After a sumptuous lunch, we walked down to the Vieux Port (Old Port) of Montreal to embark on our cruise boat – Le Beteau Mouche – meaning ‘The Riverboat.’ This 50 passenger boat is 37meter long and 7meter wide with two decks. The terrace on top as well as the two decks offer a panoramic view of Montreal. The Old Port stands at the very spot where the City of Montréal was founded.
The Old Port like most ancient docks around the world fell into decay, but today, thanks to the Old Port of Montréal Corporation, one can stroll, cycle, skate, rollerblade and eat along the waterfront. Today the port is the starting point for many vessels offering a cruise on the Saint Lawrence River.
Our boat cast off from the Old Port at 3 pm on its journey up North, and under the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. This steel truss cantilever bridge with a five-lane highway is 3,425.6 meter long, across the Saint Lawrence River and allows access to Saint Helena’s Island. Originally named the Montreal Harbour Bridge (pont du Havre), it was renamed in 1934 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s first voyage up the Saint Lawrence River.
As we steamed out of the port, we came to the Clock Tower, a 45 metres tall structure. It marks the entrance to the port and is a memorial to the sailors lost at sea in wartime. The clock is still said to be extremely precise with its legendary accuracy. The clock’s mechanism was made in England by Gillett and Johnston and is a replica of Big Ben in London. The Clock Tower was the port’s time keeper in an era when wrist watches were not common.
Past the Clock tower is the Molson Brewery, a relic of the glorious industrial past of Montreal. In 1782, at the age of 18, John Molson sailed on a leaking ship from England to Canada, with a thirst for a better beer in a new country. In 1786, he founded the Molson Brewery, the oldest brewery in North America, and subsequently, Canada’s second oldest company (the oldest company is Hudson’s Bay Company established in 1670). Through expansion and rebuilding after Montreal’s Great Fire of 1852, the facility still stands in its original location. John Molson who also built the first steamship and the first public railway in Canada, was a president of the Bank of Montreal, and he also established a hospital, a hotel, and a theatre in Montreal.
This is the entrance to the 306-kilometer long Saint Lawrence Seaway between Montreal and Lake Ontario, built in the 1950s. It stands as a symbol of challenging engineering feats in history. The seaway consists of seven locks – five Canadian and two US – in order to lift vessels 75 meters above sea level as they transit from Montreal to Lake Ontario. Opening of the seaway diminished the importance of the Montreal Port as ocean going ships could now traverse through the Great Lakes and there was no requirement of offloading Great Lakes going smaller vessels from ocean going larger ones.
As we touched the Northern tip of Saint Helena’s Island, we saw La Ronde (Round)- Quebec’s biggest amusement park with more than 40 rides and attractions. It was built as the entertainment complex for Expo 67. (More about Expo 67 in a subsequent post.)
We then sailed to Habitat 67, a much sought after residential complex in Montreal. It is considered an architectural landmark and one of the most recognisable and spectacular buildings in Montreal. This housing complex was designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie as part of his Master’s thesis in architecture at McGill University and then built as a pavilion for Expo 67.
We then came to Silo Number 5 and the boat took a turn on its return trip. It was in 1906 that Silo Number 5, formerly known as Elevator B, came into operation. At that time Montreal Port was known as a hub of the grain trade in North America. It was built with brick and non-combustible materials to avoid the risk of explosions due to grain dust. Grain dust which is highly combustible can form explosive clouds. A fire or an explosion can happen at a large grain-handling facility if accidentally ignited. The Silo consists of three distinct parts linked together by aerial galleries. Its floating elevators allowed offloading of grain from the holds of smaller lake going ships and the simultaneous loading of trans-Atlantic vessels without ever coming into contact with the quays. Disused since 1994, the site is today plagued by vandalism and graffiti.
As the boat turned around we could see Bota Bota Spa. Located on a ship anchored in the Old Port of Montreal, Bota Bota, offers its passengers the healing benefits of a spa while being lulled by the natural movements of the St Lawrence River. Bota Bota consists of five decks, a floating terrace, restaurant, and a modern garden area which houses the various spa installations.
The Sixty-minute cruise on the Saint Lawrence River was educative and comfortable. It is surely one of the best ways to learn more about Montreal as an island. Our tour guide gave very many details of all landmarks as we cruised along. We were amused by many of her fun facts, trivia and anecdotes.