Bike Rides about Town:
Along the Lachine Canal
Composite View

Roger Kenner
Montreal, Qc,
Canada 2002

Return to Menu
(See Copyright Notice on Menu Page)

Lachine Canal: A History of Early Rides along the Canal

[Many items have been suppressed in this Lite Version]

First Encounters with the Old Port

I cannot be sure of the first time I visited The Old Port. It is possible that my parents and I visited this area during our first year here in Montreal. We often drove into town along the Bonaventure Expressway, but I never noticed the surroundings. In May of 1970, I attended a rock festival at The Autostad, but I came and went along the Expressway.

When my mother was helping my friend and I move into our apartment, she took us to a range of used furniture stores along Craig Street (Rue St. Antoine). During our first year together living on Durocher, my friend and I once came down to the old Craig Street Terminus. Did we explore Old Montreal?

I am not even sure I was conscious of the existence of the Lachine Canal. On Christmas Eve of 1970/71, my friend and I took the bus down to a small theatre on Charlevoix Street in "The Point". We must have crossed over the Charlevoix Bridge of the Canal, but this area was all new to me, and I do not recall having noticed.

The first I can be sure of having gone down to the Old Port was the evening of La Saint Jean in 1971, when the festivities were focussed around St. Jacques Square (Carré St. Jacques). There was not much to see, then, of the Old Port. At the foot of the square, beyond Common Street (Rue des communes), was an imposing concrete wall, topped with barbed wire. Beyond the wall could be seen only the tall grain elevators. It was impossible to see any sign of the River.

Flash forward to April of 1972, as Reggie, Phillip and I are doing our walking tour of lower town, hunting for a job. Having descended Atwater, we walk east along Wellington, stopping into each company to ask if they have work. We would have crossed either the Charlevoix or the Des Seigneurs Bridge, as we did not walk through the Atwater Tunnel. At Bridge Street we turned right, and crossed under the railway embankment. Tracks were everywhere, and to the left was a warehouse where we came close to getting a well-paying $3.50 per hour job. To the right were the massive stockyards, with the sound and smell of cattle wafting over the street. We did not stop there to inquire. We turned left onto Mill Street and walked along this until it curved left at the end, and came out to meet Common Street.

There was no sign of the Lachine Canal there at that time. It had been completely filled in, and there was just a large vacant lot between the grain elevators and Common Street. Railroad tracks ran along Common Street, with spurs heading up each of the side streets: King Street, Queen Street, etc. I got my job at Liberty Wool Stock Ltd. at 50 Queen Street, and spend many an afternoon emptying or loading box cars parked along the street. Many mornings, as I walked to work from the Metro at Victoria Square, I would come down the street and see a new boxcar waiting at the warehouse door, and would know that would be my task for the day.

All summer long I came and went. From the area around Queen Street and Common Street, one could get a rare glimpse of the port area, which further east was totally cut off from view. I would often see the Russian liner Alexandr Pushkin sitting at the passenger terminal. Later that fall, I would return to the area once with Reggie, riding on the back of his bike. It was probably with Reggie that I took my first rides across the Victoria Bridge. I remember how the rear tire of his motorbike would shimmy on the metal grates. At any rate, he caught his tires in the railroad track at Queen Street, and down we went. I'm glad we were not going fast!

During a visit from my parents in 1973, they parked their car and trailer down along Common Street, and we all had to walk down there when my shift was done at The Hunter's Horn. One evening I left the Hunter's Horn with a crowd and we drove down and into the Port of Montreal, to drop off a sailor. I remember having to pass through the guarded gate both ways. Other than that, I thnk I seldom went down there. It was a very dreary street, lined with old, grey buildings on one side and walled off with a high wall and tall grain elevators on the other.

It was around 1974 that things changed a bit. I recall another festival, probably La St. Jean again, that I went down with Steven and Loretta to an open air concert at The Old Port. Diane Dufresne was the featured artist. Much had changed. At the foot of St. Jacques Square, the wall and grain elevators were gone! There was a narrow, open window on the River. The area that is now groomed as the artificial lake was a big, open lot. The stage was set up by the River and the whole expanse was full. Soon we had wandered behind the stage, and stood looking out over the rushing water far below.

