Bike Rides to the SouthWest:
2002 Ride to Valleyfield along Beauharnois Canal


Roger Kenner
Montreal, Qc,
Canada 2003

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2002 Ride to Valleyfield along the Beauharnois Canal

Saturday, June 29, 2002

Foreword

On this early Summer day, I was looking for a direction in which to make my planned day-long ride. It had been some years since ridden towards the South West, in the direction of Valleyfield along the South Shore of Lac St. Louis, not since 1997 (five years). In 2000, I had tantalizingly ridden along a short section of the Beauharnois Canal bike trail and had found it to be very nice. I was anxious to return, and to ride its entire length. I also wanted to ride a second time along the Soulanges Canal, a ride I had first pioneered the Summer before, on my way to Toronto and Niagara Falls. It was with these intentions that I set out at 09:30 on the sunny Saturday morning, for what would end up being a 132km ride over 10 hours of riding (80 miles; 11:30 hours altogether).

The Original Notes of the entire ride, written at the time, are available.

Starting Out

It was rather late for a day-long ride when I set out at 09:30 in the morning. I followed my usual route down to the Mercier Bridge: Down through Ville St Pierre and across the Lachine Canal to LaSalle, then across LaSalle on Lafleur Boulevard to past the old Seagram's Distillery. There the overpass brought me to the west side of the highway and a couple of back streets brought me to the almost hidden access to the bridge sidewalk. I was at the Bridge entrance by 10:00

Crossing the Mercier bridge on the sidewalk by bicycle is a hair-raising and dangerous experience. This will have been my 7th time, but I would never get totally used to it. There is no guard rail between the narrow sidewalk and the cars speeding by at well over 100kph. Any miscalculation which might cause a tumble could well be fatal. To make matters worse, the bounce of the bridge when one is at centre-span can be felt quite strongly, especially when a large truck passes. The vista from the bridge is quite spectacular, however.

On the far, Kahnwawke side, the sidewalk ends abruptly with the bridge structure itself. At this point, as there is no paved shoulder, one must put the bike onto the pavement and ride down on the roadway. Thankfully, it is a downhill ride and so one picks up speed quickly. The roadway is straight enought that approaching cars have ample time to see a cyclist ahead. (When heading back towards Montreal, one must walk the bike up the badly eroded gravel shoulder, until one reaches the bridge sidewalk.)

Coming down off the bridge embankment, it is not too far to the first turn-off into Kahnawake. I reached Kahnawake at 10:15

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
CPR Rail Bridge Kahanwake in Background Lachine in Background

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken on NYC 2002 Ride/South Shore 1998 Ride)
Riding Across the Mercier Bridge

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride/South Shore 1998 Ride)
CPR Lift Bridge: Kahnawake in Background

 

Kahnawake to Beauharnois: Along the Southern Shore of Lac St. Louis

The first turn off brings one onto the main road into Kahnawake. Just at the freeway exit turn-off are the remains of the old guard station, which was manned for several years after the troubles of 1990, and had still been manned when I first passed by in 1992. The road brings one past to one of the major crossroad in the town, where there are stop signs written in Mohawk. Ahead would be the route normally taken to go to the annual summer Pow-wow. I turned left onto another main road, riding past the few small businesses clustered in that area.

Almost immediately, one comes to the second major interchange, which in the past had been a traffic circle. At this point, another main road heads off to the left, to rejoin the main highway towards Chateauguay. Ahead is the 'Old Highway 3', a small two-lane road. A bold sign clearly announces that through traffic on this road is restricted to Indians. I proceeded along, hoping that, like the other times, I would not be hassled on a bicycle. Very few cars passed me along the road. Slowly the houses became fewer and fewer as I left the town behind and entered an area of scrub forest

There was an obvious tranformation in the roadway and the countryside when I reached the Chateauguay line at 10:35. I felt much more comfortable now that I was not in violation of the rules, as I had been during my 20-minute ride across the Indian reservation. Except for the large sewage treatment plant, the area remained empty of houses. All was just scrub forest.

