Lost forest on Nuns Island – Forêt ‘perdue’ sur l’île des Soeurs


I got a skeptical look from J. when I took this photo, promising to point out that she is from Flouville, France, population 300 (50 km north-west of Paris), whereas newcomer V. to her left is from Chennai, India, population approx. 10 million. Embarrassingly, I hadn’t ever heard of either place. Both J. and V. (I’ll use initials to avoid totally embarrassing them) have just arrived in Montreal and are curious about nature and discovering everything about Montreal, so they were game to follow me on my somewhat dubious mission to prove that wild forest still exists on rapidly developing Nuns Island south of Montreal!

This is part of the ‘Fresh Air Fridays’ outing series that I offer on Friday afternoons via l’Association Récréative Milton-Parc. We go to a different place each Friday, discovering various parks and natural areas around Montreal that can be accessed by public transit, sometimes public bikes (called Bixis) and always by foot. This is the first time I am offering the outings so I have to confess I don’t yet have a set schedule of outings but we’ll also be visiting places like Parc Longueuil, the 3 summits of Mount-Royal, île de la Visitation etc. (and it’s never too late to register, might I point out hopefully!)

The adventure started when we got to Métro Square Victoria to wait for bus 168 to Île des Soeurs. V. was fascinated by the bus schedule, something that apparently doesn’t exist in India. He asked if buses were really able to follow the schedule. I think he jinxed us, because the STM skipped a bus, and they only come every half hour! Apparently this was worse service than in India – so much for impressing anyone with North American ‘efficiency’!

But we finally got there and were happy to plunge into the dense little forest remaining in the middle of the island just beside Elgar Community Centre. Ducks were paddling around in the puddles – the forest is still quite wet. We saw Jack in the Pulpit, impressive flowers that I had to look up afterwards, as well as those deep red trilliums. I was better at identifying classics like Sugar Maple and fiddleheads and the many red-winged blackbirds we saw. We even caught a glimpse of a snake though we weren’t sure what kind. The forest is plastered with danger: poison ivy signs, prompting discussion about a less friendly plant that neither participant had encountered previously. I’m never sure how to explain poison ivy in a realistic, helpful, yet not terrifying way. Any suggestions?

Then we crossed some rather non-descript suburban-type development, and reached the south end of the island where the two participants saw the St. Lawrence for the first time – they were quite excited about this. It is wide at this point and if you look west, you can just barely make out the Lachine Rapids. We also got in an impromptu French lesson through which V. learned 5 more basic words, discussed how to find housing and how filling poutine is. Finally, we saw how development was eating away at remaining forest on the western-most tip of the Island, before looping around at the end of the afternoon to catch the bus home. It was rush hour, so thankfully they came by frequently! Île des Soeurs was definitely worth the detour, particularly the forested part in the middle.

Comments very welcome!


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