When the alleyways return the favour: A Montreal TD Park People Grant Project

October 23, 2020

Marie-Hélène Roch

Accessing urban nature is more important than ever. While all Canadian cities have seen a marked increase in the number of people using parks since the beginning of the pandemic, Montreal has also witnessed  growing interest in its green alleyway projects.  In addition to being safe, engaging community spaces, the alleyways also mitigate the urban heat island effect, reduce road traffic and provide space for urban agriculture.

Building the social fabric, one alleyway at a time

Since March, these green alley oases have continued to be lively places–for children, families, remote workers and simple passers-by. The increased sense of community offered by the alleyways has helped strengthen the social fabric in several Montreal neighbourhoods.

Since 2016, community members involved in the initiative Le carré et sa ruelle [The square and its alleyway] have been greening up the Saint-Dominique-Casgrain alley between Bellechasse and Beaubien streets as well as the Casgrain square. In the first year, several people “adopted” flowerbeds, spearheaded activities, and took ownership of the end lot in the Casgrain square, along Bellechasse street.

When the group members learned that they were among the recipients of the 2020 TD Park People Grant program, they were excited to make something awesome happen and suddenly felt a rush of motivation, explains Camille Lasselin, a member of the Casgrain and Saint-Dominique Streets residents’ committee.

Far from being short of ideas, the pandemic seems to have inspired the group’s creativity. Last June, in compliance with public health measures, they came together with their tools in hand, and got busy building planters and planting flowers. 


A sunny autumn afternoon at The square and its alleyway on Sunday, September 27, 2020. Members of the Casgrain and Saint-Dominique Streets residents’ committee, located in La Petite-Patrie neighbourhood, set up tables, chairs and art supplies for the event called Atelier de peinture botanique [Botanical painting workshop] made possible by the support of the TD Park People Grant.

The challenges of hosting an in-person event during a pandemic

Hélène Lefranc, a member of the residents’ committee, explains that their original promotion strategy was abandoned in favour of a local, invitation only event.  

“Because of the pandemic, the organizers faced several challenges, mostly before the event, like managing the number of participants, and ensuring adequate sanitation of the equipment.”

To keep the event safe, organizers included the following message in all of their promotions:

Given the current situation, we will be strictly enforcing public health recommendations.
– The event will be limited to 25 participants at any given time.
– Physical distancing must be followed.
– Please remember to bring and wear your mask.
– The workshop will be presented every 15 minutes to ensure that everyone can participate while respecting physical distancing.

By using these strict measures, the group was able to offer a botanical painting workshop where people tried their hand at recreating natures colours. 




Looking at urban flora differently

Andrea Williamson, a multidisciplinary artist, introduced the participants to various botanical painting techniques. The goal of the workshop was to help participants better understand the work of botanists by teaching a drawing technique known as “blind contour drawing” that fosters slow observation.

Here’s how the artist describes the workshop: “This technique is based on imagining that our pens trace each shape variation like an ant walking on the contours of a leaf, a stem or a petal. Participants learn how to let the watercolour express itself on paper by applying wet paint on wet paper. They can then observe the spontaneous fluidity and mixing of the colours. They also learn how to mix several shades without losing the vibrancy and freshness of the colours.”

Paintbrushes in hand, both young and young at heart joined together in a collective and creative exercise celebrating the flora that surrounds them: geranium, petunia, Virginia creeper, propolis and other types of trees. This meditative moment of contemplation and gratitude brought to light the amazing plant and human biodiversity of this community.


Thank you to Le Carré et sa ruelle & Andrea Williamson for the photos. 


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