Culture | Banquets on the grass

Exploring the picnic potential of Montreal’s public spaces

My friend and I mounted our bicycles one sunny summer morning, bought a baguette ($2.50, Premiere Moisson, 860 Mont-Royal), half a chicken ($7.50, Romados, 115 Rachel E.), an avocado, cherry tomatoes, and three cans of Santa Cruz Ginger Ale ($5.05, Segal’s, 4001 St. Laurent).

We biked down Berri, turned right on René-Lévesque, and charged the imposing Jacques-Cartier bridge. Once that battle was behind us the lush greenery of Ile St-Helene lay before us, playfully inviting us to uncover its dark secrets.

Pushing forward, we ignored the theme park, the biosphere, and a slick open-air swimming pool, and aimed for the north-eastern part of the island. Here, trees and thick undergrowth cast their cool shadows over a boulder-strewn slope that slides delicately into the churning St. Lawrence river.

Abandoning our bicycles, we descended the slope, and planted ourselves on some comfortable rocks by the water. Having unpacked our picnic, we admired the Montreal skyline from the shadow of an overhanging tree and made sandwiches out of our tempting loot.

Far to our left, an old man was swimming by himself, and some 200 metres to our right there was some kind of speedboat rodeo going on. Lots of people in life-vests were screaming and whooping while the speedboat buckled and threw itself at the waves trying to shake off its passengers. The lemming-like behaviour bothered us, so we turned and watched the old man waddle around the rocks looking for his towel, bending down and delicately revealing his crack.

After eating a bit we did a little extreme sport of our own. Taking off our clothes, we put on our bathing trunks and waded into the water. Slowly at first, you know, taking it easy, then going all the way under. When we were both done, we dried off, enjoyed the view, and finished the food. Spent but satisfied, we headed back to Montreal Island.

Our city provides a wealth of choices to the would-be picnicker. In addition to Parc Jean-Drapeau, Parc Jeanne-Mance, and Parc Lafontaine are full of ample green space. If you’re feeling adventurous, picnic in the shadow of abandoned factories by the Lachine Canal. If you’re feeling romantic, climb the mountain, find a nice spot on the northwest side and time your picnic to the setting of the sun.

But why would you eat on the grass when there’s a perfectly good kitchen table waiting at home? Simply because picnicking is magical. It’s so much more than just sitting on a (sometimes prickly) patch of grass. Picnicking frees you from the worries and problems that you can’t escape in your own house. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s the way it is. If you’ve ever picnicked before, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, well there’s not much time left before the snow sets in.


Picnic hints


• Cantaloupe, brie cheese, baguettes, and a cheap rosé. Some prosciuto makes this combo even more delicious
.• A fresh pasta salad and chilled home-made iced tea and/or some red wine
• Crêpes (tell friends to bring toppings) and iced coffee or cheap Oasis juice
• Buy some pastries and bring a thermos of coffee
• Everyone brings a sandwich to trade
• Heat some tortillas and everyone can bring toppings
• Buy a $30 portable grill at Canadian Tire (comes with a bag of charcoal!), tell friends to bring things to grill (peppers, steak, tofu, veggie burgers, mushrooms, mango–anything goes), and bring sangria or beer. Do this a couple of times and you eventually make your money back. You can barbecue in most large Montreal parks without any trouble from the cops, and you can legally drink in most parks as long as you’re eating a meal with it.