21 July 2014

Pleasure Island

Where I come from, they would have tarred and feathered him. After all, former Montréal mayor Jean Drapeau had famously proclaimed that "The Olympics can no more lose money than a man can have a baby" when pitching the 1976 summer games to his electorate. In the event, the city was left with debt of over $1bn, which it took tax payers over 30 years to pay off. While they did so, the city's infrastructure fell into disrepair and big business moved to Toronto. Not exactly a stellar track-record for Montréal's last emperor.

Far from holding a grudge, however, Montréalers think of fun and relaxation when they hear the name Jean Drapeau. And that's because today, the name primarily stands for the island getaway which adds so much to the city's quality of living during these summer days.

Parc Jean-Drapeau is the name given to the vast recreation space on Ile Ste-Hélène and Ile Notre-Dame, which sit in the St. Lawrence River off the city's Old Port. They make Montréalers the envy of other urbanites, as we can claim to have spent our weekends on "an island getaway". 

No private jets or yachts are needed - a trip on the métro or a Bixi will take you to the islands in no time. In these long summer days, I've even ventured to the park's beautiful outdoor pool for a few laps straight after work.

More often though, it is on leisurely days off that I enjoy island life. It may be just psychological, but being away from the city, surrounded by water and greenery, really adds a special je-ne-sais-quoi to the park. Whether I swim, read a book by the sandy beach, stroll in the gardens, run a half-marathon or even go dragon boating, I tend to quickly forget that I have not, in fact, left town.

Naturally, I am not the only resident to have discovered the islands' charm. With a wide variety of events, from Formula One to ethnic food days, the park attracts different crowds every week. Fortunately, they quickly disperse in the vast grounds and a tranquil spot can always be found. And when the sun sets and the mosquitoes start to bite, it's just a short way home.

Sweet redemption, then, for the spendthrift mayor. He certainly fared a lot better than other disgraced francophone emperors. They did not have islands named after them - they got exiled to them.

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