In the Spring of 1973, while I was between school programmes, I bought a pass for a film festival to be held at the theatre in Cité du Havre. For a while, I spent every day down there, and during breaks I explored the area for the first time. Later, when working split shifts at the Hunter's Horn, and once I had my bike, I rode down on occasion and just sat at the end of the spit of land called Cité du Havre. It had not yet been groomed into a park.

For many years after that, the Old Port remained off my radar.

First Encounters with the Canal area

Click to enlarge
(Taken on April 25 - 1999 Canal Ride)
Crane Industries Building in Cote St. Paul

It was the fall of 1972. my friends and I had moved in together on Walkley in N.D.G. and we needed some shelves. Reggie had a job cleaning out the old Crane Industries building, and he told us about some good, strong boards that were available for the taking.

So one bright, sunny day, my friend and I went on down there. I guess we took some bus, but for me the whole area was new and strange. Reggie loaded us up with about 8 boards, tied together, and my friend and I started to walk west along St. Patrick Street. We had only the vaguest notion of where we were going.

We would have crossed the Canal at the Cote St. Paul Bridge. I must have become conscious of its existence by that point, as there would have been no way of avoiding its presence. We found our way somehow to Notre Dame and began to walk west once more. The boards became heavier with each step, and we stopped often.

We saw that we were on the wrong side of the expressway, and had no idea how to get across. We could tantalizingly see the escarpment of N.D.G, but it seemed unreachable. At one point, I had the notion we could try to run across to the otehr side. We put down our boards and my friend ran across one set of lanes, only to discover the median was taken up by the sunken CN main line, with high walls on both sides.

Eventually, we made it to the bridge across the expressway, at the western end of the Turcot Yards. We climbed up the cliffs on the tiny, winding street which is not completely closed off, and then crossed under the Cavendish underpass to find our way home.

When I got my first car, my yellow Volkswagen, in 1975, I began to frequent a garage on Des Seigneurs, just below Notre Dame. I was a frequent visitor there. Often I would leave the car and walk up to upper town, crossing the many railroad tracks that could still be found there. Guy Street and Mountain Street still crossed over the rail yards in vast viaducts. Just down the road from my garage, in the other direction, was the Canal, but I do not think I ever went that way.

Within my first year at Concordia, we all had occasion to take a field trip to Longueil. We took my car, but I was directed by our elder passenger, who had me descend Des Seigneurs Street, cross the Canal, and head east along St. Patrick towards the Victoria Bridge. It was a revelation to me!

First Encounters with the Lachine area

With all the driving around my parents did, it seems unlikely that we did not come to the wharf and lighthouse at least once, though I do not recall such a visit. For many years, the first step in any trip west was to take the #90 bus to its terminus at 55th Avenue in Lachine, and then to walk to the Dorval Circle to hitchhike. This bus did not go near the waterfront, however.

It was in early spring of 1974, while living on Walkley Avenue in N.D.G., that I bought my bicycle. These new-found wheels gave me great freedom to explore. One of my first explorations was to descend the hill on St. Jacques, ride through Ville St. Pierre, and the follow the old road through the factories to Lachine. It may have been at that point that I first came to the Lachine Wharf and Lighthouse. I was thrilled at being able to reach the waterfront!

On Easter Sunday of that year, I bicycled all the way out to my roommate Chris's parents place in Baie d'Urfé. On another ride, I rode along the river eastward from Lachine. I recall the long expanse by the golf course, and how the traffic was unhappy sharing the road with a bicycle. I may have gotten as far as the Lachine Rapids.

Then, when I moved away from N.D.G., I ceased cycling in that direction. Although I would not return for many years by bicycle, the Lachine Wharf and Lighthouse became a favourite stop on car drives. My ex-cousin-in-law Julie was baptized in the church which stands right at that point.

First Rides on the Lachine Canal Bike Path

Flash forward to the early 1980s. I was living on The Plateau, on St. Urbain Street. My cycling was mainly to and from work. I heard or read somewhere about a new bike path that had been opened along the old Lachine Canal, so I decided to check it out. I would have ridden down hill of St. Urbain Street to Old Montreal and down to the Old Port. Work on opening up the Old Port was still in its infancy. I may have had to ride along Common Street. I do not think the eastern end of the Canal was excavated out yet. I imagine the bike path led across the vacant lot, to cross under the Bonaventure Expressway. I do not recall the major elements of the Canal infrastructure being much different than they were up until the recent tranformations. Perhaps there were fewer benches, haltes, and bridges. Certainly there were more industrial buildings. The rail yards at Cote St. Paul were still in full swing, for example. I was thrilled to ride all the way back out to the Lachine Wharf, although at the Lachine end, one had to ride along the streets from the Canal locks onward.

