The Fight for Meadowbrook Park: Thirty Years and Counting

    Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook is celebrating its 30th year of advocating for a park at Meadowbrook Golf Course in Lachine/Côte Saint-Luc. To commemorate the event, the group created a timeline of events over those years and posted it on its website.

    And what a thirty years it was! It involved at least half a dozen housing proposals for the site, three lawsuits and an equal number of appeals. Three commissions recommended that the green space be preserved. The cast of characters ranged from Phyllis Lambert, founder of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, to Charles Bedzow, Second World War freedom fighter and current owner of the golf course. Almost every major environmental group operating on the island had some involvement: the David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace, CRE Montreal, the Sierra Club and the Green Coalition. It swept up many institutions in its wake, including McGill’s School of Urban Planning. And it involved countless citizen supporters. At one point, so many busloads of citizens arrived at Montreal City Hall that the administration had to bar the doors.

    The early years of the fight to preserve Meadowbrook were tumultuous. Côte Saint-Luc council meetings were packed and boisterous. TV cameras whirred; bystanders heckled; local security called for reinforcement. Petitions were started; flyers were distributed door to door; newspapers printed riveting stories.

    It led to some memorable quotes. Because the golf course is traversed and surrounded by train tracks and because it sits next to the largest rail yard in eastern Canada, there are always concerns about toxic spills. At the same time, these rail yards limit egress in case of a train accident. In order to allay the fears of potential buyers, one of the development scenarios proposed that houses come equipped with shatterproof glass windows and ventilation cut-off systems. This led Côte Saint-Luc councillor Glenn Nashen to exclaim, “What a lovely concept for family homeowners!”

    It was also fraught with contradictions. In 2010, Montreal signed the Declaration of the Island of Montreal Community in favour of biodiversity and greening at the Biodiversity Summit held in Montreal. Projet Montréal Councillor Peter McQueen took the opportunity to put forth a motion to preserve Meadowbrook. It was defeated on Earth Day.

    It even had its own Greta Thunberg. Maya Fedida, a student from Herzliah High School, asked Executive Committee Member Alan DeSousa to kill the development project and make Meadowbrook a park. He responded by saying that he had told the developer, “No.” The City was not interested in developing Meadowbrook.

    It was not without intrigue. Secret negotiations were held with the developers, and illegal lobbying had been going on for years over the efforts to have the golf course developed.

    In 2014, following public hearings on the Montreal Urban Agglomeration Land Use and Development Plan, the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) recommended, once again, that Meadowbrook be preserved. In order to ensure that the Executive Committee accept the recommendations of the OCPM, citizens went into action, holding weekly meetings throughout the holiday season, starting a letter-writing campaign and phoning every councillor on Montreal City Council. Finally, after hours and hours of work by numerous citizens: victory. The Executive Committee designated Meadowbrook as green/recreational—a first step toward becoming a park.

    This never was a project against housing. Rather, it was a fight for ready access to natural spaces. Meadowbrook is the only area in this part of the island that can provide such space. We spend most of our life within the city and we want access to natural spaces. We know that natural spaces provide considerable health, social and economic benefits.

    May it not take another thirty years for Meadowbrook to become a park!

     

    Al Hayek, member of Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook

     

    Click on the link below to begin your interactive journey of Montreal’s political and environmental history in three sections complete with photos, quotes, original news clippings, and links to videos and other documents. Enjoy!

    Click here:  THIRTY YEARS OF ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION

    Compiled by Louise Legault, with help from from Sally Cole and Al Hayek and designed by Narges Haghighat.

     

    This is followed by MEADOWBROOK THROUGH THE CENTURIES- A TIMELINE OF LAND USE   by Angela Rahaniotis with Sally Cole and Larry Paul

    The St. Pierre River – Two years later

    In July 2018, Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook shone a light on the condition of the St. Pierre River where it flows through Meadowbrook. A Superior Court decision had just been handed down requiring the City of Montreal to stop polluting what is left of a once-mighty river. But what had seemed like a good idea proved complicated to execute.

    The City of Montreal was aware of the pollution as early as 2002, as identified in sampling done by the Réseau de suivi des milieux aquatiques at the time. The pollution appears to come from residential sewers in Montreal West and Côte Saint-Luc that are connected to the rainwater system rather than to sanitary installations. A 2014 City of Montreal study of the Toe Blake rainwater collector showed 250 such crossed connections.

    Repairing faulty connections is costly. They must first be located; then roadways must be excavated down to the storm sewers, which are usually much deeper than the sanitary installations. These connections often date back to the building of the house, and current occupants may not be aware of the situation. At issue is who is responsible for the repairs.

    Because the problem was a long-standing one, the Superior Court gave the City of Montreal two years to correct it. The City appealed unsuccessfully. Facing a hard deadline, the City chose to divert the Toe Blake collector during dry periods. The collector would then continue to play its role during storms, averting overflow and potential flooding of basements.

    The work was done in February of this year, and has changed the river significantly. The City promised to set the level of the collector to avoid the river running dry. Many Meadowbrook members have contacted us over the months to report extremely low water levels in the river, which is often just a series of unconnected puddles dotting the rocky riverbed and becomes a river again only after a good downpour.

    Les Amis spoke to Professor Daniel Rivest of UQAM to learn the impact of changing water levels on the river’s ecosystem. He pointed out that the transitory nature of the river would prevent benthic macroinvertebrates from settling permanently on the riverbed. These insects, worms and crustaceans are a prime indicator of the health of a river or lake. They are an important link in the food chain, as a source of food for fish, amphibians and birds. Some species act as filters, while others break down matter and cause it to decompose and can therefore play a role in cleaning up a stream. Some species can survive drought, others cannot. Protecting the river is vital to preserve this ecosystem and the animals that depend on it.

    Studies of the St. Pierre River

    Two studies of the St. Pierre River have recently been published. The first was done by Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook at the invitation of the Istituto per la Bioeconomia of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, for an international conference on daylighting rivers to be held in December in Florence, Italy.

    You can learn more about the history of the St. Pierre, its challenges and future here:

    Download (PDF, 724KB)

    Meadowbrook members Kregg Hetherington and Tricia Toso of the Concordia University Ethnography Lab have also taken a closer look at the river in a recently published article https://www.anthropocenes.net/articles/10.16997/ahip.6/

    Good reading!

     

    Spring

    And with spring comes the return of birdsong, especially with fewer automobiles on the road since COVID-19.

    The environmental group Nature Québec has just launched a new campaign entitled Pas de printemps sans ailes in an effort to help the swallows that will be returning to Quebec to nest.

    It couldn’t come at a more important time as swallows have seen their numbers dwindle since the 1970s, with certain species decreasing by up to 80%. Many factors explain this phenomenon, notably the disappearance of their habitat and the decline in insects. The barn swallow, for example, likes to nest in old wooden farm buildings, but an increase in steel buildings has left it without a home.  It is the same situation for the bank swallow, which lives in colonies in sand banks. By rock filling and damming river and lake banks, their territory is much more limited.

    None of the species that nest in Québec are protected by the Loi sur les espèces menacées ou vulnérables. These unprotected species include the bank swallow, the tree swallow, the cliff swallow, the barn swallow, the purple martin and the North rough-winged swallow.

    Nature Québec has created a series of information sheets that describe four of these species and discuss measures to help them in their plight (protecting the nests, limiting the use of herbicides and pesticides and walking your dog on a leash in order not to disturb the fledglings). They have also developed plans to make bird boxes for the tree swallow, a perfect project for these days of isolation.

    For more info on the birds of Meadowbrook, click here.