Mount Royal's eastern slope
|Elevation||233 m (764 ft)|
|Montreal, Quebec, Canada|
|Topo map||NTS 31H|
|Age of rock||Early Cretaceous|
|First ascent||Jacques Cartier, 1535 (First European)|
|Easiest route||Hiking or Cycling|
|Area||280 ha (692 acres)|
|Operated by||City of Montreal|
|Status||Open all year|
The hill consists of three peaks: Colline de la Croix (or Mont Royal proper) at 233 m (764 ft), Colline d'Outremont (or Mount Murray, in the borough of Outremont) at 211 m (692 ft), and Westmount Summit at 201 m (659 ft) elevation above mean sea level.
Some tourist guidebooks, such as the Michelin Guide to Montréal, state that Mount Royal is an extinct volcano. The mountain is not a traditional volcano as such. However, it is the deep extension of a vastly eroded ancient volcanic complex, which was probably active about 125 million years ago. The mountain was created when the North American Plate moved westward over the New England hotspot, along with the other mountains of the Monteregian Hills, by a process known as intrusion: The magma intruded into the sedimentary rocks underneath the area, producing at least eight igneous stocks. The main rock type is a gabbro composed of pyroxene, olivine and variable amounts of plagioclase. During and after the main stage of intrusion, the gabbros and surrounding rocks were intruded by a series of volcanic dikes and sills. Subsequently, the surrounding softer sedimentary rock was eroded, leaving behind the resistant igneous rock that forms the mountain.
The first European to scale the mountain was Jacques Cartier, guided there in 1535 by the people of the village of Hochelega. He named it in honour of his patron, King François I of France. He wrote in his journal:
- Et au parmy d'icelles champaignes, est scituée et assise ladicte ville de Hochelaga, près et joignant une montaigne ... Nous nommasmes icelle montaigne le mont Royal.
- ("And among these fields is situated and seated the said town of Hochelaga, near to and adjoining a mountain ... We named this mountain, Mount Royal.")
On one theory, the name of the Island of Montreal derives from mont Réal, as it was spelled in Middle French, (Mont Royal in present French). And yet, Cartier's 1535 diary entry refers to "le mont Royal". Another argument, mentioned by the Government of Canada on its web site concerning Canadian place names, is that the name Montreal was adopted because an early map of 1556 used the Italian name of the mountain, "Monte Real". The name was first applied to the island and was unofficially applied to the city, formerly Ville-Marie, by the 18th century.
In 1643, De Maisonneuve made a pilgrimage to the top, in order to fulfill a vow made in the winter season on occasion of a great flood which swept up to the town palisades.
In 1876, land owner and farmer James Swail began residential subdivisions on the western slope of Mount Murray, in what is now the Cote-des-Neiges district. In 1906, a large housing development was started in the area, called Northmount Heights, with homes built along what is now Decelles Street by developer Northmount Land Company. Much of this area has been expropriated by the Université de Montréal.
In 1914-1918, a railway tunnel was dug under the mountain by the Canadian Northern Railway, a predecessor of the Canadian National. It is currently used by the AMT's Montreal/Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line.
The first Mount Royal Cross was placed there in 1643 by Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, the founder of the city, in fulfillment of a vow he made to the Virgin Mary when praying to her to stop a disastrous flood. Today, the mountain is crowned by a 31.4 m (103 ft)-high illuminated cross, installed in 1924 by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste and now owned by the city. It was converted to fibre-optic light in 1992, and then to LEDs in 2009. The cross is usually lit in white, but can now be changed to any colour, including the purple traditionally used upon the death of a Pope.
Beside the cross, a plaque marks the placement of a time capsule in 1992, during Montréal's 350th birthday celebration. It contains messages and drawings from 12,000 children, depicting their visions for the city in the year 2142, when the capsule is scheduled to be opened.
Mount Royal Park
The mountain is the site of Mount Royal Park (in French: Parc du Mont-Royal), one of Montreal's largest greenspaces. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also co-designed New York's Central Park, and inaugurated in 1876, although not completed to his design.
Olmsted had planned to emphasize the mountainous topography through the use of vegetation. Shade trees at the bottom of the carriage path would resemble a valley. As the visitor went higher, the vegetation would get more sparse to give the illusion of exaggerated height. City officials wanted a reservoir atop the mountain instead and Olmsted planned a grand promenade around it. However, Montréal suffered a depression in the mid-1870s and many of Olmsted's plans were abandoned. The carriage way was built, but it was done hastily and without regards to the original plan. None of the vegetation choices was followed, and the reservoir was never built.
The park contains two belvederes, the more prominent of which is the Kondiaronk Belvedere, a semicircular plaza with a chalet, overlooking downtown Montreal. Built in 1906, it is named for the Petun chief Kondiaronk, whose influence led to a major peace accord between the French, Iroquois and other Indian tribes in 1701. As of 2009, the Kondiaronk chalet's snack bar is being shuttered, with plans to replace it with healthier fare.
Other features of the park are Beaver Lake, a small man-made lake; a short ski slope; cross-country skiing trails; a sculpture garden; and Smith House, an interpretive centre. At the foot of the hill, overlooking Park Avenue, the park features George-Étienne Cartier Monument, home to the Tam Tams, and a gazebo which has been recently named in honour of Mordecai Richler.
