Exploring Montreal: Verdun

by Laura Roberts on September 11, 2009 · 51 comments

I live in Verdun, a rather under-explored part of Montreal. Technically speaking, we’re a borough of the city of Montreal, though based on how tricky it is to get to Verdun from downtown Montreal by bicycle or car, some people think we’re (still) a city unto ourselves. We were amalgamated in the Great Montreal Merger of 2002 (“one island, one city”), and despite several boroughs that kicked up a big stink and were finally de-amalgamated (*cough*Westmount*cough*), Verdun remains a part of the megacity of Montreal.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, though: despite being rather difficult to access by private transport, Verdun is only 20 minutes from downtown Montreal by metro, and we’ve got far more green space than anywhere else on the island. Jealous? You will be!

St. Maria Mater Dolorosa Church at the corner of Wellington and de l'Eglise (photo by Flickr user -AX-)

Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs church at the corner of Wellington and de l'Eglise (photo by Flickr user -AX-)

We’ve also got great waterfront views of the St-Laurent River, fabulous bike paths that will take you all the way out to Lachine, and… a Natatorium?

Verdun's Natatorium (photo by Flickr user yayyoshimi)

Verdun's Natatorium (photo by Flickr user yayyoshimi)

Yup, that’s right: Verdun was a trendsetter way back in 1930, when the Art Deco style Natatorium was built. At the time, it was one of the largest public pools in Quebec, and it can currently accommodate up to 1,150 people. A large heated wading pool was added in 2005, and this pool alone can hold up to 250 kids at one time. Now that’s a natatorium!

L’École de cirque de Verdun, aka the Circus School of Verdun

L’École de cirque de Verdun, aka the Circus School of Verdun

Speaking of cultural oddities, Verdun is also home to a circus school. Although I’ve walked past the building many times, I never realized that this primary-colored structure was, in fact, the home of L’École de cirque de Verdun, aka the Circus School of Verdun. Both children and adults can take classes in the circus arts, and those who really want to run away and join the circus can take their professional training program to become certified circus performers.

That really helps explain all the clowns on unicycles I’ve been seeing lately. I was beginning to think I was going insane. Luckily for those who really are experiencing hallucinations and other mental problems (but which are hopefully not exacerbated by the clowns), Verdun is also home to a world-class mental-health facility: the Douglas Hospital. Originally dubbed “the Protestant Hospital for the Insane,” the name was changed in 1923 to honor its long-standing director, Dr. James Douglas. Currently, the hospital is affiliated with McGill University’s teaching hospital as well as the World Health Organization, and boasts a staff full of international authorities on a wide variety of mental health issues.

It may seem odd to list a mental health facility as a sight to see in Verdun, but as the Douglas takes up 170 acres of land and accounts for fully one-seventh of the borough of Verdun, it’s actually quite a nice place to visit if you’re in the area. The grounds are very picturesque and well-maintained, with a therapeutic sculpture garden on site, and the large grassy areas make great picnic spots. At one point the grounds even play host to an annual Celtic Festival, which was sadly retired in 2006 when the event’s organizer suddenly passed away. If anyone wants to pick up the reins and get it back on track, it would be a great way to treasure his memory.

Mies van der Rohe skyscrapers, Nun's Island (via imtl.org)

Mies van der Rohe skyscrapers, Nuns' Island (via imtl.org)

Finally, though not technically in Verdun, there are some architectural oddities that may intrigue visitors. From the shores of the St-Laurent, where the bike path runs along the water, you can look across the expanse and see Île des Soeurs, aka Nuns’ Island, where there are several skyscrapers designed by modernist architect Mies van der Rohe. For the true van der Rohe fan, you can even visit a (now-closed) gas station designed by the Chicago architect!

For more information on visiting or living in Verdun, be sure to check out the borough’s official homepage at ville.montreal.qc.ca. And be sure to check back next week for my guide to eating in Verdun!

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1 Kathy Jette August 22, 2016 at 4:57 pm

I was born in Verdun on Wellington St. and Riel then moved to Woodland Ave next door to the church which was next door to Dawson Boys Club. I went to Verdun High. I moved to Toronto in 1974 worked at Nortel. I now live in Orleans, ON. If anyone remembers me please email me.

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