Rambling around Montreal II

Walking the Open Spaces
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Jardin Botanique de Montreal

I can easily rate the few hours spent in the Jardin Botanique, the Botanic Gardens, as the highlight of our Montreal excursions. Stretching over 180 acres, the garden contains about 30 individual outdoor gardens, from manicured rose beds to an extensive arboretum.

We broke our tour into three pieces. The Exhibition Gardens run most of the length of the garden along the western side. Here we enjoyed formal displays of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and medicinal plants.

In its northern half, the garden opens up. The Arboretum offers a beautiful tree-lined circuit. Immediately below is another loop through the Leslie Hancock Garden of rhododendrons and azaleas. Below it, a series of paths wind around two large ponds, along a lilac-lined brook and through natural habitat.

The southern half of the garden is filled with specialty areas: roses, a marsh and bog garden, an alpine garden, a Japanese garden. The Chinese Garden is rightfully famous, a huge complex featuring seven oriental pavilions, a stone mountain and Dream Lake.

Further explorations in the area of the Botanic Garden can extend to Olympic Park, host of the 1976 Olympic Games, and the Biodome, where visitors wander through the ecosystems of the Americas.

Parc du Mont-Royal

Parc du Mont-Royal is `part of the great urban legacy of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. Living only a few steps from Olmstead's handiwork in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, and a subway ride from his other New York masterpiece, Central Park, we have a great affection for the man who has contributed so much to our urban outdoor experiences.

Legend has it that back in the 1870's, Montreal's town fathers were upset at the deforestation that was occurring on their famous mountain. Locals had long been cutting the trees for firewood, and a particularly severe winter disrupted efforts at conservation and replanting. The city leaders turned to the leading landscape architect of the day and invited Olmstead to design a natural preserve atop Mount Royal.

We entered the park from the east, via Olmstead Road, a carriage way that now leads walkers, bikers and horse-drawn caleches through the park. A side trail leads off to the Georges-Etienne-Cartier Monument, commemorating one of French Canada's great statesmen. This route begins the easiest ascent of 794-foot Mount Royal.

The Olmstead Road took us on a winding path through the 496-acre park. In the center of the park rises the Grand Chalet, a vast depression-era hall. Though not exactly following Olmstead's vision of a natural preserve, the Chalet offers a magnificent view from its terrace. Farther along, the carriage path circles Lac des Castors, the beaver pond, now populated more by promenading Montrealers than furry creatures.

The path winds back to the Grand Chalet and then begins a second inner loop. This circuit passes the 100-foot illuminated cross that graces Mt. Royal, erected in remembrance of de Chomedy. Montreal's founder had ascended with a wooden cross in 1643, in thanks for his settlement's salvation from flooding which nearly wiped out the infant village. From the cross, a footpath leads to the city's highest point.

A steep path leads from Olmstead Road near the Chateau down to McGill University and rue Sherbrooke, where we had started our day's jaunt hours before. We descended the route as daylight waned— sad that our Montreal rambles were drawing to a close, but grateful for our new appreciation of this wonderful Canadian city.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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