Five minutes later, at 10:40, I suddenly came out into civilization at the new, modern bridge over the Chateauguay River. The far side of the river was lines with houses and there were many boats at the shoreline numerous shoreline docks and plying the river. Northward, I could see the river being split into two channels by the open, green pastures of St. Bernard Island.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Chateauguay River looking North Chateauguay River looking South

 

On previous visits, finding my way between the main road and the smaller street that ran along the shoreline had been tricky. Officially there had been no connection, just a small sidestreet degenerating into a riverside path and then coming out at another cul-de-sac sidestreet. Much had changed in the five years since the last time I was by here. Now there was a well-marked and well-groomed bike path which brought me right along the river, to end at the lakeshore.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Looking Upriver from Mouth of Chateauguay River
Note new bike path
New Bike Path

 

A small, private bridge connects St. Bernard Island with the mainland. Over on the heavily treed island is some sort of rustic retreat. I got to the bridge at 10:50 and spent ten minutes or looking up and down the river and taking photos. I did not explore the island as I had in 1997, for the 'No Trespassing' signs were even more prominent than they had been then.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on 1997 Ride to Cornwall)
Taken in 1997
Looking Upriver from Mouth of Chateauguay
River at the Ile St. Bernard Bridge
View of Ile St. Bernard

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Mouth of the Chateauguay at St. Barnard Island

 

I was on my way again by 11:00. Right at the bridge, on the mainland side, is clustered a distinct community of small homes. Chateauguay's Chemin Youville begins there and runs around the point along the shoreline, flanked on the inland side with modest lakefront homes. This was one of the most scenic sections of the entire ride.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on 1997 Ride to Cornwall)
Lake St. Louis Shoreline (Taken in 1997)
Along Point Shoreline From Ile St. Bernard

 

At the far side of the point, the road takes an abrupt right turn, to cross an old, steel bridge over a tiny creek. This bridge separates Chateauguay from the town of Léry. I got to the bridge at 11:10. Chemin Youville became Chemin Principal, but otherwise little changed. It was still very soothing to ride along the lake's edge, sheltered by the overhanging trees.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on 1997 Ride to Cornwall)
Rustic Bridge (Taken in 1997)
Bridge View Inland along Creek

 

All good things must end. All too the soon the road turned inland, passing by an area of all-new development before coming out almost at the main road. Through the rest of Léry, the busy Route 132 can always be sensed, just behind the single line of houses to the left. Chemin Principal is a quiete, running through the centre of the long town, with houses on both sides. There were few glimpses of the lakeshore along this section.

At a small street crossing, I saw a sign indicating the way down to Léry Pier. It was 11:35 and I decided to take five minutes for a quick look-see. I had been missing the presence of the lake on my right. It was the first time I had ever been down to that pier, or seen the shoreline along that section. I found I was right across the narrow section of the lake separating the South Shore from Windmill Point on Ile Perrot.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Windmill at Windmill Point on Ile Perrot

 

Once I got on my way again, it was only a few short minutes before I crossed from Léry into the town of Maple Grove at 11:45. Maple Grove had a bit more of a "run-down" character than Léry had. Soon, as well, the tiny side road I was on came to an end and I found myself riding along the busy Route 132, where there was little shoulder. I was riding through an area of roadside commercial establishments and light industry. There were lots of trucks. And to make matters worse, there was a lot of disruption on account of road repair. It was a hectic few minutes of riding before I crossed from Maple Grove into Beauharnois at 12:00

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Church on Ile Perrot, as Approaching Beauharnois

 

The highway became a narrow, one-way street through the older, commercial section of town (The return traffic having been shunted one block to the north. I saw a very nice waterside park, into which I stopped for the first time, for a 5-minute break and some photos. I was right opposite the famous church on Ile Perrot's south side.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Church on Ile Perrot - Closeup

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken on 2001 Ile Perrot Ride)
View from the Other Side (2001)

 

I left the park and continued my ride through town. At the far side is a small river to cross. On the other side begins a section of large heavy-industry industrial complexes, fed by the elecricity generated by the nearby dam. The road leads across a series of three bridges as it crosses over the turbulent water issuing from the dam. As I rode across the bridges below the dam, I marvelled at the thousands of sea gulls that clustered around the rapids. At the far side, as the road curves towards the tunnel under the Seaway, there is a turn off leading to the Seaway Park at the Beauharnois Locks. I took the detour and reached the locks at 12:30.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on Airplane in 2000/1997 Ride to Cornwall)
(Taken in 1997/2000)
Aerial View Bridge Below Dam

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Isle of Birds at Beauharnois

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Approaching Beauharnois Ship going through locks at Beauharnois

 

