1. Why a greenway? – Background

By Patrick Asch

A place with unique geomorphic characteristics, Montreal still has a long way to go when it comes to protecting and enhancing our green spaces. The different communities that today form the Montreal agglomeration were initially established thanks to two main factors. One,  the island’s first colonizers travelled along the only “autoroutes” then available, that is, the waterways. But it just so happens that the waterways of Montreal, comprising the des Prairies and Saint Lawrence Rivers, are not very deep and punctuated by rapids.

Rather than traverse the rapids, the colonizers wisely decided to establish their settlements either upstream or downstream from the rapids. It turned out to be a decision with many benefits. The soil in these places was abundantly more rich than land in any other region of Quebec, increasing the agricultural potential. This is the second factor that caused these settlements along the rivers on both sides of the island to expand considerably — and eventually spread across the whole island.

This combination of shallow rivers with roaring rapids and fertile agricultural soil are the two factors that most affected the growth of Montreal’s first communities. They also explain why the green spaces on the island developed such rich – and unique – biological diversity  and why so much of the territory was exploited.

Plus, as Montreal is located on the Saint Lawrence, the first great “autoroute” of North America, the first settlements quickly grew into one of the first developed cities on the continent. As a result, Montréal was recently named one of the cities with the least number of protected natural areas in North America, according to standards set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In order to improve our reputation for the protection of our green spaces, Montreal must therefore make huge efforts and be open to new ideas that will lead to better policies concerning how we view and manage our green spaces. It is my opinion that a greenway is the best way to protect and lift the potential of green spaces across the island.

The historic context also means that our green spaces are isolated. A greenway could gather our green spaces under one common governance that would increase biological diversity, create a network of spaces for leisure and recreo-touristic activities and implement better transport options. These new, more friendly green spaces would even ultimately lift the value of adjacent communities.

Photo by Charles l’Heureux.

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