Where do you want to go?

Green Travel : The Allure of Open Air Markets

Every ecotourist has to eat. Why not be a more ecological food consumer by targeting open air markets for meal times? Open air markets are a pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon, providing vibrant and colorful venues for strolling around and taking in the local food and atmosphere. Shopping for food is not a requirement for visiting, but if you are hungry or are stocking up for future meals, they multitask in providing opportunities to support local agriculture, eat healthy, and discover a delicious variety of wholesome snacks for your picnic hampers. In some cities, open air markets are a staple of the spring, summer, and early fall, but tend to shut down or delve indoors for the winter. In Montreal, Qu?bec, the hungry ecotourist has four popular open air markets to choose from.

Jean-Talon Market

Jean-Talon Market, the biggest and most exciting of the four, is open year-round, but shrinks in size when it boards up for the cold Montreal winters. In warmer parts of the year, however, it is a green traveller's delight. The market takes up about one-and-a-half city blocks in the part of town known as Little Italy and is crowed with local farmers selling fruits and vegetables and herbs, maple syrup, nuts, Qu?bec cheeses and jams, and cured meats. There are also three fish shops--Les D?lices de la Mer, Poissonnerie AquaMare, and Atkins & Fr?res--the popular bakery chain Premi?re Moisson, a number of horticultural stalls selling flowers and leafy plants, a cr?perie selling delectable waffles and French pancakes, a popsicle stall, and an assortment of little restaurants, stores, and snack booths scattered within and on the outskirts of the market.

In the summertime, street musicians set up shop on the corners of Jean-Talon market, and friends and families meet for breakfast and lunch at a picnic-style seating area in the middle of the market. Some just come here to stall hop and sample the little saucers of seasonal fruit put out by vendors for the public to taste, while others come for the organic food store, kitchenware store, or specific green events that take place on the premises from time to time and that are sponsored by local organizations like Oxfam Qu?bec. About a 5-minute walk north-east of the market, Jarry Park provides sprawling green lawns--and a little man-made pond--for sultry, mid-afternoon picnics.

Atwater Market

For the green traveller in Montreal, Atwater Market provides an alternative venue for open-air market browsing. Much smaller than the bustling Jean-Talon market, it nonetheless provides an interesting collection of local produce and has a significant and sizeable flower stall, three cheese stores, a fish store, a pasta store, butcher's shops, general food stores, a pet store, a tobacconist, and a liquor store. One popular store, Les Douceurs du March?, is a gourmet & ethnic food store located on the ground floor of the two-story building on the premises that houses all the other stores.

Atwater Market is located in the Saint-Henri neighbourhood close to the Lachine Canal, a long, winding stream that branches off from the St. Lawrence River, cuts across the southern portion of the island, and feeds back into the river at the other end of its southern bulge. A little pedestrian bridge connects the market to St-Patrick Street, south of the canal, which is flanked by bike trails--part of a citywide network maintained by Parks Canada. If you are planning a picnic, you will have your pick of ideal blanket-laying spots along the grassy riverbank. The farmer's stalls at the market close shop in the winter time, leaving just the stores in the market building to fend for themselves until springtime.

Maisonneuve Market & Lachine Market

Finally, Maisonneuve Market, located in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood near the Olympic Stadium on the east end of the island, and Lachine Market, at the opposite end of the island and close to the St. Lawrence River in the Lachine neighbourhood, are smaller but equally interesting stopovers for the adventurous ecotourist and ecological meal planner. Both markets have fruits and vegetables, cheeses and breads, flowers, and plants. Maisonneuve Market is the larger of the two and has a little more variety, including wine and gourmet foods and a fish store; but Lachine Market holds rank as Montreal's oldest, still-operational public market, running since 1909. Both Maisonneuve Market and Lachine Market are open year round, but like the other markets, shrink and migrate indoors during the winter.

The green traveller will be delighted with the opportunities for supporting sustainable local agriculture, buying fresh, organic, and ecofriendly products, and sampling seasonal foods at Montreal's four main public markets. The marketplaces themselves are a treat for the eyes, and you may want to take your camera along. The vendors will not mind; they are used to humouring trigger-happy tourists.

Photo credit: MetallYZA