Bike Rides to the South Shore:
Ice Bridge to Ste. Catherine,
South Shore Rideabout,
Return via Mercier Bridge

Roger Kenner
Montreal, Qc,
Canada 2004


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Ice Bridge to Ste. Catherine, South Shore Rideabout, return via Mercier Bridge

St. Jean Baptiste Day: June 24, 1998

Foreword

It was to be my first medium length bike ride of the season. I had not done too much biking that season to date. Of course, I was riding my bike to work, a short 20 minute jaunt each way. Even that, however, had started late this year. I was lazy until on into late April. (I had gone out once in February, however, for an hour or so in I left my wife a surprise note on the car dash.) This season I had ridden once out to the end of the Lachine bike path. On another occasion I had ridden as far as the Dairy Queen in Lachine with my son, Alex. Also, with Alex, I had done a ride down to the Atwater Market, whence my wife picked us up. These short little jaunts of an hour or so had been my only outings so far.

So, on this holiday, which started out as a warm, hazy day, I finally had a chance to ride for several hours. I could not take a really long ride, as I had to be back in time to get my son for supper at 6:00pm. I also knew that I physically was not yet ready for a long, long ride

The [original write up], made soon afterwards, is available.

In the Early Morning Fog

While I had hoped to get up and started at the crack of dawn, I was weak and did not get out of bed until 07:00. It was already 08:00 by the time I had breakfasted and had my coffee.

I left the house at 08:05, heading down Beaconsfield towards the bike path along DeMaisonneuve. I followed by normal route to work, riding along the railroad tracks until I came to the intersection with Decarie at 08:15. Here I left my normal morning course. I crossed De Maisonneuve and went along the sidewalk the wrong way on Decarie. I crossed under the railway underpass and rode the couple of blocks to the end (or the beginning) of Decarie at St. Jacques.

From the top of the hill, looking out over the cliffs across lower town, I could see what a foggy and hazy day it was. And yet it was already quite hot for that early in the morning. The haze hanging over the city was so thick that I could not make out the buildings of downtown.

I breezed down the hill, following my normal route to the Lachine Canal bikeway. I turned right at the bottom of the hill, and then made another sharp right to backtrack along the bottom of the cliff to below where I had just been. Then I turned left and took the truck street underneath the Decarie Interchange, crossing Notre Dame, and coming out at the bikeway. I rode up the ramp to the top of the levee along the Canal, crossed the bridge at the locks, and followed the bikeway east alongside the water. Soon I was at the Atwater Market. It was 8:30

From across from the Atwater Market, one must leave the bikeway to travel several blocks through the city streets before picking up the Riverfront bikeway. At least, they had recently marked the path ith bike signs. The way led one block south and then one block east, before turning right and following a tiny street through the corner of Point St.. Charles. I made a short stop at a depanneur to buy some snacks for the ride, and a notebook to keep track of the day's riding.

The small street crossed under the railroad tracks and then under the expressway that was heading towards the bridge, finally coming up from the underpass on the Verdun side. The marked bike path signs would have had me continue along the street, but I know of a secret, hidden stretch of bike path. Less than a block past the underpass, I turned into the parking lot of Verdun Door & Glass. At the back of this parking lot lay the un-announced entrance to a little two-block section of path. The path climbs up behind the houses, following along the top of a grassy hill between the houses and the expressway. At its end, the bike path drops one down onto a tiny, forgotten half-block long dead-end street. It was a cute street. One one side were houses and on the other side was the abrupt wall of the elevated (at this point) expressway. Someone has planted flowers and ivy along the wall to alleviate the dull view. I imagine this street had not been like this before the expressway was built.

The tiny street ended at Wellington, where I turned right and followed Wellington one block to the Canadian Tire. There I rejoined the official bike path, still nothing more than a painted lane along the busy street. I turned left and followed this path for its final one block length in front of Canadian Tire, until it reached its end at the Riverfront bike path.

Three bike paths come together at this point. From far away Lachine, the Riverfront bike path descends the St. Lawrence, passing through LaSalle and Verdun. It comes to an end at a huge polyvalent high school facing a large city park. Another path continues on from there over to Nun’s Island. And, of course, the third element was the on-street connection to the Lachine Canal path, the route I had just followed.

