There is an unbroken series of bicycle trails leading alongside the Saint Lawrence shore, from Sainte-Catherine, southwest of Montreal, down as far as Varennes, well northeast of the city.
The first time I noticed any trail along the South Shore Littoral was while driving along Route 132 to and from Boucherville in the late 1980s. The first year that I was on my own, I set off to explore it.
Throughout the Nineties, I only travelled along the short section in Longueuil called the Promenade Réné Levesque, from the Port de Plaisance as far downriver as the ferry dock for the Boucherville Islands. Even though I visited Sainte-Catherine many times by bicycle during that decade, I never travelled east along the shoreline. My first ride westward from Saint-Lambert to Sainte-Catherine in 2002 was thus a voyage of discovery: I learned there was a river crossing between Brossard and La Prarie, I came upon the artificial lake in La Prarie, I saw for the first time the flood wall protecting old La Prarie, and was introduced to the trail section that runs right along the water through Candiac, Delson and Sainte-Catherine. On my way to Sorel in 2003, I saw that the protected bike trail ran the length of the Boucherville shore, and onward to the centre of old Varennes. Finally, on revisiting the South Shore in 2004, I closed the last gap by following the bike trail eastward from the Saint-Lambert crossing on into Longueuil, as far as the Port de Plaisance.
From the southern end, along the Seaway levee at the Sainte-Catherine locks, one can clearly see across the expanse of the river basin to the nearby skyline of Montreal. At the northern end, looking across south across the river, the skyline of Montreal is barely visible in the distance.
|Montreal Seen from Both Ends of the Trail|
|View from Seaway Levee
|View from Varennes|
|Skyline from Seaway Levee near Ste. Catherine||View of Distant Montreal from Varennes|
|Skyline from Seaway Levee Near Ste. Catherine - Closeup|
At the Sainte-Catherine locks is the end of the bike trail which follows a vast arc around the basin at the outflow of the Lachine Rapids, beginning at the Champlain Ice Bridge and running along the top of the levee, which separates the river from the Seaway. The town of Sainte-Catherine has turned what was once a private campground into a well-groomed regional park, which stretches upriver alongside the Rapids. At the locks, a drawbridge allows one to connect with the mainland.
|Rapids at Ste. Catherine - Composite|
|Composite West||Composite East|
|Park and Beach at Sainte-Catherine|
|Ste. Catherine's Récréoparc||Rapids View from Lookout in Park|
|Approaching Ste. Catherine Locks||Looking back East from Locks|
|Ste. Catherine Locks|
|Drawbridge & Ship Passing Locks|
|Dam at Ste. Catherine locks|
The small casse-croute at the foot of the drawbridge approach is a popular stopping (and turnaround) point for cyclists. On each of my rides to Sainte-Catherine along the Seaway Levee Trail, I have stopped at this small eatery for some fast grill, accompanied by greasy fries. It has expanded form the small shack that it was when I first came by this way. The waters just below the dam are a popular spot, always crowded with sport fishers. Just alongside the rushing waters is a small sanctuary to honour the young Mohawk girl who went on to become a saint: Kateri Tekwakwitha
|Casse-Croute at Locks|
|Sanctuary for the Mohawk Saint: Kateri Tekwakwitha|
|Ship On Its Way|
|Trail along Marie-Victorin - By Waterfront|
Although there is a marked trail heading westward from the Locks, it only follows the river for a block or so before turning inland towards the heart of modern, suburban Sainte-Catherine, which is built up along both sides of Route 132. I explored in that direction after a ride to the Locks in 1998. The main trail leads east along the river side of Chemin Marie Victorin. For most of the way, it runs right alongside the shoreline embankment.
The trail leaves Sainte-Catherine, traverses the few block wedge of Delson that reaches the shoreline, and then enters the town of Candiac. By this point, there are houses and properties to the shore side, separating one from a view of the water. The trail runs through a large city park in Candiac, where there is a special 'halte' for cyclists. The halte includes - and I've never seen it anywhere else - an air house just for cyclists, to top up their tires. Once past the park, the far side of the road is lined with the large factories and plants of an industrial park. One passes the last remaining farmland of the shoreline (soon to be gone, no doubt!).
|Trail along Marie-Victorin|
|Lonely Farm for Sale: Marie Victorin|
|La Prairie on the South Shore (Binoculars)|
Just past the limits of La Prarie, Boulevard Marie-Victorin encounters Highway 15, which turns eastward along the river after coming up from New York. The bike trail continues as a painted lane alongside the street, as it crosses underneath to the inland side of the highway. There, amidst the houses of modern suburbia, the street becomes Boulevard Salaberry. A short distance later, signs signals cyclists to turn left onto Rue Desjardins, which will become Boulevard Saint-Laurent. When I first passed this way in 2002, one had to follow Boulevard Saint-Laurent westward from the old town. Now, however, after just a few short blocks, at Rue Longtin cyclists are turned back towards the river and enjoy a newly-opened protected right-of-way through the green space alongside the highway.
|Approaching Old La Prairie|
|Marie-Victorin: Levee - Seaway - Ship - Skyline|
One comes out at the edge of the old town, where Rue Saint-Henri joins the main highway. Here is the end of the old-time flood wall, which used to protect La Prarie from times of high water. There is a monument to the terminus of the old railway to Saint-Jean, the first railway in Canada. A new footbridge nears completion, spanning the highway to carry pedestrians and cyclists over to the park and public pier on the river side.
|Plaque at La Prarie: Original Railroad Terminus|
The First Railway in Canada connected La Prairie to St. John.
Begun in 1835, it was completed in 1837
|La Prairie: New Footbridge under Construction|
The footbridge replaces a pedestrian tunnel used to run underneath the highway in front of the town's church. During my visit of discovery in 2002, I passed underneath the highway through this tunnel and relaxed on the pier as I ate my snack. All trace of the old tunnel has now been erased, except for a bike path spur leading to nowhere and coming to an abrupt end at the edge of the highway. The highway in this section is completely new, and so all of these changes were probably the result of the highway improvements.
|Montreal and Seaway from La Prairie Pier|
|La Prairie Pier from Seaway Dike|
|La Prairie Flood Wall|
I was most surprised to encounter, in 2002, the old flood wall in front of Old La Prarie. I imagine that, in the days before the new freeway was built, there was a real danger of the river rising up to flood the town. Behind the wall sits the old town, a few square blocks of quaint, narrow streets lined with houses dating back hundreds of years. In front of the wall, as far as the highway, is a vast expanse of grass, marred only by parking lots and municipal infrastructure, such as the pumping station.
|La Prairie: Along Floodwall|
|Church at La Prairie|
|La Prairie: Corner of Floodwall|
Turning the corner of the old flood wall, once comes to a rise overlooking a large, artificial lake. Along the western side of the lake stretch row upon row of brand new condos. The bike trail runs along the eastern side, which remains in its original state, a vast plain of marshy wetlands. A line of trees runs along the lake's western side.
About three-quarters of the way along the lake, there is a junction. While the trail alongside the lake continues, another heads off to the left, into tall, marshy grassland.
|La Prairie: View Along Artificial Lake|
|La Prairie: Bike Path Alongside Artificial Lake|
|La Prairie to Brossard: Bike Path Cuts Through Marsh|