Is Mount Royal a dormant volcano?

Daniel Baylis

Daniel Baylis is a writer and adventurer. Born in British Columbia, Daniel came to Montréal with the kooky bohemian notion that he would write poetry, learn to speak French and fall in love. Having achieved various levels of success in said domains, he now focuses his energy on a new hobby: artisanal pickling.

Gather around folks. You may have heard a rumour going around: is Mount Royalthe handsome hill located in the middle of Montréal—really a former volcano?  

Let’s extinguish this volatile rumour for good.

Volcano vibes?

For years, stories have been circulating that Mount Royal is a volcano. Some guidebooks have described it as “dormant.” Online articles have called it “sedentary.” Contributors on social platforms such as TripAdvisor and Pinterest have spewed volcanic claims. Please everyone, stop. Before this erupts any further into a lava lake of controversy, let’s set the record straight.  

Here is the final and definitive answer: no, Mount Royal is not an ancient volcano.  

According to Les amis de la montage (the non-profit group dedicated to the conservation and preservation of Montréal’s crown jewel) the mountain was formed underground 125 million years ago. “Although a mass of magma solidified and hardened below the earth’s crust,” states their website, “it never surfaced as lava. Consequently, there was never any volcanic activity on Mount Royal.” 

In other words, Mount Royal is made of volcanic rock. But it’s not a volcano.  

Voilà. It’s settled.  

But wait, how does a mountain end up in the middle of an island?

Good question. You’re smart. We love smart people. The simple answer is erosion. When time—often millions of years—is combined with just the right weather patterns, nature creates interesting geological shapes. In this specific instance, erosion shaped the beautiful mountain which is popularly known as Mount Royal.  

You let a few hundred thousand years go by, and you also get some stunning flora and fauna on the mountain. One example is the iconic maple tree, whose leaves change from green to various shades of gold, crimson, and copper. Perfect to witness in the autumn months.  

Make mountains of memories

With hundreds of hectares, Mount Royal Park inevitably offers enough space for everyone. When you’re visiting, here are some things you can do.  

  • Stroll. The Olmsted Trail is by far the most popular trail in the park. The crushed-gravel pathway offers the width of a two-lane road, making it spacious enough to honour social distancing guidelines. The most popular summer activities are walking, jogging, cycling, and roller skiing. In the winter months, the trail is groomed for cross-country skiing—or go off trail with snowshoes!  
  • Look for birds. This list of 100+ bird species that visit Mount Royal—including the pileated woodpecker, the indigo bunting, the house wren, and the cedar waxwing—will give you plenty to tweet about.  
  • Meditate in the forest. With 280 hectares to explore, there are plenty of quiet corners to sit and enjoy the stillness of nature. For a guided meditation, download a free meditation app, such as HeadspaceCalm, or Insight Timer
  • Play badminton. BYO birdies and rackets. 
  • Take a guided tour. Not just for tourists, guided tours help everyone learn more about the city (and in this case, more about Mount Royal). You’re also supporting a local business. Win-win. Try Fitz & Follwell or Spade & Palacio Tours
  • Picnic. Bring your own culinary spread or pick up nibbles at Café des Amis (two locations: the Beaver Lake Pavilion and Mount Royal Chalet), where a variety of drinks and cold dishes are available for take-out. 

Daniel Baylis

Daniel Baylis is a writer and adventurer. Born in British Columbia, Daniel came to Montréal with the kooky bohemian notion that he would write poetry, learn to speak French and fall in love. Having achieved various levels of success in said domains, he now focuses his energy on a new hobby: artisanal pickling.

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