It's nice to think that on the edge of such as big city as Montreal, which hosts the busiest bridge in Canada, there remains a little quirk of history that, though far from being useless, could easily cease without most people missing it.
I guess my ferry love goes way back as my first crossing of the Île-Bizard ferry was in 1978. I was on holiday at my in-laws in Kingston and had just been offered a job in Montreal, so my wife, her sister and I borrowed the family Ford Maverick (the worst car I've ever come across) and spent a day checking out the Montreal area to see if we wanted to live there. At the end of our jaunt we headed a few stops up autoroute 13 (then a toll road at 25¢ a go), and came back via the Île-Bizard ferry. And I don't think it's changed much since then, except the 2-car boat, the "Paule" was replaced in 1987 by the 6-car "Paule II".
This is a great little ferry that crosses a fast, narrow section of the Rivière des Prairies, where the Ottawa River flows through the Lac des Deux Montagnes and them makes its way around the Hochelaga Archipelago in various channels, eventually combining with the Saint Lawrence.
It's a reaction ferrythe strength of the current is all that powers it. A taught cable is strung 25 ft above the river, supporting pulleys attached to a couple of other cables that in turn restrain the "Paule II". The river current pushes against rudders under the ferry to move it either one way or the other, back and forth across the river. The current here is very strong, and the ferry looks precarious as it crosses, being tipped by the pull of the cables, with the waves washing against the upstream side of the boat.
A ferry has been here since about 1861, and the current method (no pun intended!) with cables has been in place since 1903. Back in the 19th century when oars and poles were used to control it accidents were common, but the only recent one was in 2015 when an overloaded power boat collided with the ferry and one person from that boat was killed. But otherwise it is a safe and low profile service, and few people around Montreal actually know it exists. It only really becomes useful if you want to cross between Île-Bizard and Laval, when it can save plenty of time, especially at rush hour when the bridges are grid-locked. But otherwise you would use the Jacques Bizard bridge to reach Île-Bizard, or one of the dozen or so bridges to get to Laval. Although it's the closest public ferry to where I live in Valois I have rarely used it in the nearly 40 years I have lived in the area.
Nearby attractions? Laval I'm sure has its fans, but I'm not one of them. It is a fairly flat island, approaching the size of Montreal Island, with lots of good of agricultural land, which is steadily being devoured by housing and shopping centres. But there is still plenty of undeveloped land and old sections dating back to the original villages. As you leave the ferry on the Laval side Laval-sur-le-Lac seems filled with the worst of McMansions
Montrealers with some money wanting a spot near the water and a house to impress their friends.
Île-Bizard has a different character. Many of the modern houses are still large and pretentious, but less so than in Laval-sur-le-Lac. For me the attraction is the Parc-nature du Bois-de-l'Île-Bizard which is always worth a visitwe go a couple of times a year. There is a long boardwalk through marshes which is great for turtle watching and birding, and the trails are perfect for casual weekend walks, biking or cross-country skiing. One arm of the park comes out just south of the ferry dock, another on a point with a swimmable beach that looks out over Lac des Deux Montagnes and a third arm exits on the Montée de l'Église which bisects the island. Recommended.
And years ago we were exploring Île-Bizard and found large pieces of kimberlite rock, one of which still stops our living room light from falling over. The place we found it was a building site for a new house, so is now covered, but there must still be exposures on the island where it can be found.
Notes on some names …
The ferry docks in Laval on land that used to be undeveloped, but is now full of pretentious housing, and goes by the name Laval-sur-le-Lac, which I suspect is a modern invention, though its golf course dates to 1917. Most sources give this name to the Laval side of the ferry, but the ferry's own website shows Sainte-Dorothée. The island itself was called Île Jésus, but all the municipalities on it were merged in 1965 into one city called Laval, and most people now simply call the island Laval.
Île-Bizard seems always to have been used both as the name of the island and of the municipality, although now it is part of the Montreal borough of L'Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève.
Technically the Ottawa River ends at Lac des deux Montagnes, and then splits into several branches as it flows around the Hochelaga Archipelago, before everything merges into the Saint Lawrence. The Île-Bizard ferry crosses one of the branches of the Rivière des Prairies and the Rivière des Mille Îles defines the north of Laval, but all are channels of the Ottawa, the Rivière des Outaouais.
The Hochelaga Archipelago is the name for the collection of islands around Montreal where the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa rivers joint together, but I can't say I've ever heard anyone use that name.