Weekend Getaway

Saint-ours combines history and fun in a national park setting

By Jason Santerre

Summer. Around here, it’s just another word for thawing wintry bones and getting back to nature. Luckily, the island of Montreal is surrounded by trees, lakes, rivers, and rolling hills — nature in its many incarnations.

One of those picturesque spots is the Saint-Ours Canal National Park. Never heard of it? You’re not alone. Which is strange. Not only is Saint-Ours a unique nook of natural beauty complete with roiling river, foliage, and tales from our province’s past, it’s just an hour’s drive from the city.

And most of that hour on the road is fun. Indeed, most of the trip follows the Chemin des Patriotes. Route 133 was given the moniker to commemorate the Rebellion des Patriotes in 1837. The pothole-free road (it’s true!) shoulders the Richelieu River all the way while offering great views of the water and numerous options for enjoyable pit stops. Stop for a casse-croute poutine (only if it’s cheat day), peruse antique shops, or enjoy a stroll among the boutique-lined streets of Chambly.

Once you get to the Saint-Ours Canal, you and the family have many options for exploring, but history is definitely the menu’s main course. Opened in 1849, the Saint-Ours Canal was a major hub along the Richelieu River. The local economy was humming. It was due, in large part, to this inland system and trade route linking Montreal and New York via Lake Champlain and the Richelieu and Hudson rivers. Barges laden with wood and coal passed back and forth between nations on a regular basis.

More recent was the construction of the Vianney-Legendre fish ladder in 2001. Parks Canada took on the mission of stabilizing the fish populations, including the yellow sturgeon, copper redhorse, and American eel. Good thing, too, since a stable fish population helped boost the surrounding ecosystem. Today, the national historic site is not only a history buff’s prime destination, it’s perfect for nature lovers, too.

Indeed, Parks Canada and the Friends of the Saint-Ours Canal offer a memorable summer destination for families who don’t have the time or resources to travel too far from the city. Picnic along the river or explore the superintendent's house. Take in the exhibit displaying the site’s rich history. Or simply follow the lush, wooded paths scented with red and white pine trees. Kids will enjoy spotting the fish crossing the dam by watching them through a specially fitted window that allows a glimpse into the water gushing past.

Make the most of it all by staying overnight in an oTENTik — a cross between a tent and an A-frame cabin. The Parks Canada abode offers a blend of homey comfort with an outdoorsy sense of the rustic. It’s perfect for family getaways or a couple to enjoy nature without roughing it too much. For all of the details, visit www.pc.gc.ca and enter keyword “Saint-Ours.”


Summer 2017, Vol 9 N°3

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