The lush forest was badly damaged both by mayor Drapeau’s morality cuts (to remove any opportunity for people to have sex in the bushes) of the mid-1950s and by the Ice Storm of 1998, but has since largely recovered. The forest is a green jewel rising above downtown Montreal, and is known for its beautiful autumn foliage as well as extensive hiking and cross-country ski trails. Biking is restricted to the main gravel roads.
From 1885 to 1920, the Mount Royal Funicular Railway brought sightseers to its peak. After it ceased service, Montreal's No. 11 streetcar brought visitors to the peak. A roadway named for longtime but controversial former mayor Camillien Houde—jailed during the Second World War for his opposition to Canada's war effort—now bisects the mountain. Ironically, Houde had been opposed to the idea of putting a road through the park
The park, cemeteries, and several adjacent parks and institutions have been combined in the Arrondissement historique et naturel du Mont-Royal (Mount Royal Natural and Historical District) by the government of Québec, in order to legally protect the rich cultural and natural heritage of this region. It is the only place in Québec to have the combined status of an arrondissement naturel and arrondissement historique.
Mount Royal Park currently hosts a tubing and toboganning run on one of the former alpine ski slopes, as well as 7 groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails which total 18 km; equipment rental is available onsite.
The former alpine ski slope, currently used for toboganning, featured a T-bar and a 100-foot drop. Mechanical lift devices were first installed in Mount Royal Park in 1945. In the 1940s, there were two and a half miles of ski slopes available. A ski shop was first installed in the park in 1938. Prior to that, in the 1920s, one of the best ski jumps in Canada was the one on Mount Royal, near Cote des Neiges.
Founded in 1840, the now-defunct Montreal Snow Shoe Club, with members drawn from some of Montréal's prominent businessmen, would meet each week during the winter at nightfall on Sherbrooke Street near McGill College Avenue, to snowshoe through Mont Royal Park, lit by torchlight. Around 1870, club members began wearing blue tuques on their outings. Recently, the tradition has been revived as the Tuques Bleues Celebration by the Les amis de la montagne, a charitable organization that works to protect and preserve the park.
In the summer time, Mount Royal hosts a popular activity known as the "Tam Tam Jam", whereby a number of Montrealers and visitors play hand drums ("tam-tams" in French) such as djembes on the east slope of the mountain, at the George-Étienne Cartier Monument. The Sunday gatherings attract people of various backgrounds, and often dozens of tam-tam players perform their art at the same time, encouraging others to dance. In addition, many children and adults participate in a continuous battle with foam-padded weapons.
The Tam-tams began in the late '70s with a workshop on African drumming at a jazz bar on Ontario Street. It is not organized by the municipal authorities. Despite initial resistance by participants, the city now intervenes in the event, restricting commercial activity to registered members in designated areas and assigning police and first aid technicians to ensure the safety of those present. Although initially controversial in light of the event's communal and countercultural vibe (and permissive attitude towards marijuana use) the police presence has not led to conflict.
Jeanne Mance Park
Facing the mountain across Parc Avenue is Jeanne-Mance Park (Parc Jeanne-Mance), formerly known as Fletcher's Field. A popular recreational area, Jeanne Mance Park features an artificially surfaced field for soccer and football, tennis courts, two baseball diamonds, a kiddie pool, beach volleyball courts and a community composting facility. In the spring of 2009, a children's playground was abruptly demolished by city workers. The park had been the home of the transplanted Crystal Palace from 1878 to 1896, until it was destroyed by fire.
The park is also home to the CBC's Mount Royal transmitter facility, which comprises two large buildings (one used primarily by the CBC and one used by the private television stations) and a very short (about 100 m (328 ft)) candelabra tower, from which nearly all of Montreal's television and FM radio stations broadcast. Because of the proximity of this tower to public areas of the park, in recent years significant concerns have been raised about radio-frequency radiation exposure; at several points formerly accessible to park users near the tower, radiation was found to be significantly higher than that permitted for the general public.
The "shortness" indicated above was dictated by the maximum allowable height (1100' above sea level) dictated by the federal Department of Transport because if the proximity to the flight path to Dorval International Airport nearby. The engineering challenge was to combine all the desired antennas in the limited space between the mountain top and 1100' ASL, which led to the "candelabra" design.
There are two cemeteries in the area: Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery (Catholic) and Mount Royal Cemetery (non-denominational but primarily Protestant, and including several small Jewish cemeteries) — both of which are now running out of space. In 2008, the refusal of the Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery to cede land that it uses as a depot blocked a planned expansion of the park.
Outside the park, Mount Royal's slopes are also home to such Montréal landmarks as St. Joseph's Oratory, Canada's largest church; McGill University and its teaching hospitals, including the Royal Victoria Hospital and Montreal General Hospital; McGill's Molson Stadium, home to the CFL's Montreal Alouettes; the McTavish reservoir; Université de Montréal; the École Polytechnique de Montréal; the Îlot-Trafalgar-Gleneagles historic block; and some well-off residential neighbourhoods such as Upper Westmount and Upper Outremont.
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