I was lucky to arrive just in time to see a large cargo ship was going through the locks. I stopped in at the small, where I bought some fries and water for lunch and relaxed for a short break. When I was done, I rode on up to the top of the embankment to take in the panoramic view.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Lake View from Beauharnois

 

I was on my at 12:45. At this point the main road goes under the Seaway locks in a deep tunnel. The first time I had ridden through this tunnel, from west to east in 1992, I had ridden on the roadway. It had been a hair-raising experience riding a tiny, unlit bike in the dark, wet and narrow tunnel, while traffic was zooming by. As one rides down into the cut-away, one can't help but notice the cascades of water issuing from the rocks on either side. In 1997, I took the pedestrian sidewalk, a much safer experience. I was surprised to find that now, five years later, the pedestrian sidewalk had been groomed as a bike trail, and was now the official way for cyclists to get through the tunnel.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on 1997 Ride to Cornwall)
Approaching the Tunnel on the Sidewalk (Taken in 1997)

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Bike Trail through Tunnel at Beauharnois

 

Along the Beauharnois Canal Trail

Coming up on the far side of the tunnel, one comes into the residential section of the town of Melocheville (although it actually starts at the bridge just west of Beauharnois). On previous rides, I have continued straight along Route 132 towards Valleyfield. The purpose of this ride, however, was to explore the Beauharnois Canal Bike Trail. The trail head is just behind an Esso gas station, at the corner of a road leading off to the left, towards St. Louis de Gonzague. For the first part of its length, the trail parallels the road. I reached the trail head at 13:00.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Beginning of Trail at Melocheville

 


A short ways up the trail, one comes to a railroad crossing. The designers of the trail would have one dismount and carry the bike up a flight of stairs, only to carry it down the other side. I, like most of the other cyclists, if one can believe the well-beaten path, took the obvious detour along the road.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Un-orthodox Rail Crossing

 

There was a long stretch where the trail was flanked on the left by a thickly forested ridge of about twenty feet in height. The trail surface through this section was in very poor shape. The roadbed was bumpy, with heaves and potholes, and plants were growing through the cracks.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Bike Trail Along Ridge
Note Plants growing in pavement

 

Suddenly the trail left the road and took a sharp turn to the left. Climbing up over the ridge, I found myself riding through the centre of a vast marsh, with standing water.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Bike Trail Crosses Marsh

 

Ahead was the Seaway. At just that moment, as I was finishing up changing my roll of film, I saw a ship pass by.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Bike Trail approaches Seaway Canal

 

I thought it would be nice to get a photo of the ship, but it was to be a futile effort. I quickly rode the remaining distance to the canal, only to find the ship well ahead. I decided to try and outrun it, so as to get ahead and get a proper photo from the bow end. I missed a good section of the trail as I raced along at top speed. I managed to get even with the ship again, but was unable to pull ahead before the trail curved away from the water to come around for the bridge approach.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Racing the Ship Ship approaching Bridge at St-Louis-de-Gonzague

 

I reached the St. Louis de Gonzague Bridge at 14:00. There I had a decision to make. My bike trail map showed the trail continuing along the north shore to be incomplete. Did it come out anywhere? Often times, what is shown as a dead-end is not really so for cyclists, for there is some smaller, unofficial trail which continues, or which leads over to a road. I crossed the road and proceeded along what was now a brand new trail. I passed a sign warning cyclists that the trail was a dead end some 6.8km further along. I had not ridden too far, however, when I came upon some returning cyclists. I asked them if there was any issue at the other end and they replied that there was not. The only option was to turn around

Click to Enlarge (1999 Brochure)
The Beauharnois Canal

 

I decided, then, to cross over to the south side for the almost 10km stretch between the two bridges. I would cross back over at the Route 132 Bridge near Valleyfield.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
St-Louis-de-Gonzague Bridge

 

I rode across the long bridge on the highway, to the dismay of the cars behind me. The roadbed was only two lanes and there was a fair amount of oncoming traffic. Over the lift bridge section, the roadbed was steel grate, which was fairly hard to navigate with my bicycle tires. On the far side, I rode down to the left, into the parking lot, and caught the bike tunnel that led around and underneath the bridge.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on September 2000 Ride: ~14:40)
Bike Path along Canal after Rte 132 Bridge

 

This section of trail was as pleasant as I had remembered it from two years earlier. I rode fairly quickly along, passing even the relais at Presqu'ile Park. I reached the Route 132 Bridge at 14:55, and there I took a five-minute break as I looked out over the canal upstream from the bridge. I watched some people manouevring their boat into the water at the boat launch.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Rte 132 Bridge at Valleyfield Looking East along Canal at Rte 132 Bridge

 

The ride back across the bridge was more of the same: A narrow two-lane roadway with lots of traffic, behing held up by a cyclist. The Route 132 bridge is a most interesting bridge, for there is also a rail crossing on the structure, right alongside the highway portion. Alas, no trains came by as I was crossing.

