Protecting the falaise St-Jacques

Part of the mission of Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook is to connect Meadowbook park, through a greenway, to a network of parks, including the falaise St-Jacques. Until recently, many people have only been vaguely aware of the existence of the falaise St-Jacques. Now, with the Turcot Interchange under construction at the bottom of the falaise, this wooded hillside is appearing regularly in the media, and environmental groups are calling for it to be preserved as a key part of a green corridor across the southwest region of Montreal Island.P6180015-1-300x300

Falaise, the French word for cliff, perfectly describes this steep escarpment that stretches four kilometres from the Montreal West Interchange to the Decarie Expressway. Its maple, ash and poplar trees provide shelter to numerous species of migrating and nesting birds, and the woods are home to a rare population of brown snakes.

In the early 1980s, Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau wanted to make the falaise into a park, but little came of the idea. The area has been cleaned up several times, saplings planted and the soil stabilized, but after each effort, it has been forgotten.

In 2004, the city described the falaise and Mount Royal as defining characteristics of the island’s landscape. Along with nine other green spaces, it was named an eco-territory, a natural space slated for priority protection and enhancement. Twelve years later, there is no concrete plan to protect it.P6180040-300x300

Last fall, some 165 trees were cut down at its western end to facilitate the Turcot project. The disappearance of those trees set off alarm bells for bird watcher Lisa Mintz, and she founded the group Sauvons la falaise! New trees are supposed to be planted when the highway and rail construction project is complete, but meanwhile, this has put the falaise in the media spotlight, with newspaper and television coverage and intensified calls for its preservation as a green space.

The city has recognized the historic importance of the escarpment as one of the few natural geographic features of the island to have survived relatively

untouched and easily visible over an area of several kilometres.

The falaise is also an important part of a green corridor. A corridor is a habitat, either natural or man-made, that connects isolated green spaces, making them accessible to birds and wildlife. There are green spaces at Meadowbrook, at the falaise, beside the Lachine Canal, in Angrignon Park, around the Douglas hospital and along the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Without the trees of the falaise, the distance between Meadowbrook and these other green spaces would be too great.

photos: Andy Riga

photo: Andy Riga

Recently, the Conseil régional de l’environnement de Montréal (CRE-Montréal), Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook, Sierra Club Quebec, the Green Coalition, Sauvons la falaise! and seven  other community and environmental groups formed a new committee to pressure Transport Quebec to make the Turcot area accessible to Montrealers who want to walk or cycle across the rail tracks and highway, linking NDG with the Lachine Canal, Ville Émard and LaSalle. Planning maps from 2010 and 2012 showed a green overpass (dalle-parc) between the Lachine Canal and NDG. This bridge seems to have been eliminated from current plans.

These groups also noted that a planned walking and cycling path at the bottom of the falaise will only have two access points, one at each end of the escarpment, and they suggested this could present safety problems to users.

Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook and these other groups will be monitoring the Turcot project closely to ensure promises to protect the falaise are kept.


More links from our web page

Andy Riga’s links, including a history of the falaise and his blog about hiking the woods

Press release issued by CRE-Montreal

Gazette article about the above press release

Gazette editorial about the falaise

Andy Riga’s 2016 article about the falaise:

All of Andy’s stuff plus pictures is available here:

Written by: Janice Hamilton

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