Route Verte Through Big Cities and Countryside
The route from the West Island of Montreal to Quebec City teems with pleasant choices for cyclists beginning an eight-day cruise through the heartland of the province. Should we ride slowly and enjoy the vast expanse of gorgeous waterfront through Lachine or should we pick up the pace in order to cover the 90 kilometres to reach our planned destination in leafy Lanoraie down the St. Lawrence River at a decent hour later in the day.
Should we take the Riverside Path along the St. Lawrence River for a close-up view of the mighty Lachine Rapids, one of the most stirring sights in Montreal?
Or should we ride the path along the Lachine Canal, the busiest cycling route in Canada?
It’s the first day of a trip covering 800 kilometres along the Route Verte cycling network, hailed as one of the best in the world, through the two largest cities in Quebec and some of the province’s best scenery including the flat farmland on the shores of the river and the rolling hills of the Eastern Townships.
Yes, we have some tough decisions to make, but with good planning, we’ll be able to see all the sights we want.
View map of our trip here:
We are six on bikes and we start off in Pointe Claire pedaling east along Lakeshore Rd. through the old village of Dorval and into Lachine with its several kilometres of waterfront open to the St. Lawrence River. It’s so popular that two paths have been built, one for people on wheels, including cyclists, and the other for joggers and walkers. To keep things under control, the maximum speed limit is posted at 20 km/h.
The wide waterfront park has glorious views of the river (called Lac St. Louis here) with its marina full of pleasure craft and beautifully restored homes, some dating back to the early 1700s.
We pass the old fur-trading museum, a tribute to the industry, which played a big role in driving the Canadian economy in the 1700s and 1800s and the exploration of much of the North American continent as far as the Arctic and Pacific oceans. It was here that the big canoes laden with supplies headed out after the spring ice break-up to the Great Lakes, returning with furs packed to the gunwales. Some of the furs travelled thousands of kilometres from as far away as the Athabaska region of northern Alberta.
Soon we come to an intersection at the east end of Lachine. If you go straight, you take the Riverside Path, but we turn left for the path along the canal built in the 1820s to allow ships to bypass the treacherous Lachine Rapids.
The canal, abandoned at the end of the 1950s, was replaced by the much larger St. Lawrence Seaway on the other side of the river. The canal, subsequently ignored and neglected, became a sometime repository of cars containing bodies whacked in gangland hits. But the Lachine Canal bike path changed all that bringing thousands of people back to the area and leading the charge in the rejuvenation of old industrial buildings and residential neighborhoods. The canal was also cleaned up and pleasure boats can cruise from one end to the other.
We roll past the Atwater Market, a good stopping point for coffee and pastry, arriving in Old Montreal and the Old Port, which attract hordes of people. One of the sights is Pointe-à-Callière Museum featuring the history of Montreal. Sieur de Maisonneuve landed here in 1642 to establish a French settlement. The crowds slow us down as we ease our way along the bike path until we reach Notre Dame St. East.
From there, it’s clear cycling through the east end of Montreal to the Le Gardeur Bridge and on to Highway 138 where the countryside begins.
After rolling along the shoulder of Highway 138, we arrive at the Motel Villa d’Autray in Lanoraie for our first night on the road. So far, we have been travelling on Route Verte 5 and will continue to do so until Quebec City.
Built in the 1730s to link Montreal and Quebec during the reign of Louis XV of France, Highway 138 is the oldest in Canada and is known as the Chemin du Roy (King’s Road). The bike path meanders away from the highway on occasion through verdant farm country with well maintained French-Canadian style cottages, some of them dating back to the French regime.
There is a peaceful beauty in the fields coming alive with stalks of corn and other crops early in the summer. My friend Mark Mahoney remarks that Quebec has staked out the best part of the country on the banks of the St. Lawrence River – the cradle of Canada.
We end our second day at the Motel Le Marquis in Cap de la Madeleine that is run by a congenial Swiss couple, Claudine Groux and Olivier Corthésy. Along with a secure room where we can lock our bikes, they provide us with a superb breakfast the next morning.
We also meet half a dozen workers from Ontario who are at the motel. They transport windmill components made in Trois-Rivières to Maine where they are assembled to become part of the electricity grid.
The next morning we don our rain gear and pedal for several hours arriving in St. Augustin de Desmaures as the skies begin to clear.
We stay at Hotel-Motel Le Gite on Hamel Blvd. in Quebec Cirty, not far from the Quebec Bridge which we will take us across the St. Lawrence. But Autoroute 73 is too busy and off-limits for cycling so Bob Johnston maps out a route of 20 kilometres through the western suburbs of the city to the bike path on the bridge.
It’s my turn to drive the support van and I decide to park it at the entrance to a farm field near St. Agapit so I can take photos as the guys pass an old yellow farmhouse.
But I miss the picture because of incorrect camera settings and then the van gets stuck in the soft earth as I try to turn around.
Thankfully, a neighbor, Pierre Rochette, spots my predicament and walks over with two steel tracks. We place them under the front wheels and they do the job to get me out of the mud allowing me to continue, following the linear park.
When I stop to take another picture as the cyclists pedal by, a little boy from a nearby house asks me to fix his friend’s bike. I enlist the help of Mike Robbins and he puts the chain back on the tiny bike.
In this part of the world, everyone lends a helping hand.
We spend the night at Hotel Le Victorin in Victoriaville and move on to Lennoxville the next day where we stay in cramped rooms in a residence at Bishop’s University. But the price is right at $20 a person.
To my mind, the most spectacular view comes the next day as I leave Ste. Catherine de Hatley after a long climb to the village which sits high on a hill. The panoramic scene of the Eastern Townships with Mount Orford in the distance is amazing and I reach 62 km/h going downhill on Highway 108.
We join Highway 112 at Magog and stay the night at Hotel Castel in Granby.
The next day we cycle on the paved shoulder of Highway 112 to Rougement where we jump on the bike path not wanting to take any risks on the road with unpaved shoulders.
When the path joins the highway again at the Richelieu River, we turn toward St. Jean riding through heavy rain on the Chambly Canal bike path immediately adjacent to Highway 223.
Passing vehicles throw up walls of water at us and as I motion to a driver to slow down, he gives me the finger.
We make it to 80-room Auberge Harris in a soggy state, but in one piece and owner Françoise Boucher-Boutin, who has been promoting cycling in the Montérégie and the Lake Champlain area for 30 years, tells me that 40 per cent of her revenue comes from cyclists.
On our last day, we follow the well marked path of Route Verte No. 1 through the South Shore reaching Champlain College in St. Lambert in the rain and after a couple of flats. Then it’s on to the Seaway path, the Icebreaker Bridge (Estacade), the Riverside Path before gliding home to Pointe Claire safe and sound.