Labrador Caravan

June 11, 2007. Montreal

Montreal was the first stop on the caravan. The first time I was there, I was on my first big excursion, by train from Washington DC to Montreal and then across Canada to Vancouver. I was still a teen-ager, though barely – I turned twenty on the train somewhere in Alberta – and I stomped around the city with my backpack and stayed in the youth hostel. Subsequent stops in Montreal were professional – to work with a Quebecois consulting firm who later sent me to China in the early 1990s, for a conference in 1996, a job interview in 2001. The city has a wonderful reputation, but I’ve never quite felt its charms. Maybe I’m spoiled by cities, having grown up in New York? Last summer when I came through this way I didn’t stop in Montreal at all, just sped past it and on up the St. Lawrence.

Perhaps that wasn’t fair, though. It is a proper city, after all, with a busy downtown, an old neighborhood filled with touristy restaurants and shops, a park along the river where you can roller blade or rent pedal boats, a mountain in the middle of town with hiking trails and splendid views of the city, a range of quiet residential neighborhoods and universities. It has its ethnic character; on one of my trips I had splendid pastrami – “smoked meat,” as they call it – in a deli on one of the city’s. And on a break from that conference in 1996 I visited a lovely natural history museum in a Montreal park, with re-creations of all of Canada’s major ecoregions. My favorite was the St. Lawrence

region, complete with rocks, salt water, fish and, more interestingly, diving ducks kicking their webbed feet forcefully as they glided under the water. In fact, that exhibition was one more thing that sparked my interest in eastern Canada; I wanted to be in those big expanses of rock and gray river and cloudy sky filled with ducks and fish.

And I did a reasonable job of being a tourist this time. I walked along the shore of the St. Lawrence and looked across at Buckminster Fuller’s huge geodesic dome and Moshe Safdie’s modular apartment complex, Habitat, both constructed for the 1967 World’s Fair. I wrote a paper about that fair when I was in elementary school, and those buildings are permanently etched in my memory. I stopped in at a “eco-fest” set up in tents in the riverside park, filled with demonstrations of green technology and exhortations to “reduce, reuse, recycle.” I climbed to the top of a watchtower, surveyed the river and the city, and enjoyed the breezes between the bars of

its open windows. I braved unseasonable heat to climb to the top of the mountain and enjoy the views of the city from a splendid terrace that would have been delightful if it hadn’t been in full sun.

And then I found my way across the river to Longeuil to meet up with Phil and Kim at the garage of Ben Huot, one of the vanagon community’s more notable characters. Ben directed us to a campground on the river near his home, with woodchucks lumbering through the woods and, more alarmingly, skunks lingering under the picnic table dining on our scraps. But the skunks left us alone, and in the morning the view across the river to the city was lovely. It looked like a good start to the caravan.

Continue to next entry.
Return to the menu.

Unless otherwise indicated, all text and photos
on this page © Joy E. Hecht.