Montreal’s missing beaches

Beach in Cartierville, on the Rivière des Prairies, around 1910

Nathalie Collard has a column in today’s La Presse lamenting the lack of access Montrealers have to their waterways. “Les Montréalais habitent une île, mais n’ont pratiquement pas accès à l’eau. C’est aberrant,” she writes. It’s true: despite being surrounded by water, including a variety of lakes, basins, channels, rapids and one of North America’s great rivers, Montreal is one of the least water-accessible cities I know. Whatever local instinct we once had to head to the water has been quashed by pollution, industry and highways.

Things are changing, of course. The re-opening of the Lachine Canal has done a lot to reinvigorate the area around it, even if its success as an functioning waterway is limited (the number have boaters on the canal has declined every year since 2001). The demolition of the Bonaventure Expressway, which will start next year, has the potential to transform the neglected Peel Basin into a real gathering place for Montrealers. And, despite all of the waterfront that is rendered accessible in the central part of the city, there are still plenty of gorgeous river- and lakeside parks in more outlying parts of the city, not to mention St. Helen’s Island.

But what really gets to me is the lack of beaches in Montreal. Before World War II, there were more than 20 across the island; now there are just two, one at Cap St-Jacques on the West Island and the other on Notre-Dame Island, near the casino. (The latter, which has an entrance fee of $7, fronts an artificial lagoon.) The water in most parts of the St. Lawrence is actually clean enough to swim in without danger — surfers do it all the time at the standing wave behind Habitat ’67 — and I think that Montrealers would feel far more of a connection to their city’s waterways if only they were allowed to swim in them.

I think it’s time to recreate some of Montreal’s old beaches. Last year, when I wandered around Pointe Claire Village on the West Island, I came across a pleasant natural beach right next to a large waterfront park. It was fenced off. Why not open it up to the public? I admit I’m pretty ignorant of the ecological implications of turning it into a recreational beach, which would involve adding sand or fine gravel to the shoreline, but there must be some way to make it more accessible. Same goes for some of the parks along the Back River, many of which meet the water with concrete walls and fences.

Beach in Pointe Claire on Lake St. Louis

Fence and concrete retaining wall along the Rivière des Prairies


  1. Montreal is the meeting point of two great rivers, doncha go forgetting the Ottawa now. The Ottawa was the route taken by anyone going west by canoe.
    My belief is that humans will substitute a synthetic experience for a real experience 9/10 times. Why go to the beach when you can go to the pool, preferably your own pool. Lazy, pathetic humans.
    Moi, I choose messy reality. Just imagine the conflicts this causes.

  2. There is also the beach on Parc Jean-Drapeau. It is almost surreal to be on a beach on an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence river…..

  3. “Do you sleep in a cave?”

    A cave would have been far preferable to the apartment I lived in on St-Marc back around 1992. A twelve-month lease has never dragged by so slowly.

  4. The picture of the fenced off beach in Pointe-Claire is beside a convent. Surely you can understand and respect the reason for why this might be the case, neh?

    I used to enjoy swimming up at somewhere along the top of Blvd. des Sources. The road used to just come to an abrupt end. There used to be a beautiful area, nicely treed, to walk along, and a sandy beach.
    I don’t know what’s up there any longer. Chances are it’s all been developed by now,

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