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Step right up, ladies and gentlemen. Don your helmets and straddle your trusty two-wheeled steeds. You are about to travel to eras when mollusks ruled, when Westmount was farmland, Native Americans studied at what is now the Grand Séminaire. It was a time of strong men and strong ale, when crime, streams and oratory flowed freely in Montreal. It was a time of Stones and Beer.
Your trusty guide is none other than Ingrid Birker, prospector of secrets of the past and curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Redpath Museum. Her inspiration was a nighttime bike tour of Manhattan she took last spring. Deciding to combine a paleo-historical-architectural tour with a visit to the McAuslan Brewery, Birker devised the Stones and Beer Tour. The maiden voyage set out only a few weeks ago.
Birker had already developed What Building Stones Tell, a 14-site walking tour of the stones of downtown Montreal's buildings and the stories they reveal of the past. Now she was ready to go beyond stone, beyond pedestrian.
On the next tour, those of you with enough urban bike savvy, a taste for the unknown and no fear of darkness can see the mollusks that once dominated the planet by their numbers. Over the centuries, their shells literally formed the bedrock of Montreal in the limestone now used in so many of the city's old buildings.
Upon leaving the limestone of the Redpath and Le Chateau apartments, Birker will show tour-goers Montreal's only reflecting pool, built in 1702 to stimulate contemplation in the Sulpician brothers at the Grand Séminaire. She will lead you to the milestone, placed in 1684, that told the Westmount farmers they had a mile to go to market. And she will show you Montreal's oldest standing farmhouse, which once belonged to the Hurtubise family and still remains on Cote St. Antoine Road.
There will be a sighting of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen's childhood home and that of what was once Canada's biggest bakery, POM, the pride of Montreal that held an oven 132 feet long and now boasts luxury living under terra cotta roofs. You will swoop down to St. Henri along the "Glen," as the road under the railroad bridge is known (where once a river flowed to the St. Lawrence), tip your helmet to the statue of Louis Cyr, the strongest man who ever lived, then wet your whistle at the McAuslan Brewery.
You'll be hungry by now, perhaps a little chilled, and will appreciate the beer, cheese and apple-tasting given at the brewery as part of a presentation on its history and workings. This is Quebec's oldest microbrewery, home of the original St. Ambroise Pale Ale.
Then you hit the road again, taking in the mysteries of the nighttime Lachine Canal as you cycle east past the Atwater Market (where demagogic Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis and strongman mayor of Montreal Camilien Houde slayed their foes with oratory) and on to Griffontown (once home of the city's Irish, where the ghost of decapitated Mary Gallagher appears every seven years to search for her head). The trip is over and you, dear rider, will only have to search for the way home, back to the 21st century.
Next one-hour walking Stones Tour for alumni: Saturday, September 25, 11 am (sharp), leaving from the Redpath Museum. Discover the architectural history, paleontology, stoneworking and geological origins of some of the city's proudest institutions and monuments. Included in the $10 fee is a copy of What Building Stones Tell, a richly illustrated booklet popularizing some of Montreal's most attractive and interesting rocks and fossils dating back more than a billion years. For tickets contact Sophia Johnson at 398-7684 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next Stones and Beer Tour leaves the Redpath Museum at 4 pm on Thursday, October 21, finishing at 9 pm, $15. Call 398-4086, ext. 4094, to reserve. Spaces are limited.