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.
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.
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).
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.
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.