“I think it’s New York City Hall. No, no, no…California!”
So the toddler needs some geography lessons, but admittedly, I’ve also sat on the shores of Lac St. Louis and contemplatively wondered “Just WHAT is on the other side of the river?”
Well now I know.
It’s this place!
Le refuge faunique Marguerite-D’Youville is a wildlife refuge of 223,5 hectares situated on Île Saint-Bernard, an island which is surrounded by the St. Lawrence River, the Châteauguay River and Lac St. Louis. With 8km of walking trails through forests, fields, marshes, and along boardwalks, it’s an idyllic spot close to Montreal where you can enjoy hiking while seeing some of the 231 species of birds, 22 species of mammals, and various reptiles and amphibians that have been observed over the years. In 2010 Ducks Unlimited Canada and le ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec became the owners of the refuge, ensuring that it will remain protected in perpetuity.
The trails are open 7 days a week, from sunrise to sunset. Bicycles and dogs are prohibited. And while the trails are mostly hard packed, there are some rocky parts that might be too much for a simple umbrella stroller. A carrier or a running-type stroller might be a better idea if you intend to walk for a while. There are porta-potty type bathrooms at a few spots on the trails, but no water, so be sure to bring plenty; as well as snacks, hats, bug repellant, cameras, binoculars etc. Basically pretend you’re camping and pack accordingly!
Our initial plan had been to take the maritime shuttle* that links Lachine and Châteauguay, but after missing the boat by about one minute (because I’d assumed it departed the shore near the Dairy Queen – it doesn’t), we veered back into the car and took the quick trip over the Mercier Bridge and through Châteauguay and arrived around 9am.
*You can find the ferry info on this page. Scroll down to the LACHINE – CHÂTEAUGUAY section. The ferry only runs during the summer on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. Prices posted are for one-way, payment is in CASH ONLY. And you CAN bring bikes and strollers on board. The trip is about one hour and you disembark right onto Île Saint-Bernard near the information centre.
I like visiting places early because: it’s cooler on hot days, it doesn’t interfere with after-lunch toddler naps, and it’s always more enjoyable when there aren’t lineups and throngs of people. There were only a few cars in the parking lot and we stowed our picnic cooler in the car for later, and went into the Pavillon de l’île which houses the Café de l’île resto-boutique as well as the information centre, washrooms (with milk crates so kids can reach the faucets!) ticket counter, and entry to the refuge. The café has an outdoor terrace, fresh foods, board games to borrow and local products for sale.
After paying the small entry fee (rates to access the trails are available HERE), the friendly employee showed us on the map which trail would be best with children, what spots would be very sunny, and where we could find bathrooms and the new children’s playground. You can also rent audio guides to narrate as you walk the paths.
The trails are well marked, and if you’re quiet you’ll see deer, small animals, and all sorts of birds along the way. We paused to watch turtles and ducks in the marsh, and then trotted along to the wooden ship with its zipline and obstacle course. The boys were THRILLED and practiced their balancing along the swinging wood bridges and whooped as they held onto the zipline. Surprisingly, we didn’t notice any deer around this area 😉
The playground site is built on what was once a camp for children during the 30’s and 40’s and you can still see the building foundations underfoot. It’s right next to a picturesque beach that overlooks the St. Lawrence river and Lac St. Louis and we were able to (almost) point out our house across the water. With the Châteauguay nautical centre around the bend, there were rented kayaks and canoes navigating the calm waters around the island. And while the white sand and water looks mighty inviting, note that there is NO swimming allowed anywhere on the island.
We walked all along the Grande digue to the observation building and were treated to more ducks, a muskrat (twice!), and a deer who didn’t even blink when we walked by. A bit further along the path and by 11am everyone was getting tired, thirsty and ready for a snack. Stopping at the 6th “station” or information panel, we backtracked back to the entrance and picnicked at one of the tables in the shade of the trees.
The boys wanted to grab the ferry home, so we split up and they travelled back with their grandma on the 12:30 boat while my husband and I gleefully danced away. We had 1/2 hour to use before heading back to pick them up in Lachine, so we wandered through the festival which was going on in front of the Manoir d’Youville, looked at the archaeological dig, peeked into the bistro La Traite which serves local terroir products and Quebec micro-brews, and walked around the windmill which dates back to 1686.
There are other activities to enjoy, which will have to wait for another day…But, you can also visit the rest of the island (for free), go on a pontoon boat tour($), take a guided tour of the historical sites, visit the 400-tree organic orchard (where you can go apple picking in September), participate in a nature workshop, or visit during one of the events happening from May to December. And if you’re looking for a quick retreat from the city, staying in the inexpensive Manoir d’Youville would be a great getaway from the kids! Coffee while sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking the water sounds like bliss.
So if you’re looking for a beautiful outdoor family activity, and a mini day trip away from the city, the refuge faunique Marguerite-D’Youville coupled with the ferry ride makes a perfect excursion.
BONUS: When we picked up the kiddos at the marina in Lachine after their “really fun!” ferry ride, we were able to have an ice cream at the shop just beside the bike paths. A perfect end to a great day 🙂
Some useful links!
-The official website for l’île Saint-Bernard
-The web page for Le refuge faunique Marguerite-D’Youville
-Find downloadable maps of the walking trails, surrounding bike trails throughout Châteauguay and the Route verte, as well as wildlife observation sheets and more HERE.
-An article about Le Manoir D’Youville