Montreal·Video

Have you explored Montreal's 15,000-year-old cave? It might soon be possible year-round

Quebec's speleological society and the Montreal borough of Saint-Léonard want to build a new, eco-friendly pavilion that would attract tourists to the cave in Pie-XII Park.

Cave formed during the ice age and was discovered in 1812, second passage found behind limestone wall in 2017

Luc Le Blanc says a new pavilion at the Saint-Léonard cave would allow people to visit the site year round and hopefully provide more educational opportunities for Spéléo Québec. (Valeria Cori-Mannochio)

Quebec's speleological society and the Montreal borough of Saint-Léonard have plans to build a new pavilion they hope will attract more visitors to a cave in Pie XII Park that made international headlines in 2017.

That was the year Luc Le Blanc, a longtime caver, speleologist and a member of Spéléo Québec, helped discover a new underground passage, formed during the ice age and hidden behind a limestone wall, that dramatically boosted the visibility of the 15,000-year-old cavern.

The Saint-Léonard cave was originally discovered in 1812 by a local farmer and later used to store weapons and ammunition during the Upper Canada Rebellion. It didn't start welcoming visitors until 1980 and Le Blanc says he'd like the site to be made even more accessible.

"If the interpretation centre is built as we suggested, it would enclose the entrance," he said, "and that would solve the problem of the cold winter air freezing the entrance.... It would make visits [possible] year round."

WATCH | Luc Le Blanc hopes more people can visit the cave in the future, including a section he helped discover:

Local group pushes for new visitor centre at the Saint-Léonard cave

2 months ago
1:58
Luc Le Blanc, a member of Spéléo Québec, says investing in a new building would allow people to tour the caves all year round. 1:58

Le Blanc says Spéléo Québec wants to teach more locals and tourists about what makes the cavern so unique: it was formed by glacial movements during the ice age which created fissures in the limestone rock, previously covered by two to three kilometres of ice.

He says the borough has been looking to increase the potential for tourism since the 2017 discovery but wants the new facility to be multipurpose.

"Our initial proposal was mostly focusing on speleology," he said,"...but the city which will actually pay for this building may decide otherwise.... The borough lacks community space and this could be a nice one."

Counc. Dominic Perri says Saint-Léonard wants the building to be as environmentally friendly as possible.

"It would be a pavilion that is carbon neutral, with a green roof...geothermal heating, water recuperation, solar panels" he said. "In other words, it would be a completely green building."

The borough would like to build a multipurpose pavilion at the entrance to the Saint-Léonard cave. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

Perri says the borough needs help paying for the expansion. He says the city of Montreal hasn't responded to its requests, so the borough has submitted an application for funding to Infrastructure Canada, as the cave is a registered historic site. 

Part of the proposal would see ladders, handholds and other safety features installed in the section discovered in 2017, which is currently inaccessible to visitors.

"Since the time it was discovered, it made worldwide news...BBC, National Geographic," he said. "We want to allow people to go and visit the place where for 15,000 years no one has ever been."

The cave is so far down that it reaches the aquifer. The explorers had to use an inflatable canoe to navigate part of the cavern, which is under five metres of water. (Submitted by Société québécoise de spéléologie)

Perri says the pavilion proposal is still in the early stages and will be adapted to the available budget. The cave currently gets around 4,000 visitors a year and visits are organized by Spéléo Québec.

"It is a jewel that remains to be discovered," said Perri. "It's a scientific attraction, it's a tourism attraction, it can even bring [in] some revenues."

With files from Valeria Cori-Mannochio

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