Centre de la montagne
Les amis de la montagne
|The jewel of Montreal’s city parks is,
without question, Mount Royal. This 200-hectare park occupies part
of the mountain that lies in the midst of Montreal island, and includes
the highest spot in the city (234m).
In the 1860s, mass cutting of trees on the mountain for firewood outraged the populace and led to the area’s designation as a park in 1876. It was originally landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, perhaps best known for New York City’s Central Park, although not all his proposed plans for Mount Royal were eventually carried out.
The lookout facing over downtown towards the river was first built in 1906 and is now officially known as the Belvédère Kondiaronk, named for the Huron chief who signed a major peace accord with the French regime in 1701. A second lookout, a famous trysting spot, faces eastward toward the Olympic Stadium.
The Georges-Étienne Cartier monument on the Park Avenue side was inaugurated in 1919 and the illuminated cross in 1924. The lookout chalet (1932) and Beaver Lake (1938) were the fruit of work projects created to help workers left jobless by the Depression. In 1954, many trees were cut down to try to “discourage immorality” in the underbrush, which is why so few of the park’s trees are more than half a century old.
1958 saw the addition of the Beaver Lake pavilion, a sweet bit of retro-futurist kitsch that functions as changing room in wintertime for skaters and tobogganers. This building has recently been renovated.
A major sculpture show was held in 1964 on the long gentle slope above Beaver Lake and some of the pieces are still in place.
Over the years, the perimeter of the park has been nibbled at by surrounding construction. Many trees also were lost to the January 1998 ice storm. Mount Royal was made a permanently protected site by a joint decision of the Quebec and Montreal governments in February 2003, and the demolition of the Park-Pine interchange has made access to the park easier from Park Avenue. But there is still stress on the park from surrounding institutions.
Mount Royal is where Montrealers go to get a breath of air on a hot day, to cross-country ski without leaving the city, to walk off a hangover or a bad mood, to picnic, to jog, to ice skate, to look out over the city, rest their eyes on the horizon and dream.
To get to Mount Royal park you only need to start up any hill from downtown and you’ll eventually find yourself there. A trail from the Cartier monument on the Park Avenue side (bus 80/435 or 129) winds gradually upward toward the top. Or go to Mont-Royal metro station and take the 11 bus. You can also drive up via Côte-des-Neiges and the Voie Camillien-Houde: there are various well-marked parking lots off the road.
Mount Royal shares the top of the mountain with several cemeteries: a huge Roman Catholic one, a large nondenominational one, and two quite small contiguous Jewish ones. Although not properly speaking parks, the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges and Mount Royal Cemetery can be pleasant places to stroll. Mount Royal Cemetery is especially pretty in May when flowering trees are in season, and again in the autumn.
Across Côte-des-Neiges and up a fairly brisk hill is Westmount's Summit Park, a mostly forested area popular with dog walkers and nature observers. There are wild plants in Summit Park which are scarce elsewhere on the Island of Montreal.
Another peak of the mountain is occupied by the University of Montreal, whose tower can be seen from the top of the mountain, as can the imposing dome of St. Joseph’s Oratory visible beyond Notre-Dame-des-Neiges. The opening of a new contiguous mountaintop parc, the Parc du troisième sommet, has been promised since 2009, but is still not open as of January 2014.
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