Camping in the city, beside the FAST lane


cruising below the Jacques Cartier Bridge

When we left Prince Edward County’s distinctly British rural quaintness, we knew the bustle of Montréal was before us. We were headed for a campground on the south shore called Sogarive. This space is part of a marina where there is sheltered boat moorage and a ferry that traverses the St Lawrence to Isle St Helene and the Old Montréal Port. We got an early start because the campground does not take reservations and we wanted a spot.

Here we are!!

I remember when I first arrived in Montréal in the early ‘80’s and I didn’t speak French. In fact, I failed French in grade 8 and decided I would never need it, so I dropped it through high school. Then I became a cook where most curriculum was based on the Carême and Escoffier French organization of the “modern” kitchen. Then I moved to Montréal. It was just after Bill 101, the French language law. On the airport shuttle to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel where I would be working the signs said Est and Ouest. I only knew one phrase. Ou est la toilette? Where is the toilet? When I saw the direction signs that were “est – is?” and “ou est (pronounced west) – where is?”, I didn’t know they were assigning East and West. My 21-year-old know-it-all attitude, along with the west-is-best prejudice, kicked in and I just thought French was ridiculous. That changed everything because when I learned the language, a whole world of new friends opened up to my 21-year-old me. Travel does this. We chose a route mindful of NOT wanting to travel through the detour rich road destruction and constant reconstruction, not to mention the fast resident drivers that define Montréal. Google on the other hand is not perfect because when we chose the exit to continue on the south shore there was another tributary that we missed and wound up on a toll highway towards the north shore and a BIG bridge to downtown. I should have just trusted my guts and went with the East/West Est/Ouest clues and we would have gone straight there. We managed to get out of that one with only a $6.50 toll and a 40 Km U turn. With some good old-fashioned knowledge of the area, due to retracing our route, we arrived at our destination unscathed.

Home sweet home and our Cuisine Moderne!

Sogarive was interesting because NO-WHERE was the word Sogarive. Signs identifying Port Plaisance were everywhere, but the locals knew it as Sogarive. Recognizing the location from the google satellite photo, we arrived. “Do you besoin l’electricité?” “Non merci”. “Trant dollar – tirty dolars plisse par jour, uh, day”, “Combien de temps do you stay?” “One week? Sept nuits?” “D’accord”, “Which site do we take?” “Pardon?”, “Ou est’que on va?”, “Where it is you wish.” “Merci!”, “Bon Journée”. So, we were paid up for a week and we had our pick of the campground. This is a very basic camping arrangement. Open field with level gravel parking sites. There are some electrical hookups for $42 per night and the BIG bus like rigs chose those. Our solar panel on the trailer is all we need. We went right to the end along the water’s edge, facing the city of Montréal and the Longueuil yacht club. There was one negative factor, it was noisy. We could hear the city traffic and the constant buzzing of the cicadas but here we were, and we were ready to stay put for a while.

The day we arrived in Montréal we knew we wanted to see our daughter, Elly, as soon as possible. We set up our trailer then walked 20 minutes to the nearby Metro station. Thunderstorms were threatening so we brought our rain gear. We got to the Metro at about 3 pm along with hundreds of white, privileged teens and early 20 somethings, going to a big EDM electronic pumpin’ music festival called ILE SONIC at Parc Jean Drapeau, across one body of water from our campsite. We lined up for subway tickets, realized we were in the wrong line up, got in another line up and 90 minutes later we were on the train to Elly’s place. Ugh. We only got a little lost at Elly’s stop and then we were on course again.

Elly lives very close to Jean Talon market. If you haven’t been there, it is the best and largest daily farmers market in Montréal. The other one, Atwater, is smaller and a bit quainter, though equally full of excellent quality foods.

The famous Atwater Market. We actually shopped there a lot because it was along the Lachine canal and the bikeways.

At Marché Jean Talon we bought fresh corn, baby rainbow carrots, 5 different flavours of pork, lamb, and beef sausages, salad makings and headed back to Elly’s place.

With the food shopping completed, the next stop was the nearby “Dep” (Deppaneur – corner store) for complimenting beverages. We found several great beers (as aperitifs) and a delicious Sparkling Brut (Apple) Cider.

