It’s an island, it’s a mountain, it’s…
From on mountain high to the river below
What’s on an island, has a mountain, is in an archipelago and defies directional reason? We bet you guessed Montréal, and you’d be right. Much like its human geography, Montréal is a fascinating study in the diversity of its physical geography as well, so we thought we’d dig into a few of the highlights defining the lay of the land.
No man is an island… but we are
Not only is Montréal a bona fide island, it’s 1) the largest island in what’s called the Hochelaga Archipelago, which is comprised of 235 islands, and 2) the second most populated river island on the planet (behind Zhongshan in China). Montréal is located at the confluence of the mighty St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers, which flow south around the island through Lac St-Louis and north by way of the Rivière des Prairies. Befitting our water-bound condition, kayaking, jet-boating, white water rafting, surfing, fishing and all other manner of water sports and recreation are a big deal here.
So what should we do with all these rocks?
Side by side, immediately south of the city’s Old Port, are Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame. While Île Sainte-Hélène – home to the Biosphere, La Ronde amusement park, the International des Feux Loto-Québec fireworks competition and concert events like Osheaga and ÎleSoniq – is part of the original Hochelaga Archipelago, Île Notre-Dame is a relative newcomer. Notre-Dame was created, using 15 million tons of excavated rock from Montréal’s then-new metro (subway) system, over a period of 10 months in 1965, part of the Expo 67 World’s Fair. It’s currently home to the Canadian F1 Grand Prix, the Montréal Casino and the Olympic Basin, the largest man-made rowing basin in North America.
Take me to the river
Credit where credit is due: there wouldn’t be an Island of Montréal if there weren’t a river of St. Lawrence. With its head in the Great Lakes and its mouth 1,600 km east of the city in the Atlantic Ocean, the St. Lawrence River made Montréal a major transportation hub for some 200 years, and the financial/industrial centre of Canada for 150 of them. And it’s not like things are a whole lot quieter now: the Port of Montréal continues to receive over 2,200 cargo ships a year.
Go tell it on the mountain
Okay, so it’s not exactly K2, but Mount Royal is the tree-covered centrepiece on the table of life here in Montréal and we happen to be quite proud of it. Standing 233 metres (or almost 765 feet), the mountain is an iconic symbol of the city piled high with other iconic symbols of the city: St. Joseph’s Oratory, the mountaintop Mount Royal Chateau, the former Royal Victoria Hospital, Percival Molson Memorial Stadium (where Montréal’s pro football team, the Alouettes, play) and, of course, most iconic of all, the Mount Royal Cross. Fully half of the mountain is covered in cemeteries, and despite the persistent believe that Mount Royal is a dormant volcano, it’s actually what’s called an igneous intrusion, so there’s no need to worry about it one day raining gravestones.
We’re somewhat directionally challenged
If you ask a Montrealer directions as to whether something is north, south, east or west, take their response with an industrial-sized grain of salt. Like most major Canadian cities, Montréal’s streets form a grid, with major arteries running east/west and north/south. Only problem is, they were laid out as though the St. Lawrence River flows west to east, which it mostly does, except when it gets to Montréal and takes a northward turn. The result? What we call north is actually closer to west, what’s west is more south and so on. It does, however, make for some beautiful summer sunsets right at the end of St. Laurent Boulevard looking, um, north.
Location feeds our weather obsession
Our location on the North American continent, at the intersection of several climatic regions, means that not only do we enjoy four distinct seasons, but when it gets hot, it can get really hot, and when it gets cold, well, you know. Classified as a humid continental climate, we don’t lack for precipitation, getting an average 82 inches of snow in the winter and nearly 31 inches of rain the rest of the year. That said, Montréal gets over 2,000 hours of sunshine per year, considerably more than cities in Europe at a similar latitude and lower.
Our urban geography
Apart from its interesting natural geography, Montréal is also home to some fairly monumental, iconic man-made creations. Among these would be the Olympic Stadium with its tower, Notre-Dame Basilica and the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. Approximately 36 million vehicles cross the winding, 10.4 km steel truss cantilever bridge each year, and in honour of the city’s 375th birthday, the iron giant has been converted into a massive, illuminated, interactive art piece titled Living Connections. Another welcome addition to our urban geography on this prestigious occasion is the Promenade Fleuve-Montagne (the “River-Mountain Walk”), a 3.8 km pathway joining the Island of Montréal’s two great defining natural features, Mount Royal and the St. Lawrence River.
Jamie O’Meara, blogger
Jamie O’Meara is a writer for The Montreal Gazette, C2 Montréal, Moment Factory and more. He also manages the PR Team at the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival and is the former Editor-in-Chief of alt-weekly newspaper HOUR Magazine.
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