Friday, September 30, 2011

Milestone looming!

I find it hard to believe. Yet it's plain to see that my dragon red Vespa will soon roll up to the 10,000 mile mark. All but 1,304 of those miles are mine.

I'm hoping to post a similar photo when that momentous event happens. I'll have to start paying close attention to the odometer.

It's been a busy week for me. I have a more substantial post in the works. This tid bit will have to do for now until I can pull this week's post together.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pointe Claire Yacht Club

 Today's weather was glorious.  Sunny, unseasonably warm, and just about as perfect a day as anyone could hope for.
 I stopped briefly at the Pointe Claire Yacht Club this morning to admire the sailboats tethered to their moorings, waiting patiently for a weekend sail on the lake.
 The mouth of the harbor and the lake beyond the breakwater were quiet, no sails to be seen.
Perhaps on my return home the slips will be empty and the flotilla will be out taking advantage of what could well turn out to be the last great sailing day of 2011.

Here's hoping this wonderful weather will hold for the weekend.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Crossing the canal

This is something I do very often. Last year, I would have done it ten times in a week. This year I'm more adventurous, and my repertoire of routes has expanded, but I still take this bridge at least four times a week.
The Charlevoix bridge gets you from the south side of the Lachine Canal, to the north side.  It's a good way to get across the canal.

If you prefer tunnels to bridges, there is also the Atwater tunnel a little further west that serves the same purpose.  When I was a kid and we would take the Atwater tunnel on our way to visit my relatives on the south shore, my sisters and I would always bug my dad until he honked the horn in the tunnel.  With the windows down in the summer you'd get the mad echoing of the horn that always made us giggle.  I haven't gone that way on my Vespa.  I'll have to do that before the season ends to see what a Stebel air horn sounds like in the Atwater tunnel. 
Today both sides of the Lachine Canal are being re-developped with condos and lofts.  The building you see in the picture above is a condominium loft development.  The shores of the canal are a linear park with bicycle paths that take you from the old port downtown, all the way to the shores of Lake St-Louis in the west end.  What was once a dismal and decaying industrial zone is now a really nice green space.

Here's a Google maps satellite view of the bridge and its surroundings.
 The canal is open to pleasure craft and is the easiest way to take a motor boat from the lake to the port of Montreal.  From there, in theory, you could sail for Europe.

You might have a shot at it in a decent sailboat, but first you'd have to lower the mast to get through the canal.  Back in the 1960's when the canal was still a vital commercial waterway, all the bridges would open to allow the taller shipping to navigate the canal.  Since pleasure boats don't need the extra clearance, the mechanisms have been dismantled and the bridges are all permanently fixed.

The Charlevoix bridge was a turntable bridge rather than a lift bridge like the Gauron bridge further west.  If you venture under the bridge on the pedestrian path or the bike path, you can still see the turntable mechanism with some of its gears.  None of it is in working order and it's obvious that some of the key ingredients are no longer in place. 
The bridge deck, like many movable bridges, is a metal grid that you see pictured below.  With the decommissioning of the turntable, portions of the grid were filled with concrete to make the ride more comfortable for people in cars, and presumably safer for bicycles.
If you ride a scooter or a motorcycle, you can choose to ride on the grid portion, or the concrete portion.

I used the grid portions all last year and early this year as practice for my assault on the Victoria bridge. For an account of that crossing and what it feels like to negotiate a long metal grid deck bridge at speed, click here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ray Bans©

 I love my 35 year old Ray Bans©.

They're the Outdoorsman model, said my optometrist appreciatively.  "They don't make them anymore" he said with the same fond, wistful look that a car buff might have talking about 1956 Corvettes or MG TDs.  He felt bad for the hard wear I inflicted on them, so he meticulously cleaned off the accumulated grunge when he fitted my new lenses last week.

This morning the dismal weather we've been having began to clear. The sun finally made an appearance so I pulled into Stewart Hall to put on my shades.

Standing beside the Vespa, paces from the lake, I took a minute to absorb my surroundings.  I felt blessed.
The freshness of the cool September morning air, the stately willow to my left, and the stillness of the lake made me want to linger, empty my mind for a spell, and just be.

I stood there surveying the scene, the air fragrant from the freshly mown lawn, enjoying the moment.  I took a breath, then strolled closer to the water's edge.  The only sound was the Vespa purring on its centre stand behind me.

