From River to Mountain

La Promende Fleuve-Montagne” (The River-Mountain Promenade) was one of several gifts from outgoing mayor Denis Coderre to himself. A very expensive present, mind you ($55.3 million according to the Montreal Gazette). Paid for with tax payers’ money, and me being one of those aforementioned taxpayers, I reckoned I technically owned at least half a paving stone in this venture. So, I thought I’d better go and check it out.

For better or worse, I’ve long since fallen in love with this city, and this promenade – no matter how conceited – does a good job of showing off the town centre’s many different flavours. If you’ve never visited Montreal, or are thinking about it, I hope this photo-journal will reveal some of its charms to you.

This photo journal is split into the following sections as I took the path from the St Lawrence river at Montreal’s Old Port all the way up to the mountain’s base:

  • Old Port & Old Town
  • Financial District
  • Central Downtown
  • Sherbrooke and McGill University
  • The Mountain

Old Port & Old Town

The most tourist-centric part of this venture, the additions to both the Old Port and Old Town consist mainly of directional arrows attached to lampposts and marker posts along the way. The older part of the city is perhaps already charming enough in its own right, so the changes were minimal.

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During the warmer months, you’ll find ad-hoc music performances in random places.
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Curiously, The Old Port has an active freight line running though it, although you’ll rarely see a train during daylight hours.
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Habitat 67, either one of Montreal’s architectural gems, or a brutalist Rubik’s cube gone wrong – depending on whom you ask.
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As a Londoner, it always brings me joy to our old Routemaster buses alive and well. Some of them still have original London destinations showing on the front.
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Follow the yellow upwards pointing arrow to get to the mountain…
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… And follow the downwards pointing blue arrows to reach the river.
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Because it’s Montreal, there can’t not be construction somewhere en-route.
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Did I mention the construction?

Financial District

Leaving the Old Town, the path brings you onto McGill Avenue and then takes you North into Victoria Square. This part of the City is home to a number of banking institutions, and it shows in the up-market restaurants and impressive looking buildings.

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Montreal isn’t a high-rise city like barely neighbouring Toronto. What sky-scrapers it does have aren’t allowed to exceed the height of Mont-Royal, the almost-mountain in the heart of the city.
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Lots of tall buildings.
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What’s colloquially known as a “scramble crossing”. More of these please!
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Along with the signposts, another quirk of this promenade are these random painted squares on various crossings, to guide you along the route. I think they look crap, but what do you think?
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Up! I must be going up!
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A monument to Queen Victoria and occasional flashpoint of controversy with separatists.
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Lots of banks have their presences in this part of town.
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Montreal’s first (and currently only) electric bus. Easily spotted by its green colour, it patiently charges by the square before toddling off to the city’s South-West boroughs. More of these too please!
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Queen Victoria again, centre point of the square named after her.
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I love this. The entrance to Square-Victoria Metro station is in Parisian-style, with the placard donated to Montreal by Paris. More about this here.
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The lunchtime vibe can be quite animated.
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Beaver Hall, a hill made famous on YouTube.
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Anyone for some Art Deco?

Central Downtown

In the retail heart of downtown, tourists and workers rub shoulders. This is where most visitors end up for shopping, eating and drinking activities.

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Montreal wouldn’t be Montreal without its endless parades of traffic cones.
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We reach Square Phillips in all its grimy glory.
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The Bay, Canada’s premier department store (or at least, maybe its oldest)
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The church on this corner sits on top of one of many underground shopping malls and the massive underground city.
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Another shot of The Bay, clad in its red brick.
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La Cathédrale Christ Church, juxtaposed with the shiny KPMG Tower behind it.
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Grubby Rue Sainte-Catherine. There’s currently a big project underway to rejuvenate this congested shopping artery.
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Another crossing, with faded markings intended to direct people along the route.
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As we look up McGill College Avenue, we get our first glimpse of Montreal’s renowned “mountain”. In front of it: The campus of McGill University.
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Along this section of McGill College Avenue, there are herbs which you can help yourself to. I’m not sure how the taste would be affected by the local car pollution though.
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Information displays along the way evoke the nostalgia of Expo 67.
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We take a glance back down McGill College. The herb gardens are punctuated with decking and seating.
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Along the way, these labels are pasted to the ground.
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The air is starting to get a bit thin.

Sherbrooke and McGill University

Now the route takes us down Sherbrooke Street, resplendent with its parade of world flags. Paralleling McGill University campus, it takes you through a thoroughly redeveloped and pedestrianized McTevish Street.

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Interspersed with the international flags, you’ll also find the flags of the Canadian provinces and territories.
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Pretty much every country has its flag accounted for.
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An interesting group of sculptures on the McGill University campus, which I call “Philosophers Contemplate Laxatives”.
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The flag of Brexit.
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This is probably where most of the money went, but it’s very nice.
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Branding.
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I believe most of this street consists of university buildings.
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The mountain is getting closer…
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… and then you turn around.
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True heroes of Montreal.
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The closer you get to the top, the closer to nature you feel.
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Looking back down again, we’re almost at the top!
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Eastern Downtown. The higher you go, the more impressive the views become.
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This is it! We’re at the end. What comes next?

The Mountain

When I arrived at the end of the walk, the City had a representative stopping people to offer information and leaflets. Having a quick chat with them, they appeared surprised when I told them I’d just completed the full route (maybe they were surprised people were doing it up-hill instead of down?). Asking me what I thought, I reported that although I’d enjoyed it and was admittedly impressed with a couple of the sections, my cynicism towards that current current spendthrift administration made me think instead about things like the lack of investment in my own neighbourhood, for which there’s somehow never enough money to properly improve. So, I replied by saying I wish the money had been spent on things which were actually needed. In return, I received a shrug. Guess we were on the same page.

And onwards and upwards I went. Even though the path officially ends on Pine Avenue, you can continue up the mountain to the main summit. Quite why they didn’t include the full route up to the summit in the path, I don’t know. But regardless, the views at the top were typically spectacular.

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If you continue up these steps, you’ll end up at the mountain’s summit…
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… There are a lot of steps in all! You’ll often see McGill students using them to exercise as they make runs up and down these multitudes of staircases.
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Almost at the top! Looking East out towards the Jacques Cartier Bridge.
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Classic Downtown view. Almost every postcard and Instagram post will be from this exact angle. None of the skyscrapers are built taller than the mountain’s peak. Whilst this may make them look stunted compared to what you’d see in places like Toronto or New York City, they do preserve the view from this point. (note there are other lookouts, but they take more effort to find.)
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Looking South-East from the summit.

A Political Path

Having walked the path, I came away somewhat less cynical than I’d started. It was clear a lot of thought had gone into parts of the walk, especially the flags on Sherbrooke and the pedestrianisation of McTavish. Other areas along the route seemed to be left strangely untouched, in particular the shabby area around Philips Square and St Catherine.

Of course this project, amongst others, contributed to the downfall of Mayor Denis Coderre. A showpiece aimed at tourists and part of a huge influx of money into a single borough as opposed to a sensible and fair distribution of City funds. And so, while Downtown continued to see massive investment in vanity projects during 2017, the rest of the town was left to languish. As I stood at the top of the walk admiring the view of this marvellous city from the foot of its mountain, I was left wondering if the rest of Montreal would ever be shown this much love.

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