Island hopping Montreal-styles

Ferry to the boucherville islands

A ferry whisks 12 bicycles and their riders across the St-Lawrence river to the Boucherville Islands provincial park.

On your typical STM map of Montreal, the Boucherville Islands are just peeking out from under the legend, and so for many years they remained under my radar. Turns out the are actually the site of a provincial park, just minutes away from Montreal. Here’s one sweet way to escape the city that doesn’t involve getting stuck in bridge traffic…

The best part about a trip to the Boucherville Islands is how bike-friendly it is. Its beyond bike-friendly, the park is designed for cyclists. For $7 you and your bicycle can get a round-trip ferry to the Ile Ste-Marguerite, from which you can access the rest of the archipelago. This overhead includes the entrance fee to the provincial park and was the only cash I dished out all day.

The Navark Ferry departs from park Belvedere Bellerive in the Mercier neighbourhood, a 5-minute bike ride from Honoré-Beagrand metro. It is also possible to access the islands by car. In fact, the first thing you see when you get off the ferry is a 6-lane trench highway, the mouth of the Louis Hypolite Lafontaine tunnel.

Clearly the archipelago is not 100% nature park – The westernmost island, Ile Charron, is also the site of a hotel, the south shore’s water purification plant, and a recent controversy over 4000 new condo units. Quebec is meeting the private owner this month to make an offer for the land, which was sold for $6 million in 2007.

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See the fullsized map of the Boucherville Islands in PDF format.

But heading East, you can escape the city completely. On a St-Jean-Baptiste Wednesday, Ile Ste-Marguerite was a bit of a gongshow, but another bike-friendly ferry will take you across the channel to Ile de la Commune and Ile Grosbois, where cyclists reign. The diversity of bicycle kid-seats, trailers and hookups was astounding.

A spin around all 3 park islands would be about 15 kms on gravel trails, but its easy to pick a route adapted to any level of endurance.

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The islands are also home to a diversity of migratory birds and wetland creatures who inhabit a unique eco-system that is flooded each spring when the St-Lawrence is at its highest. Representing the islands’ many cultural incarnations, Ile de la Commune maintains a small farm, and Ile Grosbois is the site of an archaeological dig and a fairly realistic replica of an Iroquois longhouse (“just like in our textbook!” exclaimed one 10-year-old visitor).

Beaver at the boucherville islands

On the Fête Nationale, the little waterways between islands were rippling with activity. Dozens of canoers, kayakers and row-boating fishermen were out, and the party was going strong on larger motorized yachts. We were privy to some drunken deck dance shows from the midlife-crisis crowd.

But at least the wildlife didn’t seem put off by all the activity – notice the beaver swimming alongside the fishing boat in the photo above.

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Some canoers were taking a dip in the chilly river waters, and after a day of biking around in 30-degree weather, we were happy to join in. The channel had a gentle current that suggested bringing an inner tube would be an excellent move in the future.

The Port of Montreal provided an iconic, if unbeautiful backdrop. Some folks may find the city skyline ruins their sense of escape, but to me the playful, naturey Boucherville Islands felt extra magical for existing so close to home.

6 comments

  1. I SCUBA-dived a few times in the channels between the Boucherville islands; there are a lot of weeds, and thus the underwater life is very abundant and rich.

    As this is on the south-side of the St-Lawrence, the water is clear and clean, as the murky Outaouais waters haven’t mixed yet with the clear water coming from the St-Lawrence itself (it’s amazing that even the mighty Lachine rapids cannot still mix the whole St-Lawrence river)…

  2. Wow! Thank you for this Alanah. I’ve only lived in Montréal for less than 3 years now yet I continue to discover awesome things on an almost daily basis. Add Boucherville Islands to the long list of such places.

    Speaking of island parks, does anyone else share my view that Parc Jean-Drapeau is one of the most spectacular parks anywhere in the world? It has so many ‘parks within a park’ and a mind-boggling array of major events and activities.. year round. Piknic Electronik, 45,000 capacity concert venue, Casino, woods, botannical gardens, an old fort, Stewart Museum, beach, La Ronde, a race track, Olympic rowing basin, canals, a lake, aterfalls, playing fields, fountains, Biosphere, sculptures, a beautiful old restaurant, olympic pools and diving facilities.. It’s also accessible by foot, bike, bus, metro, ferry and car, and was the scene of a World Fair, World Aquatic Championship and Summer Olympics.

    There’s something there for everyone, we are truly blessed.

    Myself, I’m counting down the days until Osheaga, 2 days of musical bliss!

  3. You can also take a ferry to Ile Ste-helene and/or Longueuil from the vieux port, which is also a great ride on the water that our city tends to forget about a little too much.

    ANother great ferRY IS Vieuz Quebec to Levis, which is more scenic than most people can handle!

    A fianl favorite is St-Joseph-de-la-Rive to Ile-aux-coudres, in the charlevoix. Free, bikes load and depart first, and the charlevoix is also highly scenic.

  4. I’ve done this. Or: take the navette from Jacques Cartier pier over to Longueuil and cycle east on the bike path you’ll find there, and there’s a second quick navette back to the islands from Boucherville. Only catch there is that (at least when I did this, about 3 summers ago) they weren’t too well synchronized so I had to sit in a park and read for a little while till the second navette showed up. You can come back via Bellerive Park if you like.

    I dislike the gravel surface they put on the bike paths. Only someone who had never cycled in their life would think that stuff a good surface for cycling: on hot dry days it kicks up dust, and you can skid out easily on a curve.

  5. I’m remindned of the story writer Mairuth Starsfield tells. She’s of African descent (her novel No Crystal Chair won the Canada Reads compeition in 2005. http:(slashslash)www.montrealmirror.com/2005/010605/no_crystal_stair.html) and people are always asking her if she’s “from the islands.” When they ask which one she challenges them to guess. They rarely guess right because she’s a born and bred Montrealer.

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