I turned left (east), to follow the route to Nun’s Island. This bikepath crosses over a small inlet from the river, and then drops down and through a wooded section of land, right by the expressway. It is a short and pleasant section of path before it reaches the river and climbs up to the same bridge that the expressway uses. The bike path section of the bridge is separated from the speeding cars by a concrete barricade. The bridge brings cyclists over to Nun’s Island.

This section of bike path is relatively new. I remember my first visits to Nun’s Island by bike when theree was no way through the wooded section. Indeed, there was no bike path. People had a dirt track, a tiny, bicycle-sized rut along the top of the road embankment, just on the outside of the traffic barrier. Riding this section was very dangerous, especially in the rain (as I had found out once). At the bridge, one had no choice but to ride on the “sidewalk”, separated from the cars racing along at 120 kph by nothing at all.

I got to Nun’s Island at 08:45. Coming off the bridge, the bike path veers right off to the right. In previous years, one had to follow the path a good distance into the residential section of Nun’s Island before one could cross the main road and catch another bike path which traversed the Island. Nun’s Island is a fairly new and affluent community, made up mostly of condos. These are the young, urban professionals of the 1980’s. One corner of the island is occupied by the expressway as it makes its approach to the Champlain Bridge. To the immediate west of the expressway is a block-wide section of small office buildings, of the IBM and Bell Telephone type. This “industrial park” extends along the three block long, or so width of the island. Just west of this is the island's only shopping centre, also stretching three blocks. The shopping centre has this cozy, small-town look and feel to it. Behind the shopping centre, to the west still further, curves the island’s main road. It was along here that one traditionally rode along the groomed bike path. West of the main road, the rest of the island is composed of a spaghetti bowl of small streets lined with condos.

I found at the first intersection, to my surprise, that a new section of bike path had been completed which cut right across the island at its narrow eastern end, between the industrial park and the shopping centre. I was thus across the island in 5 minutes, reaching the main channel side and the bridge approach at 8:50. When I had been this way the year before, this last section of path had been all torn up by construction. I saw now the result of this construction, a brand new fire station, right by the shoreline.

The bike path feeds right into the Ice Bridge approach. I stopped for five minutes to have a look out across the river and to take some photos. I was standing under the main Champlain Bridge and the lines of the bridge, as it vanished into the foggy haze, were very interesting. I looked out through my field glasses at the birds collecting on various rocky outcroppings within the white water of the fast flowing St. Lawrence. The Ice Bridge, just to the west of the main bridge, was beginning to glint in the emerging morning sunlight.

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
Champlain Bridge in Early Morning: From Nun's Island

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
The Champlain Ice Bridge in the Fog:
from Nun's Island
Champlain Ice Bridge in the Sunshine:
From Far Side

 

The St. Lawrence at this point is about a mile wide, and is beginning to narrow from the vast, flat and shallow expanse it makes below the Lachine Rapids. The river is also picking up speed as it falls towards the narrows of the Expo Islands. The Champlain Bridge was built in the early 1960’s. It’s two expressway roadbeds rise gradually as they cross the flat river, until they reach the steel superstructure than carries them high over the St. Lawrence Seaway. The concrete bridge supports are pretty delicate. They are protected by the second bridge, the low Ice Bridge a couple of hundred meters to the west of the main structure. [This is in contrast to the Victoria Bridge, built 150 years ago, whose solid stone pilings had to be built like fortresses to withstand the pressure of the Winter ice.) This ice dam holds back the river ice so that it does not damage the main bridge.

Atop the Ice Bridge is a two laned road. The bridge is very flat, crossing the river at a height of maybe 20 metres. It does not have to rise like the main structure, as it does not cross the Seaway, goes only cross the river, as far as the Seaway levee. There are pillars every fifty meters or so. In between the pillars, on the upriver side, are massive steel ice-dams that can be lowered to stop the Winter ice.

The ride across the Ice Bridge is long and always windy. The wind invariably comes off the vast lake-like expanse of the river to the west. Crossing from Montreal to the South Shore is fairly easy because the wind is at ones back. Crossing in the opposite direction is a long haul.

