After spending a week paddling and fighting the waves in the Pacific Ocean (read: the Big Island in Hawaii) it felt nearly impossible for me to head back to my usual routine, which includes the Lachine Canal and its much-loved, but calm and fairly predictable surroundings.
I needed something different. Something as yet unexplored.
This is how I found myself over on Nuns’ Island’s beautiful northern tip (officially known as Pointe-Nord) this past weekend, renting a kayak at NAVI for a self-guided tour.
It was a rather dreary Sunday. Grey skies and 10C weather were making it hard for me to believe it was technically still summer, but the beauty of outdoor sports is that, once you get started and warm up, you don’t really care.
As soon as I was outfitted with a kayak, a paddle, and a lifejacket, I was off on my solitary paddle around Nuns’ Island. I was told that the 10-km paddle which circumvents the 3.74 km² island is a fairly smooth trajectory, with the occasional need to fight currents.
They weren’t kidding… There are definitely parts of the excursion where you have to paddle quickly and furiously so as to not be pushed back by the strong river current, but the vast majority of the 10-km trip is smooth and rather relaxing; leaving you time to take out your iPhone (invest in a $20 dry bag, people. Don’t risk getting your phone wet) and snap pictures along the way.
Nuns’ Island, which is part of the Hochelaga Archipelago in the St. Lawrence River, is located immediately southeast of the Island of Montreal. In fact, you can see the downtown skyline beautifully from here. Particularly from the Pointe-Nord, which has rapidly developed into a pretty exciting and much more urban setting than the rest of the bucolic island.
I won’t bore you with the details of a paddle you didn’t take. I simply wanted to write something brief, alerting local Montreal readers that this option exists, if they’re looking for more outdoor activities in the city.
Suffice it to say that it’s really interesting to start a paddle with Old Montreal to your left, then the South Shore (more specifically Brossard in the distant horizon), then LaSalle, then Verdun, and finally conclude with downtown Montreal. In the approximately 2.5-hour paddle (more if you stop to take pictures along the way), you get a completely different view of Montreal’s south west area, and are privy to sights you wouldn’t normally see otherwise.
At times, it’s hard to believe you’re actually five minutes from Montreal’s downtown core.
I can tell you that it’s pretty cool to paddle under the Champlain Bridge after all these years driving over it. I won’t lie and pretend that I spent a lot of time under it (a) because it’s a bridge I barely have faith driving over, let alone paddling UNDER, and b) because the current is so strong here, I had to keep on paddling or be swept backwards), but it’s quite a sight to go under that structure, as well as under the small – yet no less imposing from my vantage point – ice bridge.
As I approached the Island’s southern tip, I saw people fishing on the riverbanks, jogging along the paths, walking their dogs, enjoying their weekend outside.
The island, once almost exclusively used as residences and farming land by the religious nuns of the Notre-Dame Congregation, has long ceded its place as a home for families and condo dwellers who want to live close to the city.
Majestic cormorants were peacefully taking sunning breaks on boulders all around me, but would cautiously fly off as I approached. A spectacular flock of geese found themselves swimming in front of me, insisted on their trajectory for a while, but then started cacophonously honking in unison when they felt I was infringing on their space and flapped away.
Across from me at this point was mainland Verdun (Nuns’ Island is still technically part of the Verdun borough, although for all intents and purposes it fancies itself separate), and I could see the boat docks. I wondered about the city’s plans to install a beach there one of these days. I heard huge cheers erupt from a soccer field somewhere across the river and I smiled, content to be so close to people and yet so far. It’s always been my favourite place to be. Close, yet slightly removed.
As I approached the northern tip of the Island again, I started seeing Montreal’s skyline in the forefront, and I slowly approached the Bonaventure Expressway. To my right was the Bell Campus, and the Evolo Towers on Pointe-Nord indicating that I was approaching the end of my tour.
I was tired, a little sore, and a tad cold, but it was such a wonderful experience I needed to take the time to share with you all.
There is absolutely no need to leave the city to experience the solitude that your soul occasionally craves. Barely five minutes from downtown and you can be on the water and away from it all in no time.
It’s great that Proment (Nuns’ Island’s main developer) decided to leave the entire shoreline open to the public when they developed Point Nord, allowing for NAVI to have a dock right in front of their store, mere minutes away from the public square and Les Enfants Terribles. These things matter when you’re trying to build a sense of community and enhance accessibility for those who want to enjoy the St. Lawrence (which is criminally underutilized at the moment, as far as I’m concerned – both the water and its shoreline).
It’s almost a shame that I only got around to doing this self-guided tour so late in the summer, since the season closes at the end of September. Those interested in checking it out this year, only have two weekends left – assuming the weather cooperates. If not, there’s always next year.
In the meantime, I heard that the very same space rents skates for the park by the public square, which converts into a free outdoor skating rink in the winter for those weirdoes who enjoy the cold.
For more information on kayaking, just check out the NAVI website.