A fall walk on a cliff in the heart of Montreal: A beautiful citizen story supported by our TD Park People Grants Program

janvier 13, 2020
Park People

When the weather’s grey, Montrealers crave opportunities to access nature close to home.

One Montreal citizen group, Sauvons la falaise, is working hard to protect and enhance green spaces right in the heart of the island. I joined the group for an inspiring nature walk in early November. 

Snakes in the park

Photo: Clayton Bailey

Sauvons la falaise is situated right beside the largest highway interchange in the city, the échangeur Turcot, which has been under construction for several years.

The group started in spring 2015, when Lisa Mintz, an environmental educator for Urbanature and a resident of Montreal’s NDG neighbourhood, spotted orange ribbons tied to several of the trees along the wild escarpment where she liked to walk. After some digging, she discovered that the orange markers were in place to protect the habitat of a species called the brown snake.

A few months later, Lisa noticed all of the trees, including the orange-ribbed ones, had been cut down. At that moment, she joined a fellow park person, John Symon, to establish Sauvons la falaise and protect the natural area for the enjoyment of both snakes, and Montrealers alike.

Échangeur Turcot, Ville de Montréal

Mobilizing to secure the park’s future

Sauvons la falaise is made up of about 60 active members and residents across 5 different districts of Montreal. For 4 years, the group has advocated for the city to have the naturalized space both recognized and maintained by the city.

In 2004, the green space was recognized, but it’s not currently being municipally maintained. Sauvons la falaise has joined forces with more than 100 other groups to defend the escarpment and to create more green spaces along the Turcot highway construction site.

In 2018, the city of Montreal announced plans to create a nature park beside the Turcot Interchange, which will span the highway and will cross the 30-meter vertical drop of the cliff, to provide a passage for pedestrians and cyclists.

Futur parc nature, Ville de Montréal

A year after this announcement, nothing has happened to move the park project forward. Sauvons la falaise continues to activate and monitor the space and continues to draw awareness to the need for the city to maintain the site.

Walking the Escarpment

The fall walk I participated in was a nature walk hosted by Lisa Mintz, who has become the resident expert on the park, and Patrick Asch, a veteran biologist who focuses on protecting Montreal’s green spaces.

We were joined by 30 people, including Carly Ziter, an assistant professor of urban ecology in the Department of Biology at Concordia University, who saw the walk as “a great learning ground for my classes to join.”

Photo: Caroline Magar

Very poorly landscaped, the cliff is not easy to access. We had to face a large vertical drop before gathering at the foot of the cliff. There, Patrick and Lisa shared the history of the site and its ecosystems, and its role in Montreal’s park plan.

Photo: Clayton Bailey

The view of the Turcot interchange is in stark contrast to the wild space of the park. 

Photo: Caroline Magar

Near the end of the walk, Patrick explained that “the sector north of the cliff was, until last century, covered with agricultural fields.” He shared archived photos of the farm and an image of the Montreal melon. “This fruit, which is almost no longer grown here, was at the time produced in large quantities and could be bigger than a human head!

Photo: Caroline Magar

Sauvons la falaise is a steward of the parks’ history and its future.

Their autumn walk shows what’s possible when committed citizens work together to make their city better.