The city of Montreal doesn’t seem to want you to find the Outremont Summit or the park around it. No signs greet visitors, the official Mount Royal tourist map is elusive and entrances are not easily accessed via public transit.
Pity, because the city spent a lot of money creating a new park around Mount Royal’s second-highest peak, rehabilitating an area with a rich history ravaged over decades by the dumping of excavation material.
Montrealers would enjoy this green sanctum on Mount Royal’s north flank if they knew it existed.
For years, locals, Université de Montréal students and others in the know have enjoyed strolling through the old-growth forest and taking in the fine views and sunsets here.
I set out to explore the history and terrain of this concealed corner of the mountain, which over the years has been known as the Colline d’Outremont and Mount Murray. The park stretches over 23 hectares from Côte-des-Neiges to Outremont, just north of the two cemeteries on the mountain.
The park’s Outremont-side entrance is on a quiet residential stretch of Mont-Royal Blvd.
You’d be forgiven if you mistook it for an entrance to the Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges. On either side of the path entrance, stone pillars bear the cemetery’s green logo.
The only hint it’s a Montreal park is on a temporary city sign, held down by cinder blocks, about the emerald ash borer. It mentions Tiohtià:ke Otsira’kéhne, but doesn’t explain that this is the Mohawk name of the lush public park in front of you.
Tall trees and a carpet of green underbrush welcome those who venture in. About a hundred metres up the wide sun-speckled gravel path, you’ll find the first clue that this place is part of Mount Royal.
A bronze 3D map of the mountain sits on a granite base, a “you are here” arrow pointing out the zig-zag path you’re about to walk, with three Montreal symbols helping visitors situate themselves — the iconic Université de Montréal tower is near the end of this path, and beyond it St. Joseph’s Oratory. Over on the side is the cross atop Mount Royal.
The map doesn’t spell out the location of the Outremont peak but fortunately, we know where we’re going.
Known as the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Woods, this part of the park was purchased by Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery in 1878 to give visitors from the east easier access to the graveyard.
It was ravaged in the mid-1970s by the dumping of earth excavated during métro construction. Critics say mountain bikers continue to cause damage here, ripping through the woods at high speeds.
The cemetery floated the idea of developing the area for mausoleums with parking.
Then, 10 years ago, the city signed a long-term lease with the cemetery. Under the 50-year deal, the city can use the path through the woods leading to the Outremont Summit as part of the park.
The city reforested parts of the mountain, upgraded paths and, as part of last year’s 375th anniversary, installed the relief map, as well as controversial granite stumps.
A year ago, Montreal named the area Parc Tiohtià:ke Otsira’kéhne (pronounced jojagay ochira’gaynay) in recognition of Indigenous groups that used the mountain long before French settlers arrived. In Mohawk, the words mean “around the fire, on the island where the group separates,” the city says.
“The park has a charm all its own,” says Jean-Michel Villanove, who gives walking tours of Mount Royal’s three summits for Les amis de la montagne. “It has great open spaces and the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Woods features a long, serpentine path in a beautiful forest.”
This is the ideal spot for what the Japanese call a “forest bath” — a contemplative walk through the woods.
The serpentine path, cut into a steep slope, is lined with towering maple and oak trees and the occasional poplar. Hikers can admire rock walls and steep embankments as they make their way up the 900 metres to the summit.
You won’t come across many other humans on the path – maybe a jogger or two or a solitary dog walker. You’ll hear birdsong, and the occasional rustling in the undergrowth will remind you critters are around.
There are no benches but you can rest on a log or one of the granite stumps along the trail.
No bikes are allowed on this part of the ring road but cyclists have left their marks nonetheless. Some use rutted trails along parts of the main path.
Others go even more rogue.
On one of my walks, I came across a two-wheeled daredevil. Wearing what looked like a motorcycle helmet, he slowly walked his all-terrain bike up the path, then zoomed down through the forest, cutting a swath perpendicular to the path.
The prize at the top: a stone lookout with a unique view of northwestern Montreal.
This part of the park belongs to the Université de Montréal. Like the cemetery, 10 years ago it signed a deal allowing the city to rehabilitate the land and use it as a park.
The U de M sports stadium sits down below, the Sanctuaire du Mont-Royal condo complex recognizable as you look out at the sprawling city. On a clear day, you can also make out Lac des Deux Montagnes and the Laurentians in the distance.
When you’re taking in the view, look right to see an odd sight in the foreground: a tall, rusting tower topped by metal wheels fastened to a crossarm.
A ski lift and ski jump on Mount Royal, near the UniversitÃ© de MontrÃ©al inCÃ´te-des-Neiges on Feb. 9, 1972. The skiing came to an end in the late 1970s. City of Montreal archives
The skiing came to an end in the late 1970s and starting in the 1990s, trees were planted on the steep slope. A well-trodden dirt path indicates hikers still use the hill despite the no-trespassing sign at the bottom.
There – on Vincent-D’Indy Ave., just up from the Édouard-Montpetit métro station – a second ski-lift tower sits rusting, a steel cable on the ground next to it.
On the summit, if you walk beyond the lookout, the path becomes narrower and you’re heading downhill, toward the Côte-des-Neiges entrance to the park.
But there’s more to see before you leave.
First, there’s another stone lookout built on what remains of a ski jump that was also part of the U de M winter complex. The trees have not been trimmed so the view is not great but it’s a nice shady area for a rest.
On one of my visits, one man was sitting under a tree doing a crossword as his small dogs scampered about, while a second visitor sat on a nearby boulder playing a mandolin.
Another clearing is coming up but first, you walk through a forest where the city has built a wooden bridge that runs over a seasonal stream and acts as a viewing platform for nature lovers.
The clearing you come upon next is yet another stone belvedere. Again, the city hasn’t maintained the trees so the lookout was not one when I last went by in June.
I found evidence some park visitors use this area for drinking and illicit fires, presumably at night: empty beer bottles and two small makeshift firepits full of bits of burnt wood and paper.
This grassy open area was once an unsightly mountain wasteland visible from kilometres away. The U de M used it as a dumping ground for earth excavated as it expanded the adjacent campus, then as a place to dispose of snow, store machinery and park vehicles.
Keep walking down and you’ll reach an asphalt path that leads you past U de M pavilions. Soon, you will see the iconic U de M tower and will reach the Côte-des-Neiges entrance to the park.
Like the one on the Outremont side, there’s no indication this is an entry point to a city park. The only sign: no cycling.
A shady, paved pedestrian path — part of the city’s Mount Royal car-free ring road — will take you along the perimeter of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery to Decelles Ave.
Too bad few Montrealers know the path offers public access to a little-explored side of the mountain.
- The view and vestiges of Mount Royal’s ski history
- A walk in the forest on Mount Royal’s north flank
- Finding Mount Royal’s hidden peak
IF YOU GO
Difficulty level: Medium
Starts: Outremont side entrance, Mont-Royal Blvd.
Ends: Decelles Ave., near the entrance on the Côte-des-Neiges side.
Distance: 2.5 kilometres
Estimated time: 1 hour
Accessibility: Steep slopes would make it difficult to use a stroller here.
Transit: The 51 and 129 buses run along Côte-Ste-Catherine Rd., near the Outremont entrance. The 11, 435, 165, 166 and 711 buses stop at or near Queen-Mary and Côte-des-Neiges Rds., on the Côte-des-Neiges side. The Côte-des-Neiges métro station also serves this area.
Cycling: Bikes are not allowed.
Parking: Available on residential streets near the Outremont entrance.