Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ile Bizard

Early one Thursday evening a few weeks ago, I decided to visit a bit of Montreal that's very close to where I live, but thoroughly out-of-the-way.

Ile Bizard is one of the many islands that sit with the Island of Montreal in the mighty St-Lawrence river at the confluence of the Ottawa river.
The south side of the island is linked to the Island of Montreal by the Jacques Bizard bridge. The only other way for vehicles to get on or off Ile Bizard is a ferry that links the north shore of Ile Bizard to the south shore of Ile Jesus, the island due north of the Island of Montreal.
The only municipality on Ile Jesus is the City of Laval, a sprawling suburb that has seen huge growth in the past ten years.

My father took me on my first ride on the Ile Bizard Ferry when I was 12 or 13 years old. We lived on Ile Jesus at the time in what is now the Chomedey sector of the City of Laval. We had ridden our bikes along the old road that follows the river and we eventually came to the Laval side of the ferry crossing. It seems to me that ferry has operated in that location for as long as anyone can remember.

My Dad told me at the time that the ferry went way back to the horse and buggy days, well before the industrial revolution.

This type of river-crossing ferry was much more common back then, and examples could be found on rivers all over North America. I remember my father explaining that the ferry had no motor and made its way from one shore to the other by exploiting the river's current.

The ferry is tethered to an overhead cable and there is a large keel on the ferry's hull that the crew can direct using a large wheel like a pirate ship's helm. The keel is perpendicular to the ferry and parallel to the river's flow, so when the ferry is perpendicular to the shore, it remains stationary. When the wheel is turned, the cables that tether the ferry angle the ferry into the current so that the keel acts in the water the same way a ship's sail or an aircraft's wing acts in the air.

The current is deflected by the keel and forces the ferry to travel across the river. The ferry's speed is entirely dependent on the strength of the river's current and the angle of the ferry and its keel in relation to the river's flow.

When you’re just a kid growing up you take for granted that the only way to get around involves a motor of one variety or another. From that point of view, when you're twelve or thirteen years old, the Ile Bizard river ferry is an object of mild fascination.

I still find it to be a fascinating and little-known part of Montreal's transportation infrastructure. I took a bunch of pictures to show the ferry in action.

This youtube video, taken from the Laval side of the river, gives a better understanding of the current in relation to the ferry.

At some point the old wooden ferry, the Paule I, was replaced by the current Paule II. The new ferry is now all steel construction with a diesel engine and hydraulics to actuate the cables and angle the ferry and its keel, as well as the lift gates that allow vehicles to board.

Although the current is still doing all the propulsion, the rumble of the diesel and the sleek hydraulics more or less dispel most of the wonder. When I first took the ferry, all you heard was the creaking of the wood and the rush of the water. It was spell-binding to me.

Today, it isn't quite so fascinating, but definitely still a fairly unique and worthwhile thing to experience.

On this occasion I didn't take the ferry, making a mental note to return during the summer and to cross to Laval on the ferry as part of a longer ride.

I continued on the road that circles Ile Bizard following the shoreline.

I was rewarded with an incredible sunset on the north shore of the island just about a kilometer beyond the ferry landing. Unfortunately my-point-and-shoot camera refused to capture what my eyes beheld, so no pictures of that sunset to share.

As the island road twists and turns and rises and dips its way west then south and back east toward the bridge, the scenery becomes very rural. Nothing but farms and fields and much cooler air.

As I mentioned in the previous post on my Tour de l'Ile ride with the Club Scooter de Montréal, the route followed the same path around Ile Bizard.

It was just as much fun sharing this marvelous tucked-away corner of Metropolitan Montreal with 30 other scooterists in the early afternoon, as it was to ride it alone at dusk. Except the ride organizers neglected to stop to allow us to marvel at the ferry.

But even if they had stopped, they wouldn't have enjoyed it from a thirteen year olds' perspective.

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The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.