Different from BC Cider and it’s sweet beer-like characteristics, Quebec cidre is like a dry sparkling wine. And who doesn’t enjoy a bubbly? We can hardly wait to get to Normandy in a few weeks!!

Dinner was excellent and we were off to the metro heading back to our mobile abode. Thunderstorms threatened as we approached our station. When we departed the train it was a downpour with a light show. We were soaked except for where our Helly Hanson slickers wrapped us. Didn’t matter, it was warm. We were so thankful that we were not tenting!!

Our camp, at Port Plaisance (Sogarive), is along the bike path. This bike path is one of 650 km’s of bikeways throughout the Montréal region. It is also part of Quebec’s famous Route Verte bikeways. We wish they had an app. Our goal in coming to Québec and Montréal was 1) to see our daughter Elly and 2) cycle the Route Verte. There are 5300 km of cycling routes throughout Quebec, New Brunswick, Ontario and the US that intertwine. Some of them are part of the Great Trail, formerly known as the Trans-Canada Trail system. Some are paved, some are designated car-free, and some are car-share roads that are specifically chosen for bike safety and pleasure.

Bike map – 650 k of bikeways around the city of Montréal

There are bike repair stations randomly available on the trailways and the trailways are used extensively for commuting, recreation and tourism. Many trailways have accommodations along the way from B&B to camping to hotels. One day we hope that Vancouver Island will finally take the E&N and any other old adjoining railbeds and turn them into a famous non-motorized route. What a destination that will be!!!

Top of Mount Royal

Two years ago, when we were in Montréal we didn’t have our own bikes. Montréal is home to an organized bike share system called BIXI. Paris fashioned their bike system after Montréal. We downloaded the app on to our phones, bought a multi-day pass and we could use the BIXI bikes which were parked near our Airbnb as often as we wanted. Recently, Uber has introduced their electric bikes that are randomly scattered all over the city too.  Well we barely used the metro or any other form of transportation then.

This time we had our own bikes. At the campsite where we were staying, there is a walk-on ferry, “navette”, that goes straight into the Old Port of Montréal and Old Montréal via Parc Jean Drapeau on Isle St Helene where Expo ‘67 was held.  It  holds 140 passengers and 70 bikes. Ten passes for the price of 8 and Albert and I had a cruise system that took us straight to the bikeways in Montréal. Bikes are allowed on the metro, but this was really fun and people were friendly and chatty on the boat.  We also found the trailways that took us from Montréal to Longueuil via the locks in St Lambert. Albert and I brought our electric mountain bikes that can go everywhere. Paved trails to gnarly mountain trails.

While in Montréal we retraced our steps from when we were here two years ago. Cycling the Lachine canal trail, the trails up Mount Royal and of course the best Cream Ale under the sun at the brewery along the trail in St Amboise; Griffin Cream Ale.

While biking Montréal and the south shore looking out towards Montréal We were amazed at the historical houses that have remained residences on the south shore for hundreds of years. One dated back to the 1700s. Between our camp and the city of Longueuil and many of the other small towns nearby, runs a busy highway. It has on and off ramps and no traffic lights so vehicles including semi trucks, speeding cars and “crotch-rocket (motorcycles) travel very fast. Bikes and pedestrians are not allowed on these highways and the pedestrian/cyclist path travels alongside. Traversing the highway are numerous overpasses that were built before wheelchairs and bikes mattered. But there was also one that was a piece of art itself. The access snaked up loosely on one side that was easily wide enough for two cars (not allowed) and the other side gently spiralled down. These were big swooping turns easily pedaled. Pedestrians could take the stairs if they didn’t want to walk the long windy road up or down. As we rode through the shade of the giant trees lining the streets, we felt we were in stately old neighbourhoods befitting a Gone With the Wind movie. We did see lots of film industry trailers while we were in Montreal so perhaps these were often used as locations for historical stories. The old firehall in Longueuil even had a unicorn in front, proving what we knew to be true. It was real!

We intended to return to St Lambert and take some pictures of the gorgeous homes but we never got to it.

This big church was in Longueuil along the bike route. It was rebuilt in the 1700’s. It has a museum in it that we never made it to…yet… coming back in October we may get there…So you will need to visit to see the beautiful homes.

