The McIntosh thrill
The fall glory lasts but a few weeks, so take some time to savour its magic by tasting the tangy, delicious flavours of harvest apples.
There are many types, but the jewel is the McIntosh. Unfortunately, our grocery shelves stock bland-tasting hybrids unlike the succulent treat of yore. Fortunately, Atwater Market has fresh apples, and St. Hilaire orchards offer picking to the public.
For an apple picking adventure suffused with history, try the Grey Nuns’ property on Île Saint Bernard, located at the mouth of the Châteauguay River and Lac St. Louis. A little bridge leads onto the island and the car park at the centre d’accueil.
Once across, the visitor is immediately immersed into the by-gone era of New France, when St. Marguerite d ’Youville established an order here. A mill was constructed, and in the early 19th century, the convent became a hub of farming and trading with the Mohawks, linked to the burgeoning city by the lake steamers and vessels that plied Lac St. Louis.
Today, the grounds offer spectacular views of Lac St. Louis, while the nature reserve features sunny dells, marshes, dappled-lit woods, and meadow hedgerows.
It’s for all ages, and the cheery centre d’accueil is nice for coffee, beverages and treats. On the day I visited, herons alighted as if on cue, and hoards of gimlet-eyed, green spotted leopard frogs bounded ahead of my steps like circus performers. There were armoured-looking flying locusts. Caution: wear long pants, as poison ivy grows there.
The trails and boardwalks offer endless birding and photo opportunities. Some of the big, old McIntosh trees rise above the abandoned fields. These ancient specimens are the source of grafts for the new orchard (where picking is allowed), the genuine apple flavour transferred from generation to generation.
This year, apple picking begins on Sunday, September 23. A six pound bag costs $4 and a 15 pound bag is $7 seven dollars. Don ’t forget to visit the creamery café!
It is thanks to John McIntosh’s discovery of a delicious apple tree on his land, in 1811, that we have the ‘Granny’ and ‘Red’ McIntoshes of today. The Upper Canadian farmer took years to perfect grafting techniques, and, in 1835, launched his commercial seedlings. The McIntosh quickly became Canada ’s favourite apple.
Getting to Île Saint-Bernard is easy: exit Montreal on the Mercier Bridge, and head west on Rte 132-138.
Almost immediately, the #132 veers north into Kanawake. At the first intersection (with a cross on the NE corner), make a left turn onto the main street heading west out of town. Minutes later, is the Ch âteauguay River Bridge. Cross it, and turn right onto St. Bernard Road, following the signs to Refuge Marguerite d ’Youville. Info: www.heritagestbernard.qc.ca