It took me 15 minutes to ride leisurely across the bridge, arriving on the far side at 09:05. During my crossing, the haze lifted and the sun came out. I stopped at the far side for 5 minutes to take some photos and to look back whence I had come.

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
Champlain Ice Bridge: Looking Back on Nun's Island

 

The Ice Bridge ends at the Seaway levee. One can go to the left (east) towards the St. Lambert Locks, about 5 km downriver One would choose this direction to return to Montreal via the Ile Notre Dame bike trail or to cross to the South Shore at St. Lambert via the bike path add-on to the Seaway Bridge. The road is gravel in the St. Lambert direction. A large sign announces Chateauguay and Ste. Catherine to the right (west), at about 12km. In this direction, the road is paved.

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
South End Decision Point

 

The one important direction one cannot go is straight across to the South Shore. The levee separates the rapids of the river from the calm waters of the Seaway. Besides the dredged and marked section used by the ships, there is a quarter-mile expanse of shallower water, interspersed with tiny slands, where hordes of small craft navigage to and fro.

Along the Seaway Levee to Ste. Catherine

I turned my bike to the right, towards Ste. Catherine at 09:10. one-laned paved road runs atop the Levee, which makes a vast semi-circle curving around the LaPrarie Basin. Far off to the west, one can see the bottom of the Lachine Rapids. The trees on the river side of the levee are quite dense, forming almost a forest and one can only see through from time to time. One the Seaway side, there is much less vegetation, and one can see the hightway following the shoreline. Huge mile-markers are erected along the Eeaway for the benefit of the ships travelling through.

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
Seaway Causeway: Heading West

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
Beautiful Thistle Flowers

Just past the Mile 6 I found a small shrine, dedicated to a certain Luc Giroux, who died at that spot in 1978. A small path led down the steep embankment of some twenty feet through the deep underbrush and trees. It came out at a small and very isolated beach. I surprised a group of down-covered young ducklings, who swam out into the water in tight formation. Suddenly their mother swam sideways in front of me, in the opposite direction and making lots and lots of noise.

A gravel road reaches out from the Ste. Catherine to end at around the mile 8 marker, just across from the town of LaPrarie. The road runs down along the river shoreline and parallels the paved road up top. (I used to come along this road back in the middle 1980’s, on solitary outings with Tannissa in my blue Honda. I remember there was only so far one could go along the road without having 4-wheel drive. And a big sign at the entrance warned that one's passage was at one’s own risk!) I never made it along the road as far as I was seeing now. Close to the Mile 8 marker is an access point connecting the gravel road below to the paved road above.

At roughly the same point, I saw a big animal coming out of the bush. I think it was a badger. Alas, it saw me and retreated before I could get my camera out.

At about eight and three quarter miles, I saw the first truck parked down on the gravel road below. Soon there were camper trailers and tents. I guess this area was still a sort of “free for all”. (But no more, for I would find in 2002 that a gate closed off the road and was open only to 'members') I learned that the bridge at the locks is raised at 23:00. After that, anyone out along the gravel road had better be prepared to spend the night!

By the time I had neared the end of the Seaway levee, it had curved completely around to be even with the Champlain Bridge, now far to the east.


Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
Approaching Ste. Catherine Locks

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
Looking back East from Locks

 

At the Ste. Catherine Locks

I reached the Ste. Catherine Locks at 10:05, after a ride of 55 minutes along the Seaway causeway, including a number of short stops. There are a number of directions to choose from once one reaches the Locks. One could descend the embankment onto the gravel road along the riverbank, leading back in the easterly direction. One could cross the drawbridge over the locks and go to the mainland. One could continue on the main road atop the levee, though it would become gravel again soon. Or, as a fourth choice, one could descend the embankment to the west, still in the direction I was going, and enter the “Parc de la Cote Ste. Catherine”.

This municipal park used to be a campground. It occupies a narrow bit of land of perhaps two hundred feet width and it runs for maybe a mile or so westward along the river side of the Seaway levee. The park starts right at the foot of the Lachine Rapids, and continues up past their beginning point.

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
The Lachine Rapids

 

Just down the embankment, a quarter-mile past the bridge at the Locks, is the fenced-off “beach” area, where one has to pay. The "beach" is a small pond, surrounded by sand and lots of lawn chairs. Past the parking lot, the roads are closed to cars and only bicycles and roller-blades cruise the old campground roadways.

