Archive for July, 2007

I’ve heard it called the falaise St. Jacques, the St. Jacques escarpement and even the St. Jacques cliff. Just to confuse things, the group behind the proposal to turn the former Turcot Yards into Parc Lac à la loutre (Otter Lake Park) has taken to calling it the “Falaises Saint-Pierre,” a name La Presse repeated on the weekend.

The group has a map here that shows what it would like to see done with Turcot. The proposal would plow over parts of the falaise and cut it off from the planned park.

It proposes moving Highway 20 and remaining Canadian National train tracks to the foot of the falaise, leaving more room for the park and other developments. It also suggests cutting into the falaise to make way for roads, including one that would link Cavendish to the 20.


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A reader wrote in to suggest I explore the falaise using Microsoft’s Visual Earth 3D (beta), which lets you look at aerial photos from an angle.

It gives an interesting perspective, with Mount Royal in the background and the Lachine canal in the foreground.  You can also see the former Turcot and Glen yards. That X at the bottom isn’t an airport, it’s Carrefour Angrignon (which, come to think of it, does feel like an airport hangar).


You’ll have to install Virtual Earth 3D first. Go to Live Search Maps and click “Install free!” (it’s for Windows users only, of course). Once you have it installed, click here to take a look at the map at the angle I set it at above. You’ll be able to zoom in and out and roam around.

If you don’t want to install it or you have a Mac, click on the map above to take a look at a bigger version of the photo.

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I got an email about the falaise from the guy who runs Cycle Fun Montreal.

Here it is:

“You might want to show a picture of the lake that used to be here or around here in the preindustrial past. I’ve seen it in at least one local history book.

My own interest would be to create Montreal’s first legal off-road bicycle trail along here. Tens of thousands of people with mountain bikes, and not a single off-road trail on the island. I am aware of the multi-user (pedestrians vs cyclists) conflicts this would create, and would hope for once that we could use some education to help both sides get along. Creating separate bicycle and pedestrian trails would be a good start.

Nice Blog.”

I haven’t seen any pictures of Otter Lake. Anybody know of one available online or in a history book?

As for mountain bike trails, I’m not sure there would be room for two trails. I don’t know much about mountain biking. Wouldn’t mountain bikes be rough on the escarpment?

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I got a couple of wonderful emails from reader Dan J. Sullivan about what the area (particularly what is now de Maisonneuve Blvd. and the St. Raymond neighbourhood) was like in the 1940s and 1950s.


His first email:

“Great article. As yet I have not read the blog. As kid growing up in N.D.G. our thrill was to ride our bikes along (what is now de Maisonneuve Blvd), often a daring issue. Their then (1945-60) were some internecine wars between teenagers of different ethnic backgrounds.”


I asked for more details about the trail and the wars and he obliged:

“Herewith my best recollections:


This is the recollection of a retired legal professional 70+ grandfather and victim of marbles no longer as round or as sound as yesteryear. As a kid who grew up in N.D.G. on Marcil Ave. north of Monkland along with chaps the likes of which Bill Shatner, Gerald Clarke (Montreal Star), Martin Goodman (The Toronto Star), Brahm Gelfand (QC) we never thought of going below the tracks… Mon Dieu.

However, when the devil made us do it we would go (today we call it going slumming) down across Sherbrooke St and over Western Ave. (now de Maisonneuve Blvd). There was a narrow trail against the fence. The said trail would be a challenge in that it was truly very narrow and at times steep so that one could easily lose one’s balance fall close to tracks. In the event that one maneuvered through this stretch the trail meandered away from the railway into other thrills i.e. downhill into a hobo-jungle. Curiosity never led us past Montreal West.


The northern part of the tracks (a social class division used at the time) consisted, in current terminology, of “francos” and “anglos,” whilst on the southern border a lived a large contingent of first and second generation Italians.

Fixed times for a rumble would be negotiated and the two camps, armed with bats, several letter soles glued or nailed together were used for a show of strength.

These “meetings” were usually conducted in the aforementioned area (hobo-jungle) at very nocturnal hours. Since I never was invited to participate nor that I sought that experience I am unable to report what were the short or long term results of these moments in a boy’s life. Perhaps it was training for professional business careers not requiring an MBA from Harvard.


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 A reader emailed to say those pipes sticking out of the ground on the falaise are probably “for decontamination testing. They take a core sample and leave the vent pipe to mark the spot…”

Which makes more sense than what I thought: that they were vents of some sort.

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After my article about the falaise ran in The Gazette, I got an email from John Fretz, who has done some very interesting research into the St. Pierre River (the pdf is here, on the Green Coalition website).

Fretz helped fill in a few of the gaps in my falaise research:

* Fossils and calcium deposits confirm the falaise is a geological formation dating back to the Champlain Sea, he writes.

* Otter Lake definately graced the location of the Turcot interchange. “It exists on early maps of the city easily available at Westmount Library,” Fretz says. “In fact, there is a park of that name in French at the bottom of Coursol Avenue (Lansdowne), far away from the Turcot. It relates to the St. Pierre River. The last tributary of that stream flows through Meadowbrook Golf Course.”

* In the story, I mentioned I didn’t meet much wildlife. “Try early morning, or late afternoon,” he writes. “Foxes and coyotes have been spotted in the Glen Yards before the devastation.”

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