The bike trail resumed on the north side, to complete the 4km distance to the lookout. Although one can sense the presence of the houses of Valleyfield off behind the trees, the effect along the trail is still one of rustic wilderness. I was riding along this section when 15:00 came and it was time to call Sheryl. She was curious when I would be home. I had not given much thought to that, but realized I would have to start back soon. I had, in a sense, already turned around and was beginning to head back.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Along North Side of Canal

 

I reached the end of the trail and the lookout over the canal at 15:20. This, too, was a location that I have visited often. Much has changed since I first found my way to this spot back in my Honda days of the early 1980s. Then, at the very edge of suburbia, had been a turn-around built into the dead-end street. A wooden walkway led across the grass to a small, wooden viewing platform. It remained that way for many, many years, as I kept coming back. One night in 1993, I drove my rented car all the way out to Valleyfield, just to stand on the platform and watch the ships. When I tried to find the lookout with Alex in 2002, all had changed, and I could not find it. No longer does the street end. Now there are houses all around and there is only a small parking lot and a small lookout park.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
End of Trail at Valleyfield Beledere

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Tete-du-canal on South Side

 

Looking across the Canal, I could see the point at the other side. Only now that I had ridden there in September of 2000 did the far shore have any meaning for me.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Point from Valleyfield Side

 

Home from Valleyfield

I hung out at the belvedere for fifteen minutes, looking out over the lake with my field glasses and arming myself with a small snack. It was 15:35 when I started heading back. Despite my many visits, this would be the first time I would cross Valleyfield by bicycle. On my two prior rides past Valleyfield, I had managed to avoid the town altogether.

Realizing that it was now quite late in the afternoon, and that I had a long, long way to go before I would be back, I offered a prayer to God for the strength to make it and for good fortune (Ha Li Sa Ja Sai!). My prayers were answered in that as soon as I had turned to head east, I was favoured with a strong tailwind.

I've never had more than a vague notion of how to get across the residential section of Valleyfield, from the lookout on the Canal to downtown. I've always just sort of done it "by feel". Such it was this time. I chose from the myriad residential streets those that seemed right. Soon enough my intuition had paid off and I was coming into familiar parts of town.

There is a bay opening into downtown Valleyfield. On my side of the bay was a marina and a large city park. All around I saw that preparations were in place for the famous Valleyfied Regatta, which I think was to take place the following week. At the head of the bay can be found, running for several blocks, the old Beauharnois Canal of the late 19th Century. The canal runs parallel to the main street , with a park on the other side. To my right were the downtown stores of Valleyfield, facing the canal.


Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Valleyfield: Rapids at Old Mill

One has to ride several blocks into town before coming to a bridge that will take one to the other side of the bay. I came to the main intersection and joined the throng of high speed traffic heading across the old Canal and around the head of the bay. Along the way, I caught a quick glimpse of an almost hidden water outlet, by an old woolen mill. I quickly stopped and pulled my bike up out of the traffic, to return and get a better look. Right in the middle of the city was this sheltered creek, fed by the water coming from the bay. (This 'creek' would actually widen to form the channel which separated Grand Isle from the mainland.) I guess the road served as a sort of dam to hold back the water. I imagine the water channel was used for power back in the hydraulic power days of the late 1800s.

As soon as I had cleared the bay, I searched out a quieter street. I found an older road which wound around the north side of the bay, separated from the shoreline only by the small waterfront houses. I came to a small park, where I could get down to the water and catch photos back onto the town and the town's spectacular fountain in the middle of the bay.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Valleyfield: Inner Harbour and fountain

 


Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Valleyfield: Inner Harbour and fountain

 

The road I was following came out a quite familiar intersection, the first intersection as one is coming off the Mgr. Langlois Bridge across the St. Lawrence. On my two previous rides, I had passed along the road leading east from this intersection, along the northern shore of Grand Isle, thus skirting the built-up section of town. I was not approaching the same spot from the opposite direction.

