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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The Dinghy is Legit

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The author paddling under the train bridge at Bonaventure

When I was in Berlin last month, I would sometimes see a couple hipsters lazily paddling a rubber dinghy through the canals, and would invariably feel a sharp stab of envy. So last Saturday, two friends and I Bixi-ed down to Old Montreal with an inflatable dinghy looped over the handlebars. We’re talking about the kind of inflatable boat you can pick up for $100 at Canadian Tire. Our goal was to paddle to Saint-Henri and catch a couple of my favourite bands on the terrace at McAuslan, but some instinct told me that we couldn’t possibly get away with that kind of thing in Montreal.


We decided to put the vessel afloat just to the west of the first set of locks, across from Silo #5. Before we’d even finished pumping up the dinghy, we were approached by a uniformed Parks Canada employee asking if we had a license for our boat (the Lachine Canal National Historic Site is under federal jurisdiction, operated by Parks Canada).

Foiled already, I thought. But when I stuttered that I didn’t know legalities of the situation, she cheerily informed me that I could purchase said license in the office just a few metres away. Cost of a seasonal vignette for a non-motorized boat? Five dollars. I had to provide my name and address (but no ID) and had to fill in a line for “boat identification” – the inflatable dinghy came with unique number printed on it by the manufacturer. Also, park rules specify that you must have life jackets.

Fifteen minutes later, with a federal stamp of approval, we were in the water. We got inspected by another Parks Canada employee when we portaged around the Saint-Gabriel’s lock, but as soon as she saw the light blue beaver sticker, she gave us a thumbs up.

The 4-km paddle to the show was definitely slower than walking (note to interested parties: dinghy sizing is kind of like tent sizing: when they say it’s a 3-person boat, they clearly intend those 3 people to be sitting on top of each other). We also couldn’t resist docking at Atwater market to pick up some snacks and beers.

But the most delicious part of the trip was the sense that a whole new world had opened up to us, right in the middle of the city. We got a brand new view of the life along the canal, from Pop Montréal’s Pier party and a neighbourhood BBQ in Pointe-Saint-Charles, to the hundreds of tiny fish that began leaping out of the water all around us at sunset.

And of course no set of wheels can make quite the same splash as pulling up at a show in your legit rubber boat.




  1. My wife and I felt the same way after we bought a pair of stand-up paddleboards. Living on an island is great. 

  2. Awesome story, especially the stamp of approval by Parks Canada.

  3. The light blue beaver sticker “license” makes it legit – that’s hilarious!
    Really fun article Alanah. I really enjoyed reading it!

  4. Such a great post! I’m totally inspired to start boating around the island now (especially if I can find a boat that’ll fit my bike and a small motor :D.. then I can boat/bike down the St-Lawrence to Gaspe and lands beyond).

  5. We were in the canal where there is literally no current whatsoever, and we were advancing at about 1km/hr, so I’d definitely not recommend dinghy-travel for the mighty Saint-Lawrence river!!

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