In and Around Montreal, PQ

December 26, 2010

Our goal was the little town of Lachine, a few miles outside of Montreal. Lachine was an old trading town on the St Lawrence River with many historical buildings. It is near the famous Rapids of the St Lawrence, which you can ride in rubber rafts.  Everyone on board wears rainwear, but get soaked anyway.

The Lachine Rapids provided the inspiration to Champlain in the early 1600s to use birch bark canoes for carrying trade items.  He had been using boats, but they were breaking apart on the rapids.  He saw the Natives running the rapids in their fully loaded canoes.  “Voilla!!” he said to himself.  The rest became history: the expansion of the fur trade throughout all of Canada and the USA.

Negotiating the narrow streets in rush hour traffic with boss and baby was an experience. We are 50 feet in length overall.  We were very surprised when we arrived at the Moose Lodge. There was no room at the inn. They have no parking lot.  So we parked on the street, while we visited. We had fun trying to communicate, even with our French Phrase book.  There were two gentlemen at the club who could speak some English. They welcomed us with beer and found a Lodge with a parking lot in La Prairie, across the river. They said that traffic was too heavy at that time and encouraged us to hoist a few more quaffs. Finally we left to find La Prairie. What seemed like forever and getting lost (we missed the street sign). Mme. Simard at the lodge was very kind, even letting us use electricity through an open window in the lodge’s kitchen. At this time we had been on the road for twelve hours and all three of us were tired.

La Prairie was renamed by Champlain in 1611 and settled twenty years after Montreal. Beaver pelts were shipped across the St. Lawrence River to La Prairie and then made the journey to the markets further South. The first Canadian railroad was built there in 1836. When a bridge was built across the river, the town began to decline. Many of the original structures were lost in a fire. Today narrow streets with houses dating back to the 18th century and the presence of the beautiful church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary are reminders of its historic past. A small museum tells of its history.

The weather forecast for today was for rain. We only have a few days in the area, so we did not want to let the weather stop us. Off to Montreal we went to see St. Joseph’s Oratory on Mount Royal. The weather was quite overcast and hazy. So it was difficult to see the skyline.

St Joseph Oratory is the final result of a promise made by Blessed Brother Andre to spread the devotion of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus Christ. Brother Andre lived around the turn of the 20th Century. He was known as a great healer and a spiritual man. People made pilgrimages here to be healed. There are many crutches and canes on display which belonged to people who were healed. The first chapel, which he built, was quite small and humble. After his death donations kept pouring in. So a large church was erected. The dome itself rises over two hundred feet. The Oratory is quite visible from most places in the city.

We spent at least three hours there. They have a couple of museums. One depicts certain aspects of Brother Andre’s life. The other is for rotating exhibits. The current one is of over 250 different creches from around the world. There are self guided tours available with escalators to take you to the different levels. The experience of being there is awe inspiring.

Our next stop was the botanical gardens, near the Olympic Stadium. By this time, about 2:30, we were hungry . We stopped at an Italian restaurant, Lani’s, and had a delicious lunch. By the time we arrived at the gardens it was after 4:00. We thought they closed at 8:00, but we were told it was 5:00. So we drove back home and spent some time with our hosts.

Went to Le Ronde on Ile Ste-Helene, built for the 1967 World Exposition. This is an amusement park, an affiliate of Six Flags. The most interesting ride was a 3-D experience where the government tried to rescue dinosaurs from a volcanic Island ready to explode. The part with an angry T-Rex chasing you was pretty cool. Most of the other rides were the usual ones found at a Six Flags Park. The lines were extremely long: too long.
Took a break from the crowds we left the park and walked to the Biosphere on a different part of the Island. The Biosphere was designed by Buckminster Fuller for the US Pavilion at the Expo. It was a large geodesic dome covered with Plexiglas. The interior space was left open with escalators leading to the different levels of exhibits. Some time after the fair a fire destroyed the Plexiglas coating, leaving just the skeleton. Today it houses Environment Canada, a museum dedicated to the education and conservation of water in the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.

We went back to the Olympic Park. The area includes the Botanical Gardens, the Stadium, the swimming and diving arena, the tower, and the Biodome, which once was the hippodrome. Combination tickets can be purchased for all of the venues. But we had only one day left in our visit. So we chose the Biodome, a building holding four ecosystems: Central and South American Tropical, Saint Laurent marine environment, Laurentian forest, and Polar. We spent over four hours walking through the ecosystems.

We also walked around the aquatic pavilion, which now is open to the public and has not only the Olympic size pool, but also diving pool and a warm up pool. One thing they do not show on television is the elevator at the rear of the diving platform, which takes the divers up to their level.

John Pelley is a Geriatric Gypsy. He is retired from the rat race of working. He is a full-time RVer, who ran away from home. He began our travels on the East Coast and, like the migrating birds, seek the warmth of the seasons He has discovered volunteering with the National Park System. He has a CD he has recorded of Native American flute music., A Day with Kokopelli. For pictures, links, and more information visit

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