As my family and I were paddling back towards shore, ready to return our rented canoe, I noticed a stout bird standing in the marsh just a few feet away. It looked something like a blue heron, only smaller, with brown and white feathers. Seconds later, it spread its wings and rose gracefully into the sky; a great way to finish an already wonderful canoe trip. And the even nicer aspect was that we were only half an hour away from our Verdun home.
That bird was an American Bittern, a water bird species that nests in the Boucherville Islands. And it’s just one of the many natural species that my children and I have gotten to see up close by exploring the many canoe routes in and around the island of Montreal.
The best spots for families include the Îles de Boucherville National Park just south of the island, de la Riviere des Mille Îles Park and Centre de la nature in Laval, and the Lachine Canal downtown. All four locations feature on-site boat rentals and easy flat-water routes. A few other options are self-guided tours around Dorval and Dowker Islands or guided tours on the St. Lawrence River.
The two parks — Îles de Boucherville and de la Riviere des Mille Îles — get top billing because both have a lot of marsh. Travelling through cattails and long grasses gives canoeists a good chance to see more than 200 species of birds, 40 types of frogs, snakes and turtles or 25 different marine mammals, including beaver and muskrat.
The Boucherville Islands are a favourite because the canoe route features a stop at an archaeological site, where an aboriginal settlement reconstruction gives kids a chance to explore history within nature. The park has a rental centre offering canoes, kayaks, and rowboats starting at $12. Park officials will direct you to the eight-kilometre canoe route, which takes at least three hours to complete. If you aren’t sure about navigating on your own, you can opt for a guided sunset tour of the park. To get to the national park, take the Lafontaine Tunnel south from Notre Dame to the first exit.
At de la Rivière des Mille Îles, you’ll have a choice of three different canoe routes or you can just follow the river for 20 kilometres between the park and St. Eustache. Kayak and canoe rentals begin at $11 per hour and Éco-Nature volunteers will give you a map covering the three routes. To get to the park, take Highway 15 north to Laval. Take exit 16 to get onto Ste. Rose Blvd., and continue east to the park.
Families with younger children may prefer a visit to the Nature Park in Laval. The small lake in the centre offers an excellent way to introduce little ones to canoeing or kayaking — you’re never more than a few minutes from the shore, so it’s easy to wrap up a trip if the kids get cranky or bored. Canoe and kayak rentals are available and the park also features picturesque gardens and a farm. To get to the park, take Highway 15 north to exit 15 and then follow St. Martin east to the park entrance.
If you prefer not to drive off the island, canoe and kayak rentals are available at the Lachine Canal for $15 an hour or on Notre Dame Island for $14 per hour. Pedal boats are also available at both locations and at Beaver Lake (Mount Royal Park).
You can also tour the Lachine Canal on an electric boat, which seats up to five people and costs $35 an hour.
And canoeing and kayaking families don’t have to limit their explorations to the area parks. They can try making the trip between Dorval and Dowker islands in Lake St. Louis. Canoes can be rented at the eastern part of the lake from Camp de Base in Pointe Claire for $30 a day, or at the western part of the lake from Norway Nordic in Ste. Anne de Bellevue for $15 for three hours.
Anyone who has visited the Lachine Rapids knows that these white waters require a certain level of skill — and nerves — to navigate in a kayak or canoe. Such a trip is probably not in the works if you have kids, but now Les Excursions Rapides de Lachine has created a 21/4 tour through a calmer channel that is appropriate for families. You’ll get to go through some small rapids — just enough to impress the kids.
It’s easy to associate canoeing (or other boating activities) with wilderness parks outside of the city but Montreal is surrounded by waterways just waiting to be explored.
If you go
154 Villeray St., Montréal • (514) 271-6046
2985 B St. Patrick on the Lachine Canal, Montreal • (514) 842-1306
Les Excursions Rapides de Lachine
C.P. 3222, Succ. Lapierre, Lasalle • (514) 767-2230, (800) 324-RAFT
127 Ste. Anne St., Ste. Anne de Bellevue • (514) 457-9131
de la Riviere des Mille Iles Éco-Nature Park
345 Ste. Rose Blvd., Ste. Rose, Laval • (450) 622-1020
Îles de Boucherville Park
55 Île Ste. Marguerite, Boucherville • (450) 928-5088
Centre de la nature
901 du Parc Ave., Laval • (450) 662-4942
www.ville.laval.qc.ca (click on Community Life)