Culture  Winter way out west

Tour de Montreal heads to Notre-Dame-de-Grâce

Toward the western end of central Montreal lies a quiet residential area, described as a haven for families due to its close proximity to downtown coupled with its safe environment and low housing costs. On a blustery Tuesday afternoon, I rode my friend’s “tricked-out” winter bike to experience the neighbourhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG) first-hand.

I feel it necessary to disclose the fact that I have never ridden a bike in a large city before, let alone Montreal, where impatient drivers are an everyday occurrence. As I entered NDG, I immediately noticed the lack of bike lanes and the many cars coming off the highway and rushing down the quiet, tree-lined main streets. After failing miserably at maneuvering my bike around parked cars while avoiding those incoming vehicles, I dismounted and settled for walking through Monkland Village.

On the main section of Décarie lies a mix of rustic homes with peeling paint, antique shops mixed in with newer buildings housing video stores, dépanneurs, and dry cleaners. Charming restaurants dot the street, including Mesquité, a Cajun barbeque restaurant with a snow-covered patio and large open windows, and Yaki Mono, a small sushi place.

Further on, I encountered an older woman watching a construction project in progress, and in a mix of broken French and English I inquired whether she liked living in NDG. She casually explained how she enjoyed the parks, but that there were parts of the neighbourhood that were “tough.” The eastern part of NDG is predominantly francophone, while the central and western parts are comprised of middle and working class anglophones. The woman seemed to welcome her neighbourhood’s steady gentrification – and the influx of middle-class, anglophone Montrealers that came with it – cheerfully guiding me through a yet-unfinished condominium project. I thanked her for her enthusiasm, and continued down the seemingly never-ending Décarie, passing many schools, hair salons, small churches, and a Korean cultural centre.

Reaching Sherbrooke Ouest – numb from the pelting, freezing rain – I found comfort in Boulangerie Laura. The tiny café smelled of fresh baked pastries mixed with the rich aroma of coffee. While I was there, the boulangerie saw a whirlwind of locals rushing in for freshly baked bread, mouth-watering desserts, and doughy baguettes. I settled into a table by the window and lingered over a cup of deliciously strong coffee while watching schoolchildren clad in uniforms laughing on their way home, walking past packed buses and numerous cars beeping their horns. After half an hour, I reluctantly ventured back outside into the brisk snowy air toward a tranquil park. Several children threw snowballs at each other, seeking cover behind the playground’s structures and benches. I relished the bike-friendly paths snaking throughout the park, with no cars to divert my attention from the scenery. As the sky began to darken, I ended my exploratory journey through NDG and headed back into the McGill bubble.