With only one day in Montreal, I set out early from my hostel, heading east on Ste. Catherine Street. It was Sunday, and the street was uncharacteristically empty. I was on the tourist trail today, and headed down to Old Montreal, across its 400 year old cobblestone streets by the St. Lawrence River. Barely pausing for coffee, I looped back up on St. Laurent, thinking I might walk it from end to end. I followed it like a story, this historic boulevard at the heart of the city. But once I passed the Rosemont Viaduct, already footsore, I turned back and circled around through the lively Mile End neighbourhood, down to Parc Mont-Royal where the drummers were, across the park to McGill, and west along Sherbrooke. The sun was already low when I abruptly decided to continue up Cotes-des-Neiges to St. Joseph’s Oratory (one of those interesting sites of miraculous healings), adding a good two hours to my walk.
Montreal is the city where I learned to long-distance wander. When I lived here years ago I was a student and had no money to do anything, so I spent my time walking the streets and neighbourhoods for days on end, exploring, observing, thinking. I learned to love how the city feels, its character, people, architecture, the way I saw art everywhere, as I also learned to love this method of being in the world, on foot and at a human pace. I used to buy the cheapest thin-soled canvas sneakers on St. Laurent, and could feel every stone under my foot. These days I’m grateful to have good shoes, ridiculous-looking, but comfortable for many miles.
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Length: 24 km
Date: 30 September, 2018
Burlington to Hamilton, Ontario
Hot and sweaty, but I wonder why I’ve never done this walk before. It’s a nice one, around the western tip of Lake Ontario, the end of Burlington Bay. The best thing about walking is that you can take routes that you can’t drive, like through cemeteries - there are several on the way - or down to Carroll's Bay and across the rattling old one-lane bridge which has been blocked off to cars for years now. It’s peaceful down there, quiet in the summer heat. People are fishing, paddleboarding, birdwatching, enjoying the last days of summer. It's very green, and swans and goldenrod are everywhere.
There’s a waterfront trail once you cross highway 403 and the bridge into Hamilton, smelly but nice for its waterbirds, historical signage, and lack of traffic. I took the trail all the way downtown, coming up onto James St. N., which was closed to traffic for September’s Art Supercrawl. Live bands, food trucks, art, so much street life. I stopped for an iced latte with my cousins. Walking back along the streets, past Dundurn Castle, back across the bridge at the mouth of Cootes Paradise, then down into the Royal Botanical Garden’s shady valleys, along trails and wetland boardwalks, and finally back home to Aldershot.
Location: Aldershot, Burlington to downtown Hamilton, and back
Length: 18 km
Date: 16 September, 2018
Arriving by train, weaving through Union Station, out to Front street and the grand old Royal York hotel. Construction, always. I have my usual routes: Dundas, Spadina, Kensington, Bloor, Queen West. Art stores, galleries, Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Italy, narrow little stores, coffee shops, favourite parks and restaurants. The underground bathrooms. It’s invigorating, walking around the city, the energy of it, the relentless noise, smell, buildings, traffic, people.
It was a hot day, and humid enough for a walk to arouse a drench of sweat. Air conditioned stops, anywhere cool for a break. At a coffee shop on a street corner in Kensington Market, I sat in the window with an iced latte and watched other people walking. Endless walkers in this city, all kinds of walkers – striding, mincing, sauntering, shuffling, stomping, stamping; some heave themselves along the sidewalk; others almost dance, efficient and beautiful; some in an addled stagger, about to lose their footing all the way along. There was a young woman in Chinatown who walked quickly along continually spinning a parasol over her head.
The front and back faces of the streets are so different. The alley a gallery of garbage and graffiti art, back doors to restaurant kitchens and high bedroom windows. I always like walking the alleyways in any town that still has them. I always like walking in cities where people still walk.
Location: Downtown Toronto, Ontario
Length: 10 km
Date: 5 September, 2018
Sandra Cowan likes to walk on trails, paths, and city streets. She is based in southern Alberta, Canada.