Down the main street, there was remains of an old castle that had been renovated into apartments. Across the road, the Royal Bank (Banque Royale) had a museum in the instant-teller space. Below a large glassed in hole was the remnant of the well that serviced the castle. This was difficult to take a good picture of. But suffice to say, this was the most interesting bank machine stop I have ever experienced.

We spent 9 nights in that camp. What did we do while we were there? We rode bikes quite a lot. We rode to Boucherville, east of Longueuil, on the south shore. There is a walk on ferry to an island there that is a provincial park with camping. Let me explain provincial parks in Quebec. SEPAQ. Don’t ask me what it is an acronym for, but suffice to say, they are lovely and organized as I will explain later….That said, provincial parks are called National parks here. Parks Canada, which are national parks everywhere else are also National parks, but Quebec has its own set of rules and they call their provincial parks “National”. If you want to use their parks they sell a daily or yearly pass as well. Just like Parks Canada. Anyway, back to biking and what we did in Montréal.

We chilled. This was our first lengthy stay. While it was full of traffic noise, the site we had was ours. We had trees and water on two sides, other neighbours on the other side and the city of Longueuil on the other side. There were cicadas, mosquitos, ground squirrels, herons, geese, chipmunks, tons of songbirds and gulls, and mostly French Canadian neighbours. Towards the end of our stay a couple from BC showed up. They have been rolling around this continent for the last 7 years with their golf clubs. They were on their way back west after having spent some time in Newfoundland this year. It was their first time to the Sogarive site and they also loved the proximity to downtown Montréal via the ferry. Another family with very young children we met had European licence plates and a website graphic on their RV. Turns out they were from France. He and the RV arrived via freighter. The rest of the family flew over to meet him. They had been travelling around North America for about  three years and planned to return to France later this year, then return to Quebec to live and raise their children. They bought near Quebec City and are anticipating childrearing in Canada with all its open space and freedom. Another bus drove up with a bunch of very well-dressed Gen Xers in it. The bus reminded me of Priscilla; Queen of the Desert (fantastic 80’s Austalian cult flik). Behind this rig was a two-axle enclosed trailer that housed a brand new shiny blue convertible Mustang. While having a beer in Old Montréal at Brewsky’s, another fave, the pretty people in the blue Mustang drove by. The campground was filling up fast but it never completely filled. That night we heard the festivities and electronic music at the Montréal pride celebrations. The next day was the parade but we were leaving. Not sure if that Mustang was part of the parade but it would definitely have been perfect.

One night we went to watch a Roller derby match.

Coach is in a skirt with a beard and a braid. Go Green!!

Elly’s friends are skaters and we were part of the crowd. It was so fun. As a fundraiser to get the elite teams to their matches, there was craft beer for sale. Icy cold for us to enjoy while we cheered the skaters. They are on a small flat track that is nothing like in the movie, Whip It, with the velodrome style banked corners. It is surrounded by chairs where all the spectators can cheer, boo, yell, drink and generally have a great time watching a super-fast sport. Both teams we watched were well matched for talent and the competion was very close and tense.  The teams are female, or whatever you identify as, but predominantly female. And that is all okay. No BS Olympic rules on this one.  The crowd is mixed with lots of LGBTQ2 and families and friends. While both teams were hating each other on the track, they were hugging and sharing stories off the track. The restroom had a “ladies” sign above it, but that meant nothing. On the door to the washroom two genders were identified, both male and female images. Everyone welcome here! The world could learn from Roller derby.

Following that foodless venue, we were hungry.  So, Albert at the wheel, braved the drive across Montréal, on a busy byway, to Orange Julep. We had been avoiding driving those roads but with locals backseat driving, we made it unscathed. This was the original Orange Julius until the franchise took off and these guys kept the name Julep. The Orange is about the size of a 3-story house and it has the orange julep drink on tap through pipelines to each of the different cash stations at the take out windows.

The recipe is basically pulpy orange juice, icing sugar and egg whites. It was very similar to Orange Julius but it did not taste like super sweet powdery drink mix. Taylor, Elly’s partner, bought the 2 litre take home carton. The burgers on the other hand were full of filler and mediocre but a late-night gut bomb that was just fine for the moment. Elly and Taylor had the poutine, of course!! Late night.

