I had only just recently discovered the path to the South Shore across the St. Lambert Locks. It was St. Jean Baptiste Day. I was off work, free from children, and was looking for a place to go with my bike. I decided to head out towards the nearer of the two South Shore mountains that I had seen for so many years, but had never explored. I was heading off into completly uncharted territory for my minimal South Shore driving experience was limited to a few established routes. I had no real feel for the geography of the region. My discoveries of this day at Mont St. Bruno would lead almost immediately to my exploration, by car, of Mont. Ste. Hilaire.
The path that I would end up taking in 1992 was barely open in 1999 and is now completely closed to cyclists. The old Boulevard Wilfred Laurier (Highway 116) had now become a controlled-access freeway along its entire length.
I did not take a camera along, but will try to describe with maps my experience of the day. The writing is based on my [Original 1992 Write Up], with extra annotations as I remember them.
It was a cloudy day, heavy with the threat of rain, when I left my Grand Boulevard apartment at 10:30 in the morning, aiming for the nearby mountains of the South Shore of Montreal. I took the familiar DeMaisonneuve bike trail to St. Jacques, where from the heights I could see my goal, barely visible in blue off in the distanc. I descended the hill and rode around to the Cote St. Paul locks to connect with the Lachine Bike Trail. I followed this well-worn path east to the fork near the Old Port. This time I chose the less travelled route, out under the highway by the port, out along the Cite du Havre peninsula, and over the Concorde bridge. I crossed over to Ile Notre Dame and worked my way back along the bike path towards the Seaway, coming out at the crossing at the St. Lambert Locks. This whole first phase took about an hour.
Just after I made it across, the gates went down for an approaching ship. I paused half an hour at the Seaway watching the ship approach and go through. I was on my way again around 12:15.
I was totally new to the South Shore on a bike. Crossing over the highway, I was dropped onto Rivermere avenue in St. Lambert. I rode along Rivermere, a quiet residential street, until I came to Queen. Queen led me over a couple of blocks to the bridge approach street, now called Sir Wilfred Laurier. I was familiar with this section. I followed the wide street around to its crossing of Victoria. Providence had placed a depanneur on the corner, so I decided to stop in and buy a map. It was a good move. My intuition about which route to take was totally wrong. I probably would have turned right and follwed the familiar path along Victoria. I've always had trouble with directions on the South Shore.
Consultation of the map showed that I should take Rue St. Louis through Ville LeMoyne. After just a few short blocks I would connect with Sir Wilfred Laurier Boulevard (Highway 116), at its underpass and intersection with Boulevard Taschereau. I knew the area, for the hospital I had visited my former sister-in-law just a couple of years earlier was off Taschereau Boulevard, just before the overpass. I cannot recall every having taken the shortcut through Ville LeMoyne, nor having ever driven out on Highway 116 from that point.
Ville LeMoyne was a very tiny South Shore town, nestled in amongst its larger neighbours. It seemed only a couple of blocks wide, occupying both sides of Rue St. Louis, itself a very run-down version of Main Street. Behind the buildings on my left could be see the railway lines, which were teh raison d'etre of the small town. A couple of long blocks through the built-up area brought me out into the open of the Taschereau overpass.
Above loomed the concrete structure of the beginning of the elevated section of Boulevard Taschereau, as it lift off from the ground in Greenfield Park to cross over the railway lines and continue east towards the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Longueuil. To my right ran the rail lines, the main line fanning out to widen into a long freight yard that would line the eastern (left) side of Sir Wilfred Laurier Boulevard. On and off ramps to exhange cars with the roadway overhead wove around like spaghetti. The close set, two-storey store fronts of Ville LeMoyne gave way to open, grassy islands amidst the lanework. Through this I rode, nosing my way towards the right-hand shoulder of Highway 116 on the far side.
Highway 116, known formerly as Boulevard Sir Wilfred Laurier, was a busy, four-laned, divided highway. It ran straight as an arrow in the direction I was heading. I could see, framed up ahead, the misty blue target of Mont St. Bruno. The main-line railroad tracks ran parallel to the highway on the left. On my side were wide, paved shoulders, which allowed me to keep well away from the speeding traffic. Beyond the shoulder of the roadway all was lush green marsh, with many stands of bullrushes. Across maybe a hundred feet of this greenery, the houses of the city showed their backs to me. The marsh and the wall of back yards formed a barrier that was only once broken by a turn off for a small city street. Other streets came close, but they were cut off by the water. The controlled-access, freeway portion of the highway would not start for at least a couple of miles. At one point there was a level rail crossing.
I came to the point where a frontage road extended down from the opposite direction to meet me. The steet ended in a turn-around. From that point on, the main highway became a freeway. The paved shoulder gave way to a concrete barrier and signs indicated that no bicycles could proceed. I was just as happy to get off the main road and ride along the quiet parallel street. Although there were a few busineses along the way, the area was still pretty empty, with lots of vacant lots and open fields separating me from the distant factores, warehouses, and other buildings.
