During the 2012 London Olympics, Vacay.ca is looking at the best Canadian Olympic cities — those places that honour the spirit of the Olympics and feature unique Olympic experiences for visitors. Earlier,Vancouver took bronze and Canmore, Alberta earned silver. The gold medal was a no-brainer, going to Montreal, the only Canadian city to host the Summer Olympics.
Story by Waheeda Harris
Vacay.ca Senior Writer
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — With the first Canadian medals in London coming from Montreal-based athletes, the lasting legacy of the Montreal Olympics in 1976 continues in La Belle Province.
As host to Canada’s first Olympics, Montreal’s je ne sais quoi made this city a welcome spot for the global athletic community as well as a platform for some of sports most memorable moments. Athletes such as Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci and American track athlete Bruce Jenner broke Olympic and world records, setting new standards in their respective sports.
Local Olympic Flavour
Competitors at the London 2012 Summer Games who call Montreal home include synchronized swimmers Emilie Heymans and Jennifer Abel, as well as Olympic bronze-medal winners for synchronized diving, Meaghan Benfeito and Rosalie Filion. This city is the birthplace of many Olympic athletes, with more than 350 who got their start here in the land of bagels, poutine and smoked meat.
Despite the controversy surrounding the runaway costs of The Big O, the Olympic Stadium was the main symbol of the ’76 Summer Games, becoming home to Major League Baseball’s Montreal Expos (before they relocated to Washington, DC) and the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes. The often-maligned stadium is now the home turf for MLS soccer’s recent addition, the Montreal Impact.
Its retractable roof is opened and closed by the world’s tallest inclined structure, a unique creation by French architect Roger Taillibert. Montreal Olympic Park also included the Olympic velodrome, which has become the Montreal Biodome, an interactive science and nature museum, and the Olympic swimming pool.
How to Act Like an Olympian
Locals make time to spend time in the outdoors, no matter what time of year, especially thanks to these offerings:
Mont Royal: With 200 hectares to explore, the city’s largest park was created in 1876 and designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the architect of New York City’s Central Park. The park includes the highest point of the city, where an illuminated cross greets hikers, runners and cyclists on a daily basis — and cross-country skiers and snowshoers in winter.
Cycling: The city boasts more than 350 km of dedicated bike paths as well as the BIXI bike rental system easily accessible in many locations. With a bike, you can explore the 30-km Lachine Canal trail or the city’s South Shore 50-km trail, which includes the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Expo 67 site, and completing it will give you bragging rights.
Kayaking: Seeing the city skyline from the Lachine Canal, paddlers can head to the Old Port and the Atwater Market via kayak or canoe. H20 Adventures can set you up and if you’re a beginner, it’s a prime spot to learn.
Lachine Rapids Park: Adrenaline junkies should make the trek 15 minutes out of the downtown to this park to experience riding the rapids, river surfing and stand-up paddleboarding.
Running tour: Why not double the fun — explore different parts of the city, and do it while running with Running Tourist, whose routes include Mont Royal, the Plateau, Vieux Port and Outremont.
After burning off all those calories exploring the city – here are some places to relax and refuel:
Crudessence: From freshly-made smoothies at the juice bar to the eco-friendly environment, this local establishment serves up healthy options for vegans at its five locations in Montreal. Go for the Discovery plate, showcasing the chef’s selections of tapas ( $22 for two).
Le Commensal: A dream for vegetarians and vegans, this local chain provides fresh options for those who want to eat clean and healthy – with buffets offering global tastes at $13.95 for lunch and $16.95 for dinner.
First Fridays at the Big O: Satiate your cravings at Olympic Park with the newly-installed First Fridays celebration of local food trucks. For braised meat and inventive poutine head for Lucky Truck, or for quintessential Gallic cuisine – Crepe Moi’s design your own crepes. ($7-$10).
And what separates the dedicated active local? Montrealers maintain their four-season active wardrobes thanks to regular stops at Altitude Sports on Rue Saint-Denis as well as having an obsession with cycling, with 14 per cent of locals using bikes as their main form of transportation.