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Barbecue and parks
by Barry Lazar
In the dream, I am walking through a park and, like Pavlov’s dog, I start to salivate. I know why my mouth waters and what makes my nostrils quiver. It’s three little words: bar-be-cue. I run towards the staccato of charcoal splitting under heat. Aromatics enfold me. I turn and see chicken searing on a spit, sausages flaring over a hibachi, a brazier roasts meat, a skewer of vegetables comes off the grill. I am there.

In the past I have been lucky. I have stumbled across a Philipino community fiesta in Snowdon’s McKenzie King Park, a multi-cultural event in Côte-des-Neiges’ Kent Park, or a family from Kazakhstan slowly cooking kebabs over the embers of a brush wood fire in Angrignon Park. Then, of course, there are the feasts I bring myself.

It doesn’t much matter where I am. In Montreal, I am a happy man. There are 700 parks in in this city and everyone permits a barbecue. This is true of the City of Montreal, but not necessarily in every other municipality on or off the island. If you are planning to light up a fire elsewhere check with their city hall or fire department first.

For example, Lachine, which should be a great place for a barbecue with it’s waterfront parks does not allow any kind of outdoor fire in its public spaces. Other popular areas that forbid cookouts include the Old Port, Île Ste-Hélène, Île Notre Dame and La Ronde.

Forget Mayor Bourque’s une Île, une ville, what we need is a common barbecue policy.

That noted, here are 10 great places you can have a cookout and a few suggestions on how to do it right.

Five Favourite Montreal Parks

• Angrignon
This large park in the southwest part of the island borders Lasalle and the Montreal Aqueduct. It is a few minutes from Highway 20 (take the Angrignon exit). The park has several ponds, woods with hiking trails, large expanses for games, a small farm and children’s play area. It is also one of the most accessible with both parking lots and the Angrignon metro.

• Mount-Royal
For its magnificent vistas, no place beats Mount Royal. There is plenty of room for picnicking but, unless you plan to barbecue near the parking lots, it can be a bit of a hike to get to one of the less crowded corners. One of my favourite areas is near the long path, sometimes called “the snake,” which goes from Pine Avenue West (just west of the top of Peel street) and leads up the mountain, winding towards Beaver Lake. For more action, you can walk up to the summit, tour the area in a caleche, rent pedal boats on Beaver Lake, and learn about the history of the mountain at Maison Smith, the large stone building between Beaver Lake and the Chalet.

• Raimbault
This is a jewel of a small park with something for almost everyone. There is a children’s playground, fields for soccer or baseball, a lovely small river that flows into Rivière des Prairies, and just enough hummocks and trees to give both privacy and shade. The park is named for Pierre Raimbault who lived here in the 18th century. If you drive quickly, the park is easy to miss. It is at the corner of Gouin boulevard west and Notre Dame street, across from the Sacré-Coeur Hospital.

• Lafontaine
This park is one of the most beautiful green spaces in the city. It is named for Louis Hippolyte La Fontaine, a French Canadian leader who was instrumental in uniting Upper and Lower Canada in the 19th century. The park is at the corner of Sherbrooke Street east and Papineau street, not far from the Sherbrooke metro station. The central avenue running through the middle of the park is named for Calixa-Lavallée, who wrote Oh Canada. There is a small lake, numerous statues of public figures, and special areas for concerts and sports such as tennis, soccer, and boules. Much of this land has been a public space for over a hundred years.

• la Promenade Bellerive
This is a new park in the east end along the bank of the St. Lawrence river. It is really a chain of older parks that are now linked by a long commons extending over a dozen blocks from des Ormeaux street to Montreal East. While it is not within easy walking distance of a metro, it is on the bicycle path network that extends all the way west to the Lachine canal. Promenade Bellerive has several play areas and a quai that leads onto the river. There aren’t too many shade trees here yet, so think of coming here in the early evening when it is not quite as hot. This is also a featured area for performers and the city has planned several free concerts with great headliners including Edith Butler and the Montreal Swing Jazz Band. The musical entertainment is usually on Thursday evenings at 8:30 p.m. in July and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. in August.

Two spots for the best beaches and bbq

• Cap St. Jacques
Want to bus your bbq to the beach? Go to the Côte Vertu metro station and take buses 64 and then 68 to the end of the route. You’ll be at Cap St.Jacques, the large park at the western edge of the island. If you drive, it is off Gouin boulevard west in Pierrefonds. There is swimming in the river, half a dozen large picnic areas and plenty of grounds for sports. The beach area is relatively small however and gets crowded on hot weekend days. Prices are $4 for adults and $3 for kids. Parking is $4 extra.

