Put some spring in your step along the St. Lawrence
I don’t know if it is the spirit of the semester break, but something in the air is fizzy and sweet and I can’t help myself from chanting: “Spring! Spring!” The idea may seem crazy, as February 2015 was the coldest month ever recorded in most of Quebec, according to CJAD. Nevertheless, doesn’t the sunlight feel warmer? February is history now; March is a new start! Spring will be here soon enough—you can count on it.
This piece is addressed to those of you who will embrace your inner child as the sun hits the snow and creates wonderful puddles to jump in. It is for those of you who are active and for whom waking up to feel the breeze is the best thing ever. It is for the contemplatives who need to find nature, history and the contemporary world at peace.
Only a few neighbourhoods can answer those needs in Montreal, and Verdun and LaSalle are probably those that can do so best. Indeed, located along the St. Lawrence River, Verdun and LaSalle are heavenly for those who enjoy moving, playing and admiring nature. Not too far from the city, the quietude is an inspiration as much for those who live there as for those passing by.
It would be unfair not to mention the work that was done in the last 20 years to improve the neighbourhoods. Not so long ago, in the 1980s, Verdun—which used to be a city of its own—was almost abandoned. Buildings were getting old, and the shopping centres built outside the city became the object of fascination for most consumers, thus affecting commercial streets such as Wellington St. A similar scenario applied to LaSalle as well. Thankfully, citizens, urban planners and leaders combined forces to help revitalize the two neighbourhoods. Programs were put in place and led to, among other things, the enhancement of the riverbanks.
Today, no hideous buildings harm the beauty of the river. A green area was protected from Highway 20 all the way to Lachine, this being the perfect setting for the creation of pathways and bike paths. Named “Piste cyclable des Berges,” the bikeway spans about 20 kilometres, following the river and crossing various parks—Parc Arthur-Therrien, Parc du Quai-de-La Tortue; Parc de l’Honorable George-O’Reilly; Parc des Rapides; and Parc René-Lévesque, to name a few. In the first days of spring, cyclists, skaters and simple wanderers hit the road.
On their way, not only will they enjoy the scenery but they will also be able to admire sculptures made by artists from here and elsewhere. The bikeways are also a great opportunity to encounter old buildings such as the Nivard-De Saint-Dizier House (built in 1710), at 7244 Lasalle Blvd., and the Fleming Windmill (built in 1827), at 9675 Lasalle Blvd. Both of these important heritage structures can be visited once temperatures becomes milder, mid-May. Maison Nivard-de Saint-Dizier more particularly is a museum and archaeological site, and will no doubt feed the history enthusiasts out there.
Along the waterfront, passers-by might want to stop at Comptoir Luncheonette 21 behind Verdun’s Natatorium, at 6500 Lasalle Blvd., which serves healthy snacks, sandwiches, salads, coffee, smoothies, fresh juices and ice cream—a perfect deal for the summery days!
For thrill-seekers and wave aficionados, don’t worry—you will also find satisfaction in these neighbourhoods! It must be mentioned that adventure often comes with a price—so don’t be too surprised. A favourite option is Kayak Sans Frontières (KSF), located in Parc des Rapides, 7770 Lasalle Blvd. The nautical activity centre allows you to try kayaking, river surfing, and stand up paddleboarding (SUP), via lessons (starting up at $39) and rentals. The advantages of KSF are that it is open to everyone, from beginners to experts, and that it has a reasonable student to instructor ratio, thus ensuring a safe, quality service. KSF’s mission is to help people discover Montreal by the means of water sports, and I feel reassured to know security is an important, if not the most important value for them. Because, let’s admit it—the Lachine rapids can be quite scary. KSF seems to have chosen a successful path, combining fun and exhilaration with security, perseverance and commitment.
A second option is the Saute-Moutons jet boating, which departs from Quai de l’Horloge in the Old Port, and confronts the Lachine rapids further down in Verdun and LaSalle. At the cost of $67, it seems worth the investment. If you want to see for yourself, know that both KSF and Saute-Moutons reopen their business in May. Let’s go spring: you can do it!
Outside the water and beside the shore, you will mostly find residential areas. There are a few commercial streets, the main one being Wellington. Something about Wellington St. reminds me of Mont-Royal Ave. in the Plateau. That surely has to do with the previously mentioned refurbishment of the late ’80s. Interment of electrical wires, restoration of store façades and authorization of terracing all helped renew the road’s appearance. Furthermore, the situation keeps getting better.
In 2010, alcohol sale regulations in Verdun freed up a little, opening opportunities for microbreweries and performance venues. Before, sales were solely restricted to restaurants, grocery stores and the SAQ. There is certainly a sense of positivity that can be felt in the neighbourhood. There seems to be hope for merchants and a bright future for the population. Along with the revamping of the St. Lawrence shore, such things make me realize how much work has to be done in order to build our neighbourhoods, our city. The success of an area can never be taken for granted, but where there is passion, willingness and dedication, there is hope.
Since spring rhymes with sweetness (at least, in my scat-y way of speaking), I urge you to stop by confectionery Winifred Pepperpott at 3870 Wellington St. Recently opened in November 2014, the Victorian-inspired watermelon-coloured shop sells a variety of candies, mainly American and British classics, as well as European importations. Following owner Valérie Trudeau’s recommendations, I tried the Kingsway Bon Bons, which are like vintage Starbursts, and I was happily satisfied. Trudeau, who owns the store with her husband Louis-Charles Letendre, showed me around, describing her favourite candies. If you ever go (and I hope you will!), don’t limit yourself to the polite “Hi!” and shy smile. Go ahead and talk with them, ask questions—their passion and energy are sincerely contagious. This is part of the whole concept they sell, and you will leave the store with an even greater smile (because it can’t be denied: candies by themselves will already do part of the job—but fantastic service will do the rest).
Speaking of nature and renewal—or, even better, rebirth—seems to link easily with spring… Who knows, if we talk and talk about it, buds may want to blossom a little bit sooner.