I rode into the park and leisurely continued to the end of the roadway. Along the way, I could still see the campground space markers and the old, fallen-down facilities. The whole area was overgrown with wildflowers and other flora and there were lots of trees.

I stopped at several points to look out over the rapids. There were even some belvederes built right up over the water. The rapids were stupendous! I sat for long minutes just watching and listening to them. They seemed much more impressive on the Ste. Catherine side than on the Montreal (LaSalle) side. I watched the “Saute Moutons” jetboat ride up into the rapids, full of tourists. I managed to get a close up picture of it through my field glasses. [I also got a picture of the house of Nick Ostopkevich, out on one of the islands amidst the rapids, where we had had out office picnic back in 1990.]
Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
Rapids View from Lookout

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
The Saute-Moutons in the Rapids

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
Nick's House on the Island
Scene of 1990 Departmental Picnic

 

At the end of the park road was a fence, separating it from the beginning of the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve. A path led through the fence, so I just had to follow it. I parked my bike and crossed a short ways into the reserve on foot, but then quickly doubled back. The residents of Kahnawake do not take well to trespassers.

As I was riding back through the park along the bottom of the levee, I saw on the other side a big ore ship, parked along the Seaway. I would have to climb back up to the road atop the levee to look at it. My searching for a way up led me to the convenient car-entrance to the park and parking lot. I followed the driveway back up to the top of the embankment.

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
Ste. Catherine's Récréoparc

 

Just as I reached the top, I saw the Nantucket Clipper, a small passenger ship that was moving up the Seaway. I rode quickly along the gravel road until I was far enough ahead of it to get some good pictures. I got a picture of the ore carrier to, as it was unloading.

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
River Cruise Boat Approaching The Nantucket Clipper

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
Passes by…

 

I rode along the road as far as the barrier of the Mohawk Reserve, where I had been not too long before, but down below in the park. A huge sign greets drivers and warns them to not proceed to further: “This is Indian Land”

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
The Kahnawake Line

 

I turned and rode back along the road. When I came to the driveway into the park, I rode down and followed the more bicycle friendly park roadway back down to the beach and the Locks. It was 11:50 when I got back to the Locks. I had spent 45 minutes exploring the park. (I would return, though, now that I had discovered it. I came back several times with my son, Alex, and we waded into the river. I came once with Sheryl and we rode our bikes around the paths and had a picnic. We even rode one mile down the Seaway Causeway and back, just so she could get a feel for it.)

South Shore Rideabout

I crossed over the drawbridge and came down the embankment on the mainland side of the Locks. At that point, there was a small, grassy park. A lot of minor watercourses bore extra water away from the Seaway. I crossed another bridge as I descended, and then there was a small pond, fed by water coming from yet another small dam. I stopped for an iced cream at a small casse-croute just across from the Locks park, and was there until 12:05.

As I was leaving, I happened upon a roadsite shrine, to Kateri Tekwakwitha, the Mohawk girl of the 1600’s who is on her way to being named a saint. I took some photos.

Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
Sanctuary for the Mohawk Saint

 

The road leads away from the water quite quicky. One cannot follow the Seaway any further on the mainland side for the way is blocked by large industries and then by Kahnawake. Soon I was riding along a suburban boulevard heading away, at a right angle, from the river. The boulevard sported a painted bikepath along the side, but theree were no trees or anything else that might make a cyclist want to ride there.

After several long blocks, I came out at the intersection of the main highway, Route 132. This was an area I knew, for I had been by this way by bike in 1993. The highway was the scene of strip malls, big box stores and giant parking lots. The street I had been riding along continued on across the intersection, and the bike path continued alongside it as well. Since I could not think of anywhere interesting that such a path might go, I decided to turn left onto Route 132. I remembered that there was an Orange Julep down the road, and I suddenly had a hankering for a big, cool Orange Julep. I followed along Route 132 for several kilometers before I got there. Although the highway is very busy, and cars and trucks race along at 120km/h, a wide, paved shoulder keeps bicyles well out of harm's way.