I set off across the Mgr. Langlois Bridge on the east side sidewalk, facing downriver. All other bridges crossing the mighty St. Lawrence are majestic, tall structures, but this bridge is little more than a causeway. The St. Lawrence is completely tamed at this point. Just upstream from the bridge is a low dam which controls the water levels in Lac St. Francis. At certain seasons, practically no water can be seen running under the bridge. All the ships and most of the St. Lawrence's flow are shunted around via the Beaharnois Canal to the dam at Beauharnois.

I was a very busy bridge, with traffic travelling at near freeway speeds. The sidewalk was quite narrow and I was forced to pay careful attention to my riding. With all my saddelbags and gear, my rig was considerably wider than the usual bike.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on 1997 Ride to Cornwall)
St. Lawrence below Mgr Langlois Bridge (Taken in 1997)

 

As I neared the end of the causeway, I saw a new bike path running on the island below, but I had no clue as to how one might get to it. When I got to the end, I knew there must be a better way, and will have to explore that bike path next time. All had been changed from when I had last come by this way in 1997. (My passage in 2000 does not count, as I went right by the area on the Soulanges Bike Trail and was not conscious of what was above me at road level.) Where formerly, in 1992 and 1997, there had been an intersection between Highways 338 (along the Soulanges Canal) and 201 (crossing the bridge), there was now a massive freeway interchange. Route 201 became freeway right at the end of the bridge. I was forced to cycle round the cloverleaf exit to get down to Rte 338, and then I had to get off and hike my bike overland to get down to the small sidestreet which paralleld the Soulanges Canal.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Soulanges Canal looking West from Valleyfield Bridge
Note Floating Bicycle Bridge
Soulanges Canal looking East from Valleyfield Bridge

 

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Floating Bridge at Valleyfield Bridge

 

Once I got down to the Soulanges Canal Bike Trail, I came once more upon the 'floating bridge' section which had surprised me so during my passage towards Niagara Falls the year before (2001). I guess the construction of this strange detour was all part of the reconstruction of the highway interchange

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Floating Bridge at Valleyfield Bridge

 

It was 16:30 when I reached the Soulanges Canal. I was becoming ever more conscious of just how far away from home I still was. The Soulanges Canal section had taken me over an hour the year before, and that would only put me at Pointe des Cascades! I was going to have to hunker down for some serious riding.

Mercifully, the hand of God gave me a little push. Once I got up on the high ground beside the Canal, I could feel a tailwind which had grown quite strong. I was able to make magnificent time, cruising along with little effort in my hardest gear (Large in front, small in back). I reached Pointe des Cascades in only half an hour, at 17:00.

Click to Enlarge (Taken on June 2002 Ride)
Les Cedres from Soulanges Trail

 

I took no time to stop, but continud riding like a madman. Coming down off the high ground at the point, I followed the shoreline road intead of Rte 338. The houses and the trees sheltered me from the wind, which was now hitting me at the side.

I reached the Dorion Bridge at 18:00 and let the wind push me across Ile Perrot on the shoulder of the main highway, reaching Ste. Anne de Bellevue at 18:25. I stopped in Ste. Anne for ten minutes to enjoy a well-earned iced cream cone while sitting by the Canal. I was on my way, racing back across my well-worn West Island track, by 18:35.

18:35 On way
18:45 Baie d'urfe
18:55 Beaconsfield
19:11 Park at St. Charles Rd
19:17 Pointe Claire
19:36 Dorval
19:55 Lachine
20:05 DQ at Lighthouse
(Stop for 15 minutes to have a "Blizzard")
20:20 On way
20:30 Ville St. Pierre
20:40 Montreal West: Top of Hill
20:50 Home

Summary

Distance Travelled
Home to Kahnawake 09km
Kahnawake to Beauharnois 25km
Beauharnois to Valleyfield Belevedere 30km
Belvedere to Soulanges Canal 11km
Soulanges Canal 20km
Pte des Cascades to Ste. Anne de Bellevue 15km
St. Anne to Lachine 25km
Lachine home 07km
Total132m
or 80 miles
Over 10 hours: 11h30 altogether

 

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Prepared by Roger Kenner
December, 2003