Little more than a hill to most tourists but a mountain to Montréalers, Mont Royal reaches just 233m but its two square kilometres of greenery are visible from almost anywhere in the city. Mont Royal holds a special place in the history of the city – it was here that the Iroquois established their settlement and that Maisonneuve declared the island to be French – but for centuries the mountain was privately owned. Then, during an especially bitter winter, one of the inhabitants cut down his trees for extra firewood. Montréalers were outraged at the desecration, and in 1875 the city bought the land for the impressive sum of $1 million. Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, was hired to landscape the hill, which now provides 56km of jogging paths and 20km of skiing trails to keep city inhabitants happy year-round.
The city has steadfastly refused any commercial developments on this lucrative site, the only construction being Lac aux Castors, built in the 1930s as a work-creation scheme for the unemployed; it now serves as a skating rink in the winter and pedal-boat playground in the summer. In the 1950s, protection of the mountain reached a puritanical extreme when a local journalist revealed young couples were using the area for amatory pursuits and, even worse, that people were openly drinking alcohol. Consequently all of the underbrush was uprooted, which only succeeded in killing off much of the ash, birch, maple, oak and pine trees. Within five years Mont Royal was dubbed “Bald Mountain” and a replanting campaign had to be instigated.