• Oka
Dreaming of those lazy hazy crazy days of summer? Forget about Old Orchard. When the weather is hot, head for Oka. The provincial park on the Lake of Two Mountains has 3 km of beaches and over 800 lots for camping. The park is about a 45 minute drive from Montreal, via highways 13 north and then 640 east. Swimming is the big attraction but there is also mountain biking, boating, and a large nature center. The park is huge, with over 23 square kilometres of shoreline, marshes, hills and lots of woods so watch out for poison ivy. Park fees are $6 for parking, $2 for adults and $1 for kids. Camping is extra. For detailed information call 450-479-8365.

Three other great bbq parks

• Boucherville Islands

Is yours a family where everyone wants to get out but no one wants to do the same thing? Consider a day on the Boucherville Islands. These large linked islands in the middle of the St. Lawrence river are accessible by ferries from the south shore as well as automobile via the Louis-Hippolyte-Lafontaine tunnel. There are fees for parking or using the ferries.

This is a provincial park. There is no overnight camping but there are plenty of day activities including free guided nature tours on the weekend. This is a great place for cycling and walking by the river. Bird watchers love it for sighting blue herons and ospreys. Bicycles and boats can be rented and there are free guided canoe tours through the islands but these must be reserved. For a detailed list of park activities, reservations, and rental costs call 450-928-5088. The recorded information is only in French so if you would like information in English wait on the line or press 0 and a bilingual person will come on line. There is also an 18 hole golf course and a pro shop. Fees for the course vary from $21 to $36 depending on the tee off time and day. The phone number for the golf course is 450-670-4522.

• Cité-du-havre
Right across from the Old Port, is a small park that is one of the few places where bbq grates have been installed. The Parc de la Cité-du-havre is a lovely place for a picnic, particularly for catching late-evening fireworks displays. You can bike or get here by car. Drive down Pierre-Dupuy Avenue to the very end. Most know this as the road that passes by Habitat and leads to the former Expo ‘67 site. The park is just before the right turn that leads to the Pont de la Concorde and the Casino.

• Centennial
I have always liked this neighbourhood park on the northern edge of the city of Côte Saint-Luc. It is easy to get to even if you are unfamiliar with this part of town. From Sherbrooke Street west take Cavendish Boulevard to Mackle Road, turn left and go a couple of blocks further. Centennial Park borders the CN rail yards but, unless a train whistle blows, you’ll never know they are there. Instead, there is a large, well-treed expanse, a great children’s play area, a large pond where you can rent paddle boats, and baseball and soccer fields. There is even an open arena in case it rains. It is a wonderful place to have a barbecue.

How to do it right

First of all leave big Bertha at home. Impressive as it is, you don’t really want to drag the behemoth you got for father’s day half way up the mountain before you find the perfect spot for your charbroiled picnic. Only two parks on this list have grills installed—Cité du Havre and Angrignon.

Barbecues and parks go together on a small, easy to manage scale. Light weight gas grills are great for family outings. Less expensive would be a hibachi or a small portable grill and a bag of charcoal. One of the best setups I have come across is the Iranian galvanized grill called a manghal. This is a rectangular box with short legs that sits comfortably on the ground. It is easy to carry and set up. Charcoal is mounded in the middle, lit and fanned to ignite. After about 10 minutes the coals are hot enough to spread. In 30 minutes they are perfect for cooking. Akhavan, a grocery store at 5768 Sherbrooke West (485-4887) sells two models. The $30 one is large enough for most families, the larger at $50 is sturdier and would cook enough kebabs for a crowd. Buy a straw fan to help get the fire going and long metal skewers which cook food evenly and quickly.

I also prefer charcoal to briquettes. Briquettes are usually made by molding pulverized charcoal with strong smelling petroleum based binders. I find they do not cook as hot as charcoal and can often lend an unpleasant oily taste to the food. By the way, City of Montreal regulations require fires to be at least 2/3 of a metre (two feet) from anything flammable, including trees, bushes and picnic benches.

Finally, try to have as much prepared as possible before heading out. Some dishes can be partially cooked or marinated. Bring drinks and extra water to put out the fire and for washing, and have something ready for the family to munch on while getting the barbecue going. Animal lovers should note that City of Montreal parks permit dogs on leashes, but this may not be true elsewhere. Parks at Oka and the Boucherville Islands, for example, don’t allow pets.

One last glorious note: That steak you’ve been saving for the feast really would taste better with a decent Burgundy. Happily Oka, Cap St. Jacques, the Boucherville Islands and all five City of Montreal parks mentioned here allow picnickers to enjoy wine or beer with their food. As Edith Pariseau, a communications officer for the city’s parks department, pointed out ”We’re civilized, aren’t we?”

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