The Orange Julep was almost in the town of Delson. It was 12:25 when I got there. I only stayed for five minutes or so, just enough time to quaff my cold orange drink.

For a block or so, I headed back the way I had come. It was kind of sad to see the few remaining signs of when this stretch of road had been in the country, the few tiny motels and and old farmhouses, eing smothered by parking lots and big stores.

I realized I was close to the Railway Museum in St. Constant, so I decided to ride over there. The sign at the crossroads of Route 209 said the museum was two kilometers, but it was the longest two kilometers I could remember riding. I go to the Musuem at 12:45 and hung around for a while, seeing as much as I could see without paying the entrance fee. (I was last at this museum in 1984, with little Tannissa, and with Loretta, Pheleshia, and Lelana).

It was 13:15 I started heading back. Not too far back along Route 209, I had passed a suburban road leading west that seemed to have a nice bikepath alongside it. I figured I might as well try it out, for it had to be better than riding along Route 132. I followed this “Chemin Ste. Catherine” along, riding on the bike path that was amidst a strip of grass to the side. All around were the craker=box homes of new suburbia: Little shacks were sprouting up like weeds. One could clearly see by the waterways we crossed that this area had been swamp not too long ago, so I did not think it make for very comfortable living.

I came to the intersection of another bike path, which followed the overhead hydro line off to the south, but I did not have time to follow it. As I was going along, the road suddenly curved to the south and I could see it would not go through, being blocked by Hwy 30 and then by Kahnawake. I started picking my way northward through the suburban maze until I had gotten back to Route 132, which had been running roughy parallel to my path.

I wrote at the time (1998):

As a matter of fact, when I did go that way again in 2000, I ended up following the very same route I had taken in 1993, for want of speed.

I rode along Route 132, along the shoulder. Almost immediately, I came upon the intersection where Autoroute 30 dumped its cars from Chateauguay onto the highway. Right past this, I crossed into the Indian reservation. I could tell because all development stopped right at the line. Inside were just a few roadsite cigarette stores and a few gas stations. I rode along until I got to the MercierBridge at 13:40.

Although I’ve crossed the Mercier Bridge a number of times because it is convenient, it remains quite a dangerous crossing and must be approached with caution. Bicycles are, of course, not allowed on the roadway. There is, however, an un-advertised pedestrian walkway on the west side, barely a yard wide and not separated from the roadway by more than a simple curb. To get to the sidewalk, I had to ride around under the bridge, to where the traffic coming from Monreal descends to the west, heading towards Chateauguay. The sidewalk stops right at the end of the bridge structure and one must walk up the embankment, along the edge between the highway and the railing, while facing the oncoming traffic racing off the bridge. Only once one reaches the bridge structure itself can one can get up onto the sidewalk. I can only assume that some agreement with the Mohawks over the building the Mercier Bridge requires that this sidewalk to be kept open. Whoever maintains it, however, does the absolute least.

Once I reached the sidewalk I re-mounted my bicycle and begin riding carefully. This would not be the place to fall off the sidewalk, as approaching cars are going in the opposite direction at 120 km/h or more. At one point I met some oncoming cyclists. I got off and hugged the bridge railing so they could squeze by

Over the first part of the bridge, one climbs up to the high point above the Seaway. Then one must very carefully ride the brakes as one descends the steep slope on the far. [When I have used this bridge heading southbound, I have gone onto the roadway at this point, as I was able to pick up enough speed to manage the cars. I would only be on the bridge roadway a minute or so before reaching the end.] Once over the Seaway and past the main structure of the bridge, and sidewalk along the approaches is pretty flat, but the whole bounce structure bounces. It is disconcerting that when a truck passes by and sidewalk lurches a foot or so.


Click to Enlarge (Taken during 1998 Ride)
Kahnawake & Railroad View from Bridge The Mercier Bridge Crossing

 

I was across the bridge and onto the Montreal (LaSalle) side by 14:00. The bridge sidewalk ends at a tiny, unmarked pedestrian entrance from a small side street. The road home took me across LaSalle on Newman Boulevard, then down into Ville St. Pierre and up the hill to Montreal West. Thence, I rode along Sherebrooke and Monkland to my home. I was home by 14:30

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Prepared by Roger Kenner
January, 2004