I came across the market since I had not had anything to eat since about 6:30 am and I had burned quite a few calories cycling until about 2 pm. I strolled around the market to get a lay of the land and observed the locals buying their weekly supplies, many of them organic and harvested from local farms.

Fresh farm vegetables

I finally found a nice little café that was selling a delectable variety of sandwiches, pizzas and calzones and ordered a provolone-prosciutto sandwich. I had asked a local gentleman by the name of Claude who was sitting at a seat outside the café to watch my bike and he graciously agreed. With sandwich in hand I came back to join him and we had a nice little conversation. He told me that he lives just around the corner and goes cycling on the Lachine Canal every Saturday and Sunday. He added he loves to come shopping and people-watching at the Atwater Market and this is a regular favourite ritual of his on the weekends.

My lunch is in there somewhere…

After he bid me adieu I started to stroll around the market and I enjoyed a free sample of locally made icecream in a tiny cup, combined with fresh strawberries. The promoters told me that they were just trying to entice people to buy some of the local fresh produce on offer. That whetted my appetite for dessert, so I strolled across the street from the market to a place called “Havre au Glace” right next to the Canal where I had a variety of icecream flavours to select from. With my bike securely locked up I enjoyed a delicious cone of hazelnut and lemon icecream, watching the hustle and bustle at the Atwater Market from the outdoor patio of the icecream parlor.

View from the icecream parlour

Well, it was time to move on and I realized I wasn’t going to be able to complete the entire 30 km of the Lachine Canal loop today. So I decided to go back towards the Old Port. Halfway there, near some renovated condos I saw a group of three rollerskaters who were doing dance moves on wheels to techno music from a boom box. I sat down to watch them and was impressed, they were quite a talented bunch. Over the next half hour or so two additional roller skaters joined them and the action really got going once the Michael Jackson tunes came out. I watched in fascination as these rollerskaters were twirling around and doing moves on their tippie-toes. Each one of them had their own unique style. They were so engrossed in their performances that they didn’t even notice the growing crowd of onlookers that was gathering around them.

These guys were performing some cool stunts on their roller skates

I continued my ride back to the Old Port area and on the green spaces along the Promenade de Vieux-Port a multitude of sunbathers had taken up shop and was enjoying a gorgeous day. As I continued to ride further east towards Place Jacques Cartier I was amazed at how busy the city had become. When I had left Ça Roule early this morning around 9 am, hardly anyone was around. Now around 4 pm the square and the sidewalks were absolutely packed with people, and Canada Day festivities were going on all around the Port area.

Beautiful flower along the Promenade du Vieux-Port

By this time I was a little tired and I decided to take my bicycle back to Ça Roule and have a bit of a chat with André, the owner, to find out a bit more about his shop and bicycling in Montreal.

Place Jacques Cartier was starting to get packed with people

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