15 Things You Never Knew About Montreal's Mount Royal

Secrets of the mountain.
15 Things You Never Knew About Montreal's Mount Royal

In the summer and fall, you walk up it. When the ground is covered in snow, you slide down it. And in the spring, well, it's generally too muddy to host any fun activity, but barring that, Mount Royal is a constant source of amusement and enjoyment for Montrealers, and has been since the city's inception.

And given the long history of Mount Royal, there's a lot more to know about the mountain than the fastest way to the top. So, in celebration of Mount Royal, the park, and its monuments, here are a list of factoids and stories you never could have known about the mountain that constantly overlooks the city.

Mount Royal Used To Be A Volcano

Well, not quite a volcano in the typical sense, but rather a volcanic complex that was active all of 125 million years ago. The mountain now stands as an eroded relic of what it once was, volcanically speaking, of course.

There's A Mineral Named After The Mountain

All that volcanic activity back in the day does have some form of a legacy, as without it we probably wouldn't have "Montroyalite," a unique mineral discovered at Mount Royal, as the name suggests. According to the interwebs, montroyalite is "a whitish brittle translucent fibrous crystalline mineral with the empirical chemical formula Sr4Al8(CO3)3(OH)13F12•10.5(H2O)"

There's A Tunnel That Cuts Right Through The Mountain

Okay, so if you happen to take the AMT, then you're probably already quite familiar with the Mount Royal tunnel, as it's been used as a means to get right into the city for years. You might not know, however, that the Mount Royal Tunnel is the second longest in all of Canada, so take that you know-it-all.

How The Cross Got Up There In The First Place

Back in 1642, torrential flooding was doing a number on the newly formed settlement of Ville-Marie. So to curry the favour of the divine, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve asked the Virgin Mary to stop the flooding, and if she did, Chomedey promised he would erect a cross at the top of the mountain in her name.

The Holy Mother made good on her end of the deal (or, you know, the flooding just stopped) and so de Maisonneuve went up to the top of Mount Royal on January 6th, 1643 with a wooden cross in tow.

When The Cross Got Its Lights

A wooden monument wouldn't do forever, and in 1924 the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste installed the first illuminated cross. Ownership of the symbol would pass onto the city, who then installed a new cross with fibre-optic lights in 1992, with an LED-light cross following in 2009.

Another fun fact: the cross can actually change colours, even though it's almost always white.

There's A Time Capsule That Won't Be Opened 'Til 2142

Right beside the cross, you may have noticed a plaque, which was installed in 1992 and designates the spot in which a time capsule was placed on Mount Royal. The capsule contains the drawings, words, and predictions of 12,000 Montreal children who tried to imagine what the city would be like in 2142, the year in which the capsule will be opened.

Mount Royal Park Was Designed By The Same Guy Who Did Central Park

Frederick Law Olmsted is his name, co-designer of Central Park in New York City. Unfortunately, a lot of what Olmsted planned for Mount Royal didn't pan out, but more on that in a hot second.

Mount Royal Park Could Have Looked Very Different

In Frederick Olmsted's original plan, Mount Royal park would have had a far nicer carriage path, a reservoir at the top of the mountain, and a large promenade that would surround it. A distinct approach to the mountain's vegetation was also planned, with flora growing more scarce as you went up the park's path, in order to exaggerate Mount Royal's height.

Unfortunately, a lot of this stuff didn't go through, mainly because Montreal was going through a depression in the 1870s. As such, the city couldn't afford a fair amount of the features included in Olmsted's design, and so they were just left out when the park was inaugurated in 1876.

Mount Royal's Lookout Has An Official Name

Technically, the "lookout" is a belvedere (which is a fancy name for a lookout) and there are two on the mountain. The larger one by the Chalet where everyone snaps selfies, which was built in 1906, bears an official name: Kondiaronk Belvedere, named after the Petun chief Kondiaronk.

Mount Royal's Trees Were Cut Down To Discourage Sex

Apparently Montrealers in the 1950s didn't have enough common sense to just rent a motel room, because people were having sex in the bushes so often that then-mayor Jean Drapeau ordered "morality cuts" to be enacted on the park's vegetation. The result was some serious damage done to Mount Royal's forestry.

What Those Giant Towers Are For

Other than being mild eyesores, the big metallic tower structures do serve a use. Essentially, they're transmitter towers, with the largest one being used by the CBC, the other for several private TV stations, and the shortest one for Montreal-area FM radio and TV stations.

Mount Royal Used To Have Its Own Elevator

Getting up and down Mount Royal was far easier from 1884 to 1918 thanks to the Mount Royal Funicular Railway, which was basically an elevator that ran up and down the mountain. Pulled by cables using steam power, the funicular cost a precious 5 cents and would take passengers right to the top of Mount Royal. The funicular was found to be structurally unsound in 1918 and was completely dismantled two years later.

The Mountain Used To Be A Full-Blown Ski Park

Today, we use Mount Royal's deep incline to toboggan, but in the mid-20th century, it was a fully-equipped alpine ski slope. Two 2.5 mile ski slopes were found at the park, with mechanical lifts available for all skiers. There was even a ski shop built in 1938 to accommodate all visitors' skiing needs.

Mount Royal Has Its Own Web Documentary

Created by journalist Hélène de Billy and filmmaker Gilbert Duclos, in association with the National Film Board of Canada, Holy Mountain is an online documentary website hybrid devoted to Mount Royal entirely. A multimedia mish-mash of historical documents and user-generated content, the website's design is incredibly unique, as it is made to reflect a real walk up the mountain. Check it out here.

There Was Almost A Giant Bronze Statue At The Mountain's Top

Long before Mount Royal Park was inaugurated, an idea was pitched by Parisian artist Louis Rochet in 1867 to place a giant bronze monument to Jacque Cartier at the top of the mountain. Rochet's proposal didn't get approved by the city, but that didn't stop him from trying again seven years later, only to have the pitch rejected once more.

But that wasn't the last giant statue to almost grace Mount Royal's peak. In 1888, the Montreal city council expressed the desire to erect a gigantic 200 foot bronze statue of the Virgin Mary atop Mount Royal. Some initial plans were even mapped out, but eventually the project was scrapped, mainly because it would cost way too much money.

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