There was some diversion as I approached the Chemin Chambly (Route 112) interchange with Route 116. The frontage road followed the outside of the freeway interchange until it came out on Chemin Chambly quite a distance from the main highway. There was a big traffic crossing with roads leading off in many directions. Besides the busy cross boulevard, what seemed to be the continuation of my tiny street became the main street of an older section of town. It headed off at quite a divergent angle from where I wanted to go. Once across, I stopped and consulted my map. I found that I could take up Avenue Raoul, which led back over to run parallel with the freeway. Soon I was back out of the houses and riding out into the countryside. I was conscious of the presence of the St. Hubert Airport on the far side of the highway, where before had been the rail yards.
It was a short-lived break, for soon I was thrust back into civilisation as I came upon the massive Promenades St. Bruno shopping centre, at the intersection with Autoroute 30. Once again the road I was following curved well away from Highway 116. It became Montee des promenades and I found myself riding through suburban shopping centre hell. This wide and brand new boulevard brought me over the autoroute, where all sign of civilisation abruptly vanished once again.
It felt good to be surrounded, at last, by green pastures dotted with dairy cattle. Even the massive high-voltage powerlines that I had to pass under, with their distinctive gentle noise, did not succeed in breaking the mood. Just past the autoroute, Montee des promenades became Montee Sabourin and narrowed to two-laned country road. Nearly all of the traffic has left me at the freeway junction, so the ride was quiet and pleasant.
No longer was Mont St. Bruno a distant, blue icon. It's presence now loomed before me, rising at about 10:00 to my direction of riding. I could see Highway 116 to my left, as my road edged ever closer. I was able to see that Highway 116 had ceased to be a freeway after passing the autoroute. Up ahead was a cluster of trees, at the point where Montee Sabourin met Hwy 116, just at the flank of the mountain.
I was a brief few blocks amidst the trees, riding through a small ranch settlement and past horse corrals, before coming out at De La Rebastaliere, which took off to the left from Montee Sabourin to head directly towards St. Bruno and the mountain. I came out at a traffic-light crossing of the main highway. Just on the other side was a level crossing across the double railway tracks of the main line. As I crossed, I could see the old railway station a few hundred feet in the direction of Montreal. It still seemed to be in fine shape. I rode down the embankment and came into the residential streets of St. Bruno.
(The geography of this area has been altered in the intervening years. Highway 116 has been upgraded to near freeway status. De La Rebastaliere no longer goes through. Instead there is a new crossing at Boulevard Seigneuriale, which in 1992 did not go through)
De La Rebastaliere was a residential artery within the town of St. Bruno. I followed it up to the crossing of Boul. Montarville, where I stopped and had lunch at MacDonald's. I then continue on up the hillside on De La Rebastaliere. The small residences were packed together right up to the gates of the park. No cars were allowed past the gates, but bicycles were able to continue.
I followed the gravel road into the park and came out at Lac Seigneurial. I followed the road to the right, as it contiued around the lake to the east. On the far side of the lake it came to an abrupt end. I retraced my route to the crossroads and followed the road to the left. Once again, the road came to an end. A wide, well groomed hiking trail continued onward, but signs indicated that bikes could go no further. After pausing for a few moments, I decided to proceed. I followed the trail on to Lac a la Tortue. The trail remained quite good, about three feet wide and nicely gravelled. Only towards the end it begin to get rather savage. I stopped at Lac Tortue, after having had to portage the bike up and down a couple of really steep hills. It looked like the trail would be more of the same. At one point, I reached a lookout where I could see onward across the intervening flatlands to the much larger and higher Mont Ste. Hilaire. My appetite grew immediately. Mount Ste. Hilaire looked quite accessible. I roughly figured it might be about an hour further on down the road.
(I would actually drive out and explore Mont Ste. Hilaire within the week, heading right out after picking my kids up at day camp. I discovered that bikes were not permitted at all within that park, and so never rode out there. Mont Ste. Hilaire did become, however, a frequent hiking destination.
As I retraced my route along the hiking trail, I encountered a different gravel road where bikes were permitted. This one ran directly to the Visitor's Centre, which was on the vast and open north flank of the mountain, facing Montreal. I went to the "Acceuil" and got a map and folder before continuing on over to the Rebastaliere exit, to return along the same route. All totalled,I had ridden about 15 km in the park.
I retraced pretty well exactly the same route in reverse to come home. The only difference lay between the Route 112 and Boulevard Tashereau interchanges. I realized that if took the small frontage road, I would be left with a couple of miles where I would be riding on the shoulder against the traffic. Instead, therefore, I rode under the underpass the took the ramp up onto Hwy 116 westbound. There was no bicycle interdiction sign. Still, the first part of the way, where the road was hemmed in by a concrete barrier, was pretty scary. I felt much better once I had a wide shoulder upon which to ride. I got a much closer view of the rail yards as I rode by.
I got back into Montreal two and a half hours after leaving Mont St Bruno, at 18:00. I had ridden altogether about 72 km back and forth, with an additonal 15 km at the park. Travelling time back and forth was five hours.
I have since not been back this way by bike, though I began driving along Hwy 116 quite frequently for a few years, until I learned of a better way to get to Mont Ste. Hilaire. In 1999, I followed the route as far as the Chemin Chambly (Route 112) interchange, and found that everything was changing. It would not longer be possible to follow this route all the way.
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