Reach the beach!

Water's Edge, St-Anne-de-Bellevue, at the Western tip of the Island of Montréal

I took this picture several years ago as part of series I took in and around John Abbott College, a CEGEP, or state-funded post-secondary community college, I attended between 2002 and 2004, at the western tip of Montréal. The town of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue is an independent community whose population swells considerably from September through May during the school year. It’s a key component of the culture and society of Montreal’s West Island, a massive traditionally Anglophone though multi-cultural suburb west of the City of Montréal. Of the dozen or so communities which constitute the West Island, St-Anne’s is a very particular place, about as distinct from the rest as one could imagine. During the summer, it is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and a pleasant escape . I’ve often wondered what it would take for the town to reclaim its former status as a sort of micro-resort. Indeed, back before the Second World War, most of the north shore of Lac-St-Louis was lined with vacation homes and lakeside cottages. As the suburbs developed thanks to better, more efficient transit infrastructure in the post-war period, many of these homes became prized jewels for the suburban upper-class. So, to an extent, the transformation from country-escape to wealthy suburb has been successful in that the aesthetic character of the suburb is reminiscent of rural settings. But increased human traffic and pollution has lead to a loss of the West Island’s once-famous and well-frequented beaches.

So what would it take to get them back?

Lac-St-Louis is notoriously polluted, thanks primarily to years of dumping raw-sewerage directly into the Saint-Lawrence River and having it collect in this pond of a lake. Massive water-treatment plants in addition to the construction of new beaches and wetlands would be necessary to restore the lakeside eco-systems so heavily damaged by years of mis-use.

I find it odd in general that Montréalers could be so cognizant of the raw natural beauty of this island so as to build massive parks to protect it, and then drive several hours north on congested highways to escape it. If only we better recognized and understood the value of having clean natural wilderness nearby. A start would be to clean the lakes and rivers around the city, and though the process would be long and costly, the potential economic benefit of a “Montréal-as-Eco-Resort”  development program could lead to less volatility and higher general sustainability for Montréal’s tourism economy. And all of this is aside from just awesome it would be to live in a major city with clean beaches on a freshwater lake 20 mins from the Downtown.

I think St-Anne’s could use a re-branding of sorts. It is spectacularly beautiful at all times of the year, and benefits (tourism-wise) not only from two colleges (with dorms), but a massive veteran’s hospital, an arboretum, an eco-museum, marina, adjacent golf courses and the spooky remnants of Fort Senneville, the former veterans hospital and a very old church. The concentration of unique cultural and societal institutions and artifacts in this area means there’s plenty to do and see, and yet the community has struggled with a recent dip in tourism dollars.

So there it is – Montréal should think about making itself an Eco-tourism destination sans pareil, and an on-island resort community in St-Anne’s ought to be the jewel in the crown. Take the 211 from Lionel-Groulx and see it for yourself.

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