When I got closer to the shore, I saw a couple of jet skis sitting on a boat-lift, close to shore behind a waterfront home on my right.  The jet skis made a pretty picture, the yellow bonnets of their shrouds popping out in the pastel scene.
It was time to 'shake a leg' as my mother was fond of saying, so I shoved off and continued on my way to the office.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Memories of Expo 67

Expo 67 was the 1967 World's Fair that was held in Montreal.

Montreal's mayor at the time, Jean Drapeau, had ambitious plans for Montreal's future.  He single-handedly put Montreal on the world map, first with Expo 67, then with the 1976 summer Olympics.

His administration shepherded Montreal from city to metropolis: the 1960's and 70's in the run-up to the fair and the Olympics were frantic times.  Incessant construction brought us soaring expressway interchanges and bridges, the Metro, Place des Arts, Place Ville Marie, Place Victoria, and the Olympic stadium.  Those buildings and public works define Montreal today;  they are prominent among the landmarks that are the signature of this city.

Political turmoil soon followed and the financial markets and institutions that gave Montreal its pre-eminent place in Canada soon fled to the relative peace and tranquility of Toronto.

Montreal eventually got over that economic hump, and growth returned early in the new millennium.

The challenge Montreal faces today is renewing all the infrastructure that was built in the 1960's and 70's.  Bridges, tunnels, and those soaring expressway interchanges that were so daring and futuristic in the late 60's, are now falling apart bit by bit, and chunk by chunk, as the government scrambles to repair and renew.

One way to forget what the future wrought, is to take a trip back to those magical days of the late 60's.

While most of the fairgrounds were recycled for other uses, some landmarks remain.

My Vespa allows me the luxury of lunch-hour ventures.  So I took off south through the downtown bustle, down to the port, past the Port Authority HQ, and headed to Ile Ste-Hélène, one of the two islands that made up the fair grounds.

To get to the island you can either take the Jacques Cartier bridge to the east, or the Pont de la Concorde which was the route I chose to take.
The Pont de la Concorde is one of the surviving Expo 67 landmarks.  It's not a particularly inspiring bridge, but it is fairly long, and extremely wide.  During Expo 67 the Pont de la Concorde, so named in honour of the motto of the City of Montreal Concordia salus, was one of the main gateways to the fair.

It's a challenge to get pictures of the bridge.  Here's one taken from Ile Ste-Hélène.
 Here's another taken from the Montreal side.
A light rail line was built to take fair goers over the fairly large distances between the city and the two islands given over to the fairgrounds.  The double-tracked rail line ran down the center of the Pont de la Concorde.  The remainder of the bridge's ample width accommodated throngs of pedestrians, me among them as a boy, wide-eyed with the wonder that was Expo 67.

One of the other signature landmarks so closely associated with Expo 67 is Habitat 67.  When you head for the Pont de la Concorde, Habitat 67 is the building right before the bridge.

Habitat 67 was architect Moishe Safdie's daring concept of concrete modular apartments.  I don't think that his vision actually ever got any real-world traction, other than that one concept project.
Today Habitat 67 is still futuristic, and is now all much sought-after condominiums, each with spectacular views of the river and the city skyline.
One of the other remaining landmarks has a second career as the Biosphere, now a museum on the environment.  During Expo 67 it was the American pavilion.  Designed by Buckminster Fuller it is a massive 200 foot high geodesic dome.
 Like Seattle's Space Needle, Montreal's geodesic dome is a prominent 1960's tribute to a George Jetson future that hasn't quite materialized. Where the heck are those flying cars?  I was really looking forward to those flying cars.

Mind you, if you buy a condo at Habitat 67, with a view of the Montreal skyline and of the Biosphere, you might begin to think that the Jetsons could be your next-door neighbours.

I can tell you that when you zip around town on a Vespa, and you glide through sweeping turns, you can't see the wheels under you, and it certainly feels like you could be skimming along on a wheel-less air scooter, or a Star Wars imperial speeder bike, or something like this:
With my photos all snapped, off I went back downtown to grab a quick bite before settling in for an afternoon at the office.

Here's a brief video showing the ride back to downtown from Ile Ste-Hélène over the Pont de la Concorde and past Habitat 67 which you'll see on the left after the bridge.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.