In years past, when considering their options for a nautical experience, it would have been fairly safe to wager that most Montrealers wouldn’t have chosen a mostly landlocked, formerly industrial area of town at one time best known for its crumbling factories. But now, courtesy of H2O Adventures, situated on the tree-lined shore of the historic Lachine Canal, the safe bet for waterborne fun is indeed just west of Old Montreal and mere steps south of the bustling Atwater Market…
Feel like kayaking with 29 of your best friends? H2O Adventures – situated midway between the Charlevoix and Lionel-Groulx metro stations – have over 30 different kayaks of varying descriptions, both solo and tandem, at the ready. Pedal-boating more your speed? Both two-and four-seaters are primed for your pleasure craftiness. And if the sporting part of watersports doesn’t float your boat, the truly leisurely inclined can take a load off in the larger electric-powered boats, which can seat up to five comfortably and don’t require much beyond a steady hand to operate.
For hands-on fun, the kayaks are hard to beat. Close to the water and easy to manoeuvre, the fast kayaks make for brisk solo boating, and you can cover a lot of water in a short period of time. A good thing, because there’s a lot of water there to be covered: a 3-km stretch between locks 3 and 4 (there are 5 sets of locks along the 15-km Lachine Canal) is set aside for H2O use.
The electric boats offer a more laidback kind of buoyancy ideally suited for taking in the unique surroundings (pedestrian footbridges and old train bridges cross overhead at several points, while ducks, heron, beaver and range of fish are among the wildlife that is easily observable). But be warned: taking a NASCAR approach to the boat’s steering will only find you careening full-speed back into the dock – under the withering gaze of the H2O employee who just warned you not to do exactly that – you just departed from. A subtle steering touch and the patience to let the rudder do its job will get you where you want to go.
Lined on both sides by scenic bike paths and boardwalks, the Lachine Canal is a study in urban revitalisation. Opened in 1825, the Canal was cut through the southern part of the island of Montreal so that merchant mariners weren’t obliged to shoot the rapids of the St. Lawrence River that surrounds it.
For 145 years, boats snaked through the narrow canal. And then the tiny waterway became a victim of its own success, no longer able to support the immense amount of shipping attempting to squeeze through it. The St. Lawrence Seaway was built instead, and in 1970 the Lachine Canal was closed for business. Then some three decades later, after much in the way of clean-up and new construction along its shores, the spirit of re-creation has helped develop a network for recreation, and H2O Adventures were quick to participate.
“H2O Adventures started in 1996, and originally it was a kayaking school out of Hudson,” explains H2O co-owner and general manager Marc Bartschat. “But by about 2004, when the Canal re-opened for recreational traffic, we resettled on the Lachine Canal.”
In the years since the company has picked up no less than three Tourism Quebec awards for its efforts. “They’re all awards in eco-tourism and adventure tourism,” says Bartschat. “The first one that we won was for the eco-friendly electric boats – they emit no pollution at all. Being eco-friendly has always been a core value of our business.”
And it’s a business that’s sees consistent growth year over year, though this year Bartschat notes that there’s been a fairly dramatic increase in user traffic, due as much to reasons meteorological as increased exposure. “We’ve been featured in the Fodor’s and Lonely Planet guide books, as well as on a number of Quebec television shows, The New York Times and The Gazette. But it’s also obviously been the weather – it’s been sunny almost every single day this year.”
H20 Adventures, 2985 B St-Patrick, (514) 842-1306/1-877-935-2925