Loretta was living just a few blocks away, on Clarke Street, and I used to take her daughter places. I called the daughter up and asked her if she would like to do the ride with me. We set out on my second ride along the Lachine Canal Bike Path, and repeated my earlier experience, all the way to the Lighthouse. The daughter was a good trooper. She would have been about eleven or twelve. It was only on the return trip, as we were climbing the hill of St. Lawrence towards home, that she began to flag.

Rides in the 1980s

Between 1980 and 1987 I had a Honda station wagon from the dealership at Clement & Lafleur in LaSalle. On many servicing occasions, I would put my bike in the back and drive to the dealership. Dropping off the car, I would ride in to work along the Canal path, catching it at the Ville St. Pierre bridge and leaving it at the Des Seigneurs Bridge

Once we lived again on the West Side, I used to ride along the Canal at least a couple of times a year by myself, just for its own sake. It was also the starting off or the ending of longer rides. Sometimes we would drive down to the Canal with the bikes on the car, for an afternoon ride. Tannissa would be in the carrier seat. We would park at either the Ville St. Pierre or the Notre Dame halts. Most often we would not ride far, usually just west to Lachine. Later, when this became a more solo activity, I would ride further. Many times I rode all the way to the Old Port.

Click to enlarge
(Taken on April 25 - 1999 Canal Ride)
Old Access Ramp to Cote St. Paul Locks
Closed for Construction

When I went all the way by bicycle, I would encounter the Canal either at the Ville St. Pierre bridge, if I were heading west, or the Cote. St. Paul Locks, if I were heading east. To approach Cote St. Paul I would ride down the hill on St. Jacques and turn right onto St. Remi. Just under the railway underpass, I would turn right again onto the one way street leading to Notre Dame. Crossing Notre Dame, it would become two-way again, leading towards the Cote St. Paul Bridge. The school would be on my right and a vast, vacant lot on my right. At the canal embankment was a trail leading upwards, towards the locks.

Later, in the early 1990s, I would find a shortcut around behind the school, and then through a trucker's underpass at the eastern end of the Turcot Yards, which would allow me to bypass the one-way street section and all the traffic. Later still, by the late 1990s, the new bridge had opened up by the St. Remi Tunnel, and I began to go that way, seldom visiting the Cote St. Paul Locks anymore.

I made many longer rides that began or ended with the Lachine Canal:

Rides in the Early 1990s

In the fall of 1991, I was once again on my own. During that first year, whenever I did not have the kids, I also did not have my van. The bicycle was my main mode of recreational exploration. I continued to make a number of rides which included the Lachine Canal:

I took many rides with my children along the Canal as they got older:

Rides in the Late 1990s

In the early days when Sheryl was first here, I took her down to the Canal. She did not enjoy the experience of riding her racing bike along the city streets, so most often we drove down to the Canal. She felt a little bit better when I bought her a street bike, but she still did not enjoy riding on the streets.

We've made a number of rides along the Canal, heading east towards the Atwater Market and the Old Port, and west, towards Lachine. Among these are:

As I've begun documenting my bike rides, a number still begin and end with the Lachine Canal:

Once I got my Costco (Club Price) membership at the store on Bridge Street (where the old stockyards used to be), I would visit Costco after work on my way home. Whenever I make such a visit, dropping down via Mountain Street, I always return home along the Canal, usually catching it at Wellington and leaving it at the St. Remi Tunnel. Sometimes I leave it at Atwater and follow the city streets west from there, as far as St. Remi. I always have to climb up the hill on St. Jacques. (Once, when I was still riding as far as the Cote St. Paul Locks and taking by back route through the Turcot Yards, I tried climing up the trail on the side of the embankment. I never realized a bike was so heavy or that the hill was so steep! I almost did not make it, and had visions of my bike tumbling down the hillside.

Return to Menu

Prepared by Roger Kenner
February, 2003; Lite Version: January 2004