Walking Outremont’s Parks

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On a warm day—or, even better, on a warm night—I like to walk through Outremont. It’s one of Montreal’s most picturesque boroughs, with streets as orderly and genteel as many of its inhabitants. Like Westmount, Outremont was conceived almost from the beginning as an enclave of the well-to-do. Building codes mandated large setbacks, abundant greenery and the use of high-quality building materials in order to keep housing costs high. Architectural features perceived as unsightly and working-class, like outdoor staircases, were banned.

One happy consequence of all this was that Outremont ended up with a collection of gorgeous city parks unrivalled by any other part of Montreal. The park system was conceived when Outremont boomed in the 1910s. In response to this massive spurt of growth, the town council embarked on a campaign to green the burgeoning suburb, investing $5,415 in tree planting and $14,456 in their maintenance, at a time when the average annual salary of a civil servant was just $1,000. Under the guidance of the engineer Émile Lacroix, landscape architect Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne and the horticulturalist Thomas Barnes, eight parks were built between 1920 and 1930.

Touring these parks is a great way to see Outremont. Since I live on Park Avenue, I usually start my walk from the east, heading down Bernard Street to St. Viateur Park, behind the Cinq Saisons supermarket and the York Apartments. Despite its small size, this is a particularly pleasant park, with some tennis courts, a wide, meandering stream and a white stucco pavilion facing a lagoon. During the day, you will often find kids from the adjacent high school hanging out; at night, when the orangey-yellow light of its interior lights are reflected on the lagoon, the pavilion is sometimes taken over by waltzing middle-aged couples.

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If you head down Bloomfield Street, past the pavilion and and on other side of the high school, you’ll arrive at my favourite park in Outremont, which is named, appropriately enough, Outremont Park. I like it mainly because it seems to represent the ideal neighbourhood park, a lush and lively place with meandering paths, a pond and fountain, a playground always filled with children and a memorial to the sons of Outremont that fell in the two world wars. I sometimes go to read the names inscribed on the monument: Henri Prud’homme, Robert Ussher, Thomas Kerr. Most of them are English, a testament to the large anglophone population that resided in Outremont before World War II.

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This best thing about this park is the people-watching. It seems to attract people from across Mile End and Outremont and it is must more bustling than most of the borough’s other parks. Sit down on one of the benches surrounding the pond and take in the scene: Hasidic Jewish kids running around the playground while their mothers chat; couples lying on blankets spread out across the lawn; curious children staring into the murky pond water. Even after dark, when you would expect a park like this — ringed by stately and imposing houses — to be completely dead, there are still neighbours sitting around gossiping and families playing on the grass.

Leaving Outremont Park, head down the gentle curve of Elmwood Place, where a path leads to a much quieter green space, FX Garneau Park. Here you will find Outremont’s diminutive town hall: keep an eye out for the exclusive scotch bar on the second floor, where disgraced mayor Stéphane Harbour used to invite a few of his colleagues for glasses of taxpayer-funded $1,000 single malt. For the most part, though, it’s a pretty ordinary park, so it’s best to move on to Beaubien Park, one short block away. This spacious park is much larger and more utilitarian than any of the others, with a playing field, a concrete plaza and a large playground. In the summer, a large jet of water blasts out from a fountain near the corner of Côte Ste. Catherine and McEachran.

Walk up McEachran to Bernard, which at this point is a leafy boulevard lined by attractive apartment buildings, and turn left. Two blocks up the hill is Joyce Park, the first of a pair of parks on Outremont’s western border with Côte des Neiges. There’s a small pavilion through which you can pass into an ample playground, which is especially fun at night. Joyce Park is a pleasant though unremarkable place to spend time, but just west of it is the far more intriguing John Pratt Park, a lushly forested, hillside green space with two ponds linked by a bubbling stream. With no playgrounds or lawns, this is probably the least functional of Outremont parks, but it’s the perfect place for quiet reflection, and a good place to end a leisurely stroll.

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Click here to see a map of the walking route described in this article.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Sunday July 20 2008at 11:07 pm , filed under Canada, Heritage and Preservation, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Response to “Walking Outremont’s Parks”

  • This is my bailiwick and my family and I have spent much time in Outremont’s parks. One of the interesting things is the city (now arrondissement) day camp program, begun in the late 1960s long before similar programs in other municipalities. Open to all kids who live in Outremont or go to school here, it became a meeting ground in a time when children were sent to public schools set up on linguistic and/or religious lines, or to the many private schools around. My son made summer-time friends there at age 6 with boys he never went to school with, but who are still his best friends more than 20 years later.

    One small quibble, Chris, however. Outremont’s city hall is on the corner of Cote Saint Catherine and Davaar, on the west side of Parc Beaubien. The little building next to Parc FX Garneau is an old house that is privately owned.

    Feels nearly as muggy as Hong Kong this morning, BTW.

    Bonne chance

    Mary