Canadians are sporty folks. If you believe the clichés they all ice skate,play hockey, and are into kayaking, hiking,cross-country skiing and maple-syruping (that’s a sport, right?). Montreal, Quebec’s most fabulously hip, stylish and forward-thinking city is no exception to this rule, and while the vibe of life in this fab city is a lot more urbane than many other Canadian outposts, it’s still an awesome place to prance around the great outdoors.
From spring through fall, you can hike, bike, stroll, jog and really cut loose in all manner of sporty outdoor pursuits all over Montreal. And while there this past August, I tried to cram in as much fresh-air fun as I could – on foot, on two-wheels, or on a surfboard in Montreal’s LaChine Canal. (Splash!)
Watch the video and get a sample and then read on below for more details…
First up: Kayaking, surfing and paddle-boarding (aka “stand-up paddling” as it was called in Montreal). The perfect place to try all of these feats in Montreal is with a lovely company called KSF (Kayak Sans Frontières). Located in LaSalle, about 15 minutes away from central Montreal on the LaChine Canal, KSF is staffed by eager young guides, paddlers and kayakers who will give you lessons about their watery sports, and they’ll also outfit you, put you in the water and let you go crazy (safely). The setting is gorgeous (leafy green embankments in a peaceful canalside park space) and the vibe is friendly.
French is the primary language at KSF (as you can tell by their website), but on our visit all the staff were bilingual and happy to share their skills accordingly. A visit here is makes for a fab weekend day in sunny Montreal.
And yes, due to the bustling current along parts of the canals here, people do surf. The surfing is more like an endeavor to paddle madly and then struggle to get up on your board and stay in one place amid the current (as opposed to riding waves as one does in the ocean), but if you’re a hard-care boardster, you’ll appreciate this unique challenge. And yes, the guys who congregate around the LaChine canals are a handsome, friendly bunch… So maybe they can help you?
If you’re a hiker, you’ve got to hit Montreal’s sprawling and gorgeous Mont Royale Park which surrounds the city’s handsome Mont Royal (its namesake). The park is Montreal’s leafy crown, and it’s full of pathways, city views and scenic, romantic places to stroll and sample a bit of nature, smack dab in the middle of the city.
Cyclists are prevalent in Montreal, and as a visitor you can rent bikes for a full day via several companies located down by the waterfront. From there, grab a map and cycle all over town, or out of town, as bike paths wind through the city’s surrounding green park and waterfront spaces.
And if you’re gonna need a bike to dash quickly around the city, and if you’ll only be bopping around on short jaunts, use Bixi Bikes. As seen in other cool cities globally (like London, Paris, Washington, DC) these are bikes for which you pay a small fee ($5 or so) to use for a 24-hour period (just swipe your credit card). For that small fee, you can dash around for periods of 30-minutes or less for an entire day. But pay attention: If you plan to take one bike for hours at a time, Biki Bikes may not be your best bet. You can only use them for 30-minute intervals, or you’ll be charged extra. That said, if many quick jaunts from neighborhood to neighborhood are on your itinerary, a Bixi bike can work for you.
Other outdoor pursuits vary seasonally. Summertime brings tons of outdoor festivals, include the weekly electronic dance parties hosted by the cool kids at Piknic Electronik, a mixed (mostly straight, but a little gay) crew of dancing scenesters who put together parties with world-class DJs in parks around Montreal and its islands from May through September. (Check this video overview of their Summer 2011 parties.) The vibe is rave-y and happy… And there’ll be food and drink trucks to keep you fueled.
Have a look back at Piknic Elektronik’s sunny Summer 2011 season right here…
Every summer Sunday afternoon on the slopes of Mont Royale park, groovy folks turn out for the Montreal Tam-Tams, a sassily colorful gathering of drummers, party people, hippies, vendors and cool kids. This has been a tradition for 20 years and the vibe is crunchy/fabulous. Look for them near the monument to Sir George-Etienne Cartier and its surrounding green spaces. And just listen for the beat.
And then there’s yoga… When I was in town, I got to enjoy a fun one-time event for Gay Pride Weekend in August, when a big group outdoor yoga session was organized in Place Emilie-Gamelin Park (right on Rue St-Catherine) as part of the communal Pride events. But throughout the year, the local YoCoMo collective (Yoga Community Montréal) organizes outdoorsy yoga events and sessions in parks and spaces all over the city. If you want some fresh air while your get your downward dog on, they can hook you up.
Finally, even if your brand of outdoor activities are of the low-key, no impact, bar/café-patio variety, you can do that all over Montreal too. Just get up there, hit the streets, breathe in the fresh air and enjoy.
MONTREAL OUTDOORS RUNDOWN
Kayak Sans Frontières (KSF)
Adresse: 7770 boul. Lasalle, Rapides de Lachine.
Tel. 514-595-SURF (7873)
At bike pick-up locations throughout the city.
See locations and get info:
Season is May-September; check site for locations.
Sunday afternoons in the summer.
Near and around the Sir George-Etienne Cartier monument in Mont Royal Park.
Yoga Community Montréal is a grassroots initiative to recognize the breadth of practice, skill and integrity of yoga in Montréal. Check their site for outdoor meet-ups and activities.
Need lots more info on everything you can possibly do and experience in Montreal? Visit Tourisme-Montreal.org. It’s all there.