The urbanist in me can never pass up a chance to wander through industrial areas of a city or along a canal. Mont Royal may be the traditional nature moment for anyone visiting Montreal, but Lachine Canal offered a chance for a long stroll along a nice waterway, while taking in the industrial past of the City.
The canal was the port of entry that connected Montreal to the Atlantic. In its heyday, during the turn of the 20th century, the canal helped make Montreal the center of manufacturing for Eastern Canada. But, like most canals, it ultimately fell out of need and by 1970 it had fallen into disuse and was closed.
We started our trip along Lachine Canal near Atwater Market by crossing over an exposed and still used pair of railroad tracks—a train had zipped by about twenty minutes earlier—and then over a copper stained bridge to a non-mainland island of Montreal. Walking along the canal you could still see the signs of the industrial age in the nearby buildings—giant warehouses either sitting vacant or more commonly being converted into ritzy apartments.
With towpaths well maintained and little pocket parks along the way—part of a revitalization project that’s been underway since the 1990s—we passed cyclists and joggers, people walking their dogs, but few tourists. In some ways it reminded me of places in New York like Gowanus or Long Island City—neighborhoods with canals and waterways that thrived during the Industrial era. All now seeing a comeback, as old buildings are converted into luxury apartments and vacant land is being built up—providing high-end living next to places to get outdoors. The one difference being pollution. Either it’s not as publicized or the industries that used Lachine were not as pollutant, because you don’t hear or see signs of contamination in the water, it looks and smells clean.
Rejuvenation of Lachine is still underway. The waterway reopened to boats (for pleasure only) in 2002 and the City, as well as private businesses are currently spending millions of dollars to restore the canal and provide education about its history.