One day we went to the Mohawk territory of Kahnawake. This neighbours the towns along the south shores near Montréal. One of our Indigenous students, Laurie, spent her first 18 years there, and she had been in touch with her friends, cousins and relatives to find out if there were some interesting and cultural things happening while we were there. Unfortunately, the PowWow was in July and we were well into August by now.

She said, “you have to eat the cornbread”. So we went into town, stopped at the Tourism Visitors Center and had a good chat with the young man that was staffing the site. He gave us a bag full of pamphlets and things to do, along with historical factual information. After that we headed to the big church next door and the museum that it houses. There is a bit of a love-hate relationship with this church and the story of the Mohawk virgin, Kateri Tekakwitha, who was canonized after numerous miracles attributed to her. Of course, with faith, many will believe the story, and with centuries of distrust and deceptions, many will not. The church and nearby graveyard were named in her memory.

On one side of the church is the road. Along that road are houses built of stone that date back hundreds of years. On the other side of the houses and church is a bike way and a waterway with a long breakwater across from the shoreline wide enough for one freighter. This sacred waterway, was also built along the Kahnawake reserve shoreline, close enough to let those freighters look right in to your bed room and bathroom!!!

When we went to the cultural center, there is a room that is set up as a museum. When we arrived one of the staffers put on a cd for us to listen to while we read the museum walls and displays. There is a poster stating 300 years of resilience at that site. No kidding!! First of all the deception that came with European contact. Then the numerous betrayals and more recently and famously when land was expropriated to build a golf course that created the “Oka Crisis”. The government brought in the military when the Mohawk stood in the way. For a golf course!!! The Mohawk are known for their ability to work at high altitudes without fear.  They have built many of the bridges and skyscrapers throughout the he world. Another one of my students who also came from Kahnawake told me a story of how when they were kids, they would play on the tops of the bridge spires. He said to his dad one day that his stomach would get upset when he was playing on the bridges. His dad laughed “You’re afraid of heights!!”  He got into cooking and last I heard he was still running big camp kitchens in the oil patch. In 1907 one of the bridges that they were working on collapsed and it took 33 of their young men. After that, they never sent that many to work on one project. When the twin towers came down in NYC, the ancestors of the Mohawk who built them returned to assist with the demolition and cleanup of the remaining rubble. In the museum, it was excellent hearing the language pronounced while reading the words that were interspersed into the explanations. We did not see any French language on these museum walls. The two languages that were predominant were the Mohawk language and English. I meant to ask about that. Didn’t. We did ask about cornbread and indigenous foods. It was Wednesday and the cornbread is only on Sundays. We decided to return on our way out of Montreal. The Mohawk were a farming culture. Corn, climbing beans and winter squash were the Three Sister trifecta that was their staple and became the staple of the visitors who landed. As with indigenous cultures throughout North, Central and South America, the process to make corn more digestible and protein rich, was to soak it in lime until the bran layer of the grain would dissolve and digest easily.  When we went for cornbread and steak at Dustin’s in Kahnawake, we were so excited to experience it. The cornbread is like a large patty that is made with the treated corn flour, oatmeal and black beans. The woman making the patties said she “uses masa harina because they go through so many (patties), it is too much work to do the whole process. And anyway, it is very similar. Do you want gravy?” “Sure!”  We ordered two cornbread, steak (T-bone steak!) and gravy.  $19.

The patty was like a heavy tamale. She mixes the masa flour, oatmeal and black beans into a paste, then forms the patties, then I think she steamed them. They taste a bit like a super dense tamale and we love tamales. They are a bit bland, just like all starchy foods, but they are delicious alone or with added sauces like gravy and salsas. Now I have another food from another culture that can be prepared with masa flour. Justifies buying a whole big bag…We could only eat one of the patties, so we wrapped the other one up and had it another day. While the unfair history and resilience it created are truth, we got a sense of positivity and healing in the community. We were obvious outsiders, as we are in Quebec with our BC language and culture, but we were welcomed by friendly proud people just going about their day.

Fully fed and heading out of Montréal/Longueuil, we were destined for Oka “National “ park. We booked a campsite online for 3 nights. Two years ago, when we visited, we stopped at the Abbey where the monks made the famous Oka cheese. We saw some trails beside the “Abbeye” that were for mountain biking and cross-country skiing. This was why we came back. Plus…the cheese…

À la prochaine fois…

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