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Lachine Rapids and Walking Tours in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Jet Boating the Lachine Rapids in Montreal

I’ve worn more fetching outfits than this, that’s for sure: a purple plastic jumpsuit over a thick wool sweater and topped by an orange life-vest. Worse than the look, however, is the sensation of being about to melt into my black rubber bootees. “This kit is not to keep you dry,” says our instructor, “for you will get wet. It’s to keep you warm.” What can he mean?

Twenty minutes later, as the first huge wave crashes over us and soaks us to the skin, I know what he means. For the next half hour we squeal with exhilaration – and some trepidation – as we pitch and spin through white water rapids with names like Hawaii Five-0, the Rollercoaster, and, most alarmingly, The Toilet Bowl.

“Over there,” adds our guide, “is a whirlpool so strong that it can suck you down and hold you under even with a life jacket on. If we hadn’t been holding tight before we certainly are now.”

Back on dry land, we peel off the gear for which we have indeed been very grateful and accept a cup of hot chocolate. What makes this experience even more memorable is that it’s taken place, not in the heart of some remote wilderness, but in the center of a sophisticated city. We’ve headed to the white water along a skyline that includes buildings, modern high rises, places of worship, museums and theatres, a commercial port, an Olympic stadium, and the World’s Fair Expo 67. And behind all that is Mount Royal the cross-topped mountain which gives the city its name.

Explore Montreal on foot or by bike

One of the charms of the city is that much of it is easily walkable. One stroll, for instance, could take in Downtown where attractions include the Museum of Fine Arts, the prestigious McGill University (founded from a bequest by a Glasgow-born fur trader), Sainte-Catherine Street for the major department stores (at Ogilvy’s a bagpiper still plays every day at noon) and the Golden Square Mile with its fine Victorian homes which were once home to the country’s Anglophone, predominantly Scottish, upper class.

Another circuit could take in Old Montreal and the Old Port: cobbled streets, art galleries, and intriguing boutiques. Other tours could encompass the Latin Quarter, the Botanical Gardens (the largest after Kew Gardens in England), Mont-Royal Park with the nearby magnificent St Joseph’s Oratory – where the middle flight of steps is reserved for pilgrims ascending on their knees – and the islands of Sainte-Helene with its Biosphere (Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome from Expo ’67 now home to environmental themes) and Notre Dame which has a bizarre combination of both a Formula One track (which you can walk cycle or rollerblade on) and hundreds of frisky groundhogs.

The city is, in fact, very bike-friendly: it has a system of community bikes (visitors might find it as easy to rent though) and there are 400 miles of paths in the city and its surroundings.

Even in the depths of the fearsome Montreal winter – average annual snowfall nine feet – the city is pedestrian-friendly thanks to a vast underground network of 20 miles of interconnecting passageways that link transport systems, offices, shops, and places of entertainment. At one point this masterpiece of engineering even involved the raising of Christ Church Cathedral onto piles while the foundations for a shopping center were laid underneath. It is the Cathedral’s proud boast that it never missed a service. including one alongside the old Lachine Canal.