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Montreal's green light to turn la falaise St-Jacques into a park thrills environmentalists

Lisa Mintz, an activist with Sauvons la falaise, poses for a photograph at la falaise St-Jacques, the escarpment that sits adjacent to the Turcot Yards in Montreal on Jan. 11, 2016.
Lisa Mintz, an activist with Sauvons la falaise, poses for a photograph at la falaise St-Jacques, the escarpment that sits adjacent to the Turcot Yards in Montreal on Jan. 11, 2016.

Lisa Mintz’s passion for the urban forest known as la falaise St-Jacques was born out of curiosity.

“I was working on St-Jacques and I wondered what was behind all the buildings,” Mintz said. “It was winter and I discovered cross-country ski tracks and all these trees.”

That discovery was the start of a five-year effort to preserve the green space and Mintz and her fellow environmentalists were rewarded this week when Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced the establishment of a 60-hectare urban park.

“We’ve been waiting for an announcement because it’s been almost a year since the public consultation and the recommendation that the project go ahead,” Mintz said.

She said she hopes la falaise, the escarpment along St-Jacques St. that drops down to the Turcot Yards, will remain untouched with the exception of a massive clean-up. Over the years, the area behind a bowling alley parking lot has been a dumping ground of garbage and snow that has damaged some trees.

Mintz and other volunteers from Sauvons la falaise have organized clean-up activities, but there are brush and dead trees to be cleared, and Mintz noted hundreds of old tires have been dumped on the site.  As you walk along the fence separating the parking lot from the trees, you can see discarded plastic bags, beer cans and other debris.

Mintz hopes la falaise will continue to be a haven for bird-watchers — more than 65 species have been identified in the woods — and for educational purposes.

Some work has already been done on a second phase of the park, which will be located on the south side on the railway yards and Highway 20. Some of the green space that disappeared with the Turcot Interchange construction has been replaced and new bike lanes have been added.

Farther south, there will be a large urban park with access from Notre Dame St. An artist’s rendering of the park shows green lawns, plays areas, walking paths and an artificial lake. The park will also offer easy access to the existing paths along the Lachine Canal.

The same rendering shows a pedestrian walkway over the Turcot Yards and the highway. When Montreal’s public consultation commission ruled in favour of the project in June 2019, it envisioned a pedestrian walkway with a “unique, innovative and emblematic look.”

Robert Beaudry, the Montreal executive committee member responsible for parks, said the overpass will be part of the plan, but details will come at a later date.

“The link is absolutely on the table for the next step,” Beaudry said.

Plante said the current coronavirus crisis emphasized the importance of providing green spaces for Montrealers.

“The project falls within our efforts to attain 10 per cent of protected land on a local level and is in line with our support of the United Nations project Decade of Ecosystem Restoration,” Plante said in a statement.”

Montreal still has work to do in that regard — the current inventory of protected green space on the island stands at six per cent.

phickey@postmedia.com

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