Although I wish I were athletic, playing outdoors still remains a big lie for me. I prefer lying on the grass and reading for an entire afternoon, listening to my iPod. Here’s a list of my Top 5 parks in Montréal where you can chill out on a lazy summer afternoon.
Click HERE to see the Flickr photo series set in Montreal’s best public parks.
1. Parc Lafontaine
One of Montreal’s biggest public parks, Parc Lafontaine is an oasis right in the middle of the action – between Rachel and Sherbrooke Street from north to south, and Papineau on the eastern end. It’s a very peaceful spot for those who like to read, but it also offers a large variety of sports and activities, including pétanque, the French equivalent to bacci ball. But if you’re more of the quiet type like me, pick up Nikolski, by Nicolas Dickner, a young and talented Montreal writer. Nikolski follows the journey of three characters who meet as they return to Montreal at the end of the 1980s, and don’t quite know how to find happiness. We follow them for more than ten years in their quest for identity and memory throughout the city.
2. Parc du Mont-Royal
It’s almost impossible not to mention Parc du Mont-Royal, the city’s equivalent to Central Park (actually, it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also created New York’s Central Park). Within 15 minutes from downtown, but isolated on the top of a hill, it takes you completely away from the city’s noise. While some people come here to jog, I think it’s the perfect spot to read Aurora Montrealis, a collection of 27 short stories written by Monique Proulx. Whether she writes about a South American boy who snow falling for the first time, or a homeless person celebrating in his own way the victory of the Canadiens when they win the Stanley Cup, Monique Proulx’s writing is both sensible and intimate, as she makes you discover the city through the eyes of its residents.
3. Parc Outremont
This is the best kept secret in Montreal: Parc Outremont isn’t that big of a park, and it welcomes Mile-End indie students studying outdoors and their quiet neighbours, mostly Hassidic Jews bringing their kids to the playground. Get a tasty ice cream or sorbet at Bilboquet on Bernard Avenue, and then walk a few streets down to find this green space set in the middle of beautiful Victorian houses. As a recommended read, I suggest Vaudeville!, by Gaétan Soucy, an experimental writer who’s been hailed as “one of the best French-language novelists today” according to Le Monde. Follow Xavier, a Hugarian immigrant who learns how to become a demolisher, with the help of a little frog coming straight from classic American cartoons.
4. Parc Laurier
The east end of Laurier Street still feels like an old city neighbourhood, with a handful of bakeries, cafés and shops where the regulars visit weekly. In the heart of this French district is the Parc Laurier, an amazing place for picnics on Sunday afternoon. Bring Wild to Mild, by Réjean Ducharme, who explores the wicked lives of a couple hiding at home, living through the eyes of two successful artists instead of following the political, social and cultural events that link them to the outside world. A sharp and cynical writing that’s proved to be one of the most important voices in Quebec’s literature, even thirty-something years after its initial publication.
5. Square Saint-Louis
At the epicentre of Montreal’s most underrated places for taking a break from normal life is Square Saint-Louis. This is where all the most important cultural figures of Québec’s history used to live, near Laval Avenue. It’s Montreal’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés; a district dedicated to political, social and cultural debate, where cafés used to be packed with writers, dancers and activists. And since it’s so close to Saint-Denis Street and the Latin Quarter, you should come here to read The Complete Poems of Émile Nelligan (by Émile Nelligan) and The March to Love: Selected Poems of Gaston Miron (by Gaston Miron) both who profoundly shook the world of letters with their dark, poignant poetry, either in the beginning of the 20th century, or right after Quebec’s Quiet Revolution.
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