Montreal is so good at bikes that it might as well be part of northern Europe. Every few blocks, you'll find another rental stand where, for a small fee or annual membership, you can ride a bike to a destination of your choice. As we speak, D.C. is installing a bike sharing system using the same technology and bike models. What D.C. does not have quite yet are two-lane bike boulevards, which you can find in Montreal with barriers separating them from the major streets. You can pick up a bike at midnight and ride home as the downtown traffic flies past you. How liberating it feels. Or perhaps the word I'm looking for is "mobile."
So these next few installments will follow a bike around on a photo tour of the city. At certain undisclosed points, this will become a fictitious bike tour, as I was not actually biking at the time. (But I could have been!)
So to continue, there is a canal through the city center. Its heyday was in the Industrial Revolution, but the water's edges are still devoted to industry.
In the course of the 19th century, people migrated to the city from rural Quebec to work by the canal. Until then, Montreal had been dominated by English speakers; it is striking to look at old photographs and see downtown signs in English. The influx of the working class made the city Francophone again, and along with the Quebecois (and I'm not clear on the precise sequence of events) came the Irish. We saw an exhibit at the McCord history museum that opened with the kind of artistic touches that would never occur to anyone at the Smithsonian: atmospheric embellishments that draw you into a historical period without detracting from the educational experience. With the sound of waves and anchoring ships in the background, you see a photo tour of Irish immigrants in Quebec, followed by biographical stations detailing their activities and hardships. A panel on the blending of folk music from Ireland and New France, though I didn't understand all of it, was especially interesting.
Griffintown, a historically Irish neighborhood along the canal, is now up for a major revitalization project, or gentrification or demolition, depending on the point of view. Somehow related is a plan to tear up a highway that now goes through the downtown, and replace it with a boulevard that would become Montreal's Champs-Élysées.
There was English-language graffiti along the water, urging revolution of some sort; the exact objectives were unknown to me, but the general tenor was circa 1968.
The canal meets the river at an old fur trading station.
And boats start their journey down the St. Lawrence.
Here, the river widens into St. Louis Lake.