By Ellen Gedopt…
As of last year, Montreal has followed the example of cities like Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Vienna and Toronto… and set up its own urban beach. The Clock Tower Beach in Montreal is located in the Old Port, right next to the St. Lawrence River, under the… you guessed it, clock tower.
An urban beach is not a natural beach that happens to be located in the city. Montreal’s beach is completely artificial, has no waves rolling onto the shore, and swimming is not allowed. But the ability to kick back and soak in some sunshine while sitting at the water’s edge, still offers a pretty good beach experience.
Situated at the eastern point of the quay and along the basin, it is mostly the surroundings that define this urban beach. On one side, a panoramic view of Montreal’s Old Port with the Bonsecours Market, the towers of the Notre Dame and beyond the office towers downtown. Turn your head the other way, and you can enjoy the boats go past on the St. Lawrence River. The steel structure of the Jaqcues Cartier Bridge reaches across to Saint Helen’s Island where Alexander Calder’s sculture and Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome stands proud against the green backdrop. And if you need to check the time, you can do so on the 1921 clock tower built as a replica to London’s Big Ben. Not bad, eh?
So, with those surroundings, the Clock Tower Beach did not need much to make it a successful urban space. Yet, the design does add another dimension. The blue umbrellas, comfortable chairs and wood boardwalk set up a clean and simple beach configuration. The mist stations allow you to cool down without resorting to jumping in the river. A large wood staircase doubles as a ramp (accessible design done right!) and there is something about the quality of the sand. I am unsure about its specifics, but it does not get hot under your feet! This successful design is the work of Claude Cormier + Associés (CC+A), the firm also responsible for the pink balls suspended over Ste. Catherine East in summer and Sugar Beach in Toronto.
For people who think “swimming” when they hear the word beach, this is not the place. And for others who think this beach should be free, I think you have a good point. But if you can enjoy a beach without the splashing around and you can get over the 6$ fee, it is well worth checking it out. Maybe the city can even consider adding a floating pool to the basin like in Antwerp or New York!
One last tip: if you want to maximize your beach experience, buy a day ticket on day when the fireworks are scheduled. The beach stays open late those days and offers the most spectacular, carefree viewing experience.
© Louise Rivard
Ellen Gedopt is an architect in Rotterdam who has lived, worked and studied in Montreal, Quebec. She explored Canada coast to coast and canoed into the heart of the boreal forest.