Discover four island nature
oases near Montreal
Nature Conservancy of Canada islands now open to the public
By Patricia Dumais
The island of Montreal is the largest of the Hochelaga Archipelago (also known as the Montreal Islands), which includes over 300 islands and islets, situated between Lac des Deux-Montagnes and the eastern tip of the Island of Montreal.
Did you know that a number of these islands are under the protection of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC)? It all started 40 years ago with the acquisition of Île aux Moutons in Varennes on the St. Lawrence River in 1978. In fact, this was the NCC’s first project in the province of Quebec. Since then it has been working with its partners to protect the natural environments of a growing number of islands and riparian zones along the St. Lawrence River.
The NCC now protects 17 islands along a 90-kilometre stretch between Montreal and Lac Saint-Pierre, near Trois-Rivières. After the acquisition of Île aux Moutons, others followed, including Île aux Asperges (Varennes), Île de la Traverse (Saint-Ignace-de-Loyola), Île à la Perche (Saint-François-du-Lac) and Île à la Pierre (Sainte-Anne-de-Sorel), as well as several properties on Île de Grâce (Sainte-Anne-de-Sorel). Further west, NCC also acquired the Lachine Rapids Islands (Île aux Hérons, Île aux Chèvres, Les Sept-Soeurs), home to the second largest heron colony in North America!
Nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, kayakers and canoeists now have access to the Bonfoin, Aigle, Cerfeuils and Beauregard islands…
The NCC recently unveiled recreational facilities on four of its protected islands in the St. Lawrence River. Nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, kayakers and canoeists now have access to the Bonfoin, Aigle, Cerfeuils and Beauregard islands, located near the eastern tip of the island of Montreal and downstream in Repentigny and Verchères.
“We are proud to showcase these extraordinary islands, while respecting the natural environment we are protecting. We encourage Montreal residents and other people to take advantage of these beautiful sites in the coming days and weeks and connect with the natural beauty we have protected.”
Julien Poisson, NCC Project Manager.
Located near an important bird conservation area, the islands are home to several species at risk in Quebec, including short-eared owl, bobolink and bank swallow. There is also a multitude of fish species among the aquatic plants bordering the islands, including the copper redhorse, a species that only exists in Quebec and is considered endangered in Canada and threatened in Quebec.
The public is invited to dock at the visitor reception areas on the islands aboard non-motorized boats to enjoy the hiking trails, observation platforms and information panels that have been set up.
On a recent hot sunny morning I was invited on a refreshing tour of some of the Islands. Our boat departed from a dock in Pointe-aux Trembles and slowly made its way down the St. Lawrence River, respecting speed limits in view of protecting the shorelines, towards our first destination, Ile Bonfoin (literally Good Hay Island).
The island situated on the Rivières des Prairies, just west of Rue Notre-Dame and the CN railway bridge, lives up to its name as until recently it was used by farmers to graze their animals. From the boat we spied the visitor reception area and trail leading to the observation platform.
‘The public is invited to dock at the visitor reception areas on the islands aboard non-motorized boats to enjoy the hiking trails, observation platforms and information panels that have been set up.’
We next headed back towards the St. Lawrence, slowly skirting Ile à l’Aigle (probably named for eagles that have been seen in the area) where the NCC recently organised a shoreline cleanup of the island. A biologist pointed out the sandy shores where turtles are likely to lay their eggs.
Heading downstream to our next destination, ïle aux Cerfeuils (named for the chervil that grew wild on the island), we enter the channel that separates it from other islands protected by NCC (Île aux Asperges) and it partner Bird Protection Quebec (Île aux Canards and Îlet Vert). Our boat carefully approaches the visitor reception area, again not to disturb the shoreline.
We climb up the steep bank and notice the information panel that welcomes visitors to the island. There is a map of the island and surrounding area, pointing out other NCC properties, as well a list of rules to follow: no fires, no camping, no dogs (not to disturb the wildlife) and no littering (take your trash back with you as there is no collection).
The boardwalk trail starts near the visitor reception area and makes its way to the centre of the island where there is an observation platform. On our way, information panels tell us about some of the exceptional flora and fauna found on the island, increasing our awareness of the fragility of these habitats and the importance of preserving them.
The observation platform offers a breathtaking view of the river and nearby towns – it is so peaceful and bucolic that it is hard to believe that we are just minutes away from Montreal!
The project came to life via a generous contribution from the Fondation Hydro-Québec pour l’environnement (FHQE) as well as the support of Economic Development Canada’s Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program and the Community Interaction Program, linked to the St. Lawrence Action Plan 2011-2026, implemented by the governments of Canada and Quebec.
‘The observation platform offers a breathtaking view of the river and nearby towns – it is so peaceful and bucolic that it is hard to believe that we are just minutes away from Montreal!’
The NCC also received financial support from SC Johnson, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Mountain Equipment Co-op, the Government of Canada through the Youth Employment Strategy and the Fondation de la faune du Québec.
Always eager to involve the community, NCC was able to count on local partners, including the priority intervention zone committees and the residents and municipal administrations of Varennes, Repentigny, Verchères and the Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles borough in Montréal.
The NCC is responding to the growing enthusiasm for recreation and tourism on the St. Lawrence River, while protecting the archipelago through conservation activities. These islands are now part of NCC Nature Destinations network, inviting people to take a journey through some of our country’s greatest natural areas.
About Nature Conservancy of Canada
Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is Quebec’s leading not-for-profit, private land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped to protect more than 1.1 million hectares (2.8 million acres), coast to coast, with more than 45,000 hectares (111,197 acres) in Quebec.
To learn more, visit natureconservancy.ca
Read also: Lending nature a hand
Patricia Dumais is a long-time Westmount resident and nature enthusiast. Growing up near a wetland that was eventually developed, she recognizes the importance of conserving these special places that harbour so much wildlife.