First Time

Montreal Is An Island

I was in the fifth grade when I discovered that Montreal is an island.

At first the idea made the city seem small - enveloped to north and south by the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers, floating in the longest inland seaway on the planet.

But as the years passed, the idea of smallness no longer fit. There were so many neighbourhoods to visit, so many discoveries to make in the various districts of the city. Visiting friends in the East, shopping to the North, dining riverside in the West, and discovering museums downtown and in Old Montreal to the South... There's even a second city underground!

Yet, all that tramping around, and I was back where I'd started - Montreal was a small city. By bus and metro, bike and train, you could explore every part of it.

Except there was one thing I had never done, and that was to make a circuit of its coastline - or even travel to the very end.

So last month my mother and I did just that, travelling to the furthest east end of the island, to the Bout de l'Īle park.

Driving does not take very long, a half hour at most, but as soon as you reach the end and enter the park, you can't help but wonder how long such a journey might have taken in the past - if any of Montreal's earliest settlers had attempted such a trek.

From the park, there is a wide view of the le Gardeur bridge, and a number of islands, many of which are uninhabited. It's not hard to picture a tall ship coasting slowly down the river, sailing directly down from the time of Cartier or Champlain.

Nearby, in Pointe-aux-Trembles, there is a windmill still standing that was first constructed in 1719. There are also maps showing the size of the village of Pointe-aux-Trembles at the time; a cluster of farmhouse and fields on the edge of the river. How boundless the island must have seemed then, and yet how limited, when travelling conditions were not conducive to leisurely journeys.

The sights, and the images conjured, on a visit to Bout de l'Īle make for an interesting contrast: half an hour to traverse the island, knowing where we were headed, compared to the journeys taken by the first settlers, with no maps to guide them.

Montreal now seems both small and large at the same time. Perhaps next time we should try travelling without a map.

November-December 2011

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Istanbul: I Only Have Two Days To See Everything!
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Approaching Ireland by ferry...
Just Plain Nesin