Prior marrying me, my wife resided in the Outremont section of Montreal, where we took strolls in Pratt Park. It is one of eight parks designed between 1910 and 1931 by a legendary local trio: engineer Émile Lacroix, landscape architect Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne and horticulturalist Thomas Barnes.
Three of them, Saint Viateur, Outremont, and Beaubien, have artificial ponds with fountains. Pratt Park was the most special of these, not only because this is where I dated my wife-to-be, but also because it has two ponds connected by a stream, with an isle, and a waterfall. It is a miniature Central Park within a single city block.
Where it Is
The park is located on a block bound by Avenue Pratt, Avenue Van Horne, Avenue Dunlop, and Avenue Lajoie in the borough of Outremont. The site lies on the northern slope of Mount Royal, the island city’s highest point. within the park, a stream runs through a concrete channel lined with stones, descending from the Lajoie side of the park towards the pond at Van Horne.
At the Source
Near the corner of Lajoie and Dunlop is a stone house designated for maintenance and storage. An architectural folly, it has a corner turret tower and rooftop deck. They haven’t been open to the public in years but when they were, from here one could see the entire park and further north to the island city of Laval. Canada is the second largest country by landmass, but thinly populated outside of its cities. Standing here it seems that one can see all the way north to the arctic.
Next to the pavilion is a waterfall emerging from carefully laid out rocks. The stream runs only during the summer, fed by the city’s water supply.
When the stream is not there, its course is clearly defined so that even in the dry season one can imagine its cascading water descending down the park’s slope. As with New York’s Central Park, the stream is crossed by charming stone bridges that make for ideal wedding photo venues.
On the Slope
Within the park, the stream splits up and reunites, along the way flowing through a small pond with an isle, and another pond whose dry bottom appears to be covered in the same waterproof material as a building roof. Not a drop of the stream’s water penetrates the ground.
Could this be the smallest island inside the smallest waterway in Montreal?
Approaching its terminal pond, the stream is crossed by its final bridge and then forms a waterfall. As with New York City’s parks, all the signs and lampposts in Montreal’s parks are the same, standard street furniture that makes the parks easily recognizable as belonging to Montreal.
The pond into which the stream empties does not have a name. It is filled with water in the summer; in the autumn and spring it is dry concrete, and in the winter a thin layer of ice allows for ice skating and curling. It is a multi-use surface for all seasons.
At the corner of Dunlop and Van Horne is a drain for excess water from the pond. From here, it flows back into the city’s sewers after its brief moment in the sun.
About Pratt Park
No page about a park would be complete without mention of the site’s history and namesake. Initially, I presumed that Pratt Park was named after an Englishman or someone of English descent in a neighborhood of mixed anglophones and francophones.
It is an upscale neighborhood whose early residents were those who succeeded in business and lived in sizable homes that were a short commute from downtown but separated from the urban core by Mount Royal.
I learned that namesake John Pratt (1812-1876) was actually a descendant of French colonists with the Duprat surname and he was baptized as Jean-Baptiste Prat. His career began in the leather trade, but he made his wealth in the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company, which later became Canadian Shipping. Was also a board member of Canadian Rubber, Montreal Weaving and Montreal Cotton, and the an active player on the city’s political and business scene. Although today’s Montreal is majority francophone, there were periods when English speakers outnumbered the Québécois, and it may have been more prudent at the time Anglicize one’s name.
Following his death, the farm passed to his heirs, who built the Outremont Golf Club on it in 1912.
The clubhouse stood near the highest point on the property, at Kelvin and Dunlop avenues. It functioned until 1921, when the land was subdivided for residences. The undeveloped block that became Pratt Park was purchased by Outremont from the family in 1929.
For more on Montreal’s hidden waterways, visit my page on Little Saint Pierre River, which flows through the basement of a museum. Andrew Emond’s detailed site Under Montreal provides enough material to write a book. Like New York, this is a city of parks, each with its own design and history.
If I could do my wedding over again, J’apprendrais le français, réinstallé à Montréal et demande de travail au département des parcs de Montréal en tant qu’historien.
In the News:
6 SQ FT interviews historian Joan Witty about Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Staten Island Advance reports on the effort to secure funding for the expansion of Goodhue Park.
WNYC reports on the wildlife living in New York City’s parks.
Le Journal de Montreal reports on a proposed national park within the city of Montreal. (in French) Unlike the U.S., Canada does not have so many urban national parks.
CBC News reports on a new photo essay book by Robert Burley: An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto’s Natural Parklands.
Toronto Metro reports on the designation of waterways within that city as part of a protected greenbelt.