Earlier this month, Montreal’s mayor made a big announcement that one local activist called “Christmas in summer,” when she unveiled a vision to create Canada’s largest city park, Grand parc de l’Ouest.
Situated on Montreal’s West Island, the park would stitch together existing and newly created parkland to create a connected green space system 3,000 hectares in size (that includes 1,600 hectares of new parkland).
For the record, that’s 7.4 times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park, 18.6 times the size of Toronto’s High Park, and 10.7 times the size of Montreal’s own Mount Royal.
The idea was spurred on by years of work behind the scenes by local activists and environmentalists, including Sue Stacho, who told the Montreal Gazette that the project “sets a precedent for the protection of natural spaces in urban environments in the rest of Canada.”
Recently, the federal government provided a boost when it announced $50 million in funding for the project, tying the financial support to the park’s potential to mitigate flooding and alleviate the effects of extreme weather.
This is certainly good park news for Canada’s second largest city, one that falls on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of park provision per thousand people as profiled in our Canadian City Parks Report released in June.
Other large Canadian cities like Vancouver and Toronto struggle with the same challenge. Finding space for the creation of new parks is difficult in dense, urban areas undergoing pressures from development.
As populations surge, more and more people live within the same area, putting pressure on existing parks. In fact, Montreal city staff state pressure from dense populations means the maintenance cost for parks in Montreal is higher than in other Canadian cities.
Increasing the amount of park space accessible to Montrealer’s, especially park space that features naturalized environments, will also help residents connect with nature without needing to leave the city limits.
This project mirrors work that was done, and continues to be done, to create Canada’s first national urban park, Rouge Park.
Managed by Parks Canada, the over 6,200 hectare Rouge Park is situated within the cities of Toronto, Pickering, and Markham, accessible by local transit to the nearly 6 million people who live within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. It includes many kilometres of trails, beaches, and even a campground.
For those who find provincial and national parks inaccessible due to distance, these large nature parks within city boundaries are critical.
Large nature parks are also key for protecting urban biodiversity and for the ecological services they provide, such as cleaning the air, water, and mitigating urban heat–all of which will only become more important as climate change increases stress on our cities.
Le grand parc de l’Ouest speaks to a growing trend in urban park planning to focus not just on opportunities to expand park space, but connect existing spaces better together—especially in dense, urban areas.
Connecting parks creates better accessibility of park systems for people, but can also create crucial wildlife corridors that protect and enhance important natural habitat that has been lost to urbanization.
We profiled some of this recent work in our 2015 Making Connections report, and included a dive into Halifax’s new Green Network Plan in our 2019 Canadian City Parks Report.
Connecting parks into cohesive networks—as opposed to planning them as postage stamp green spaces—is an idea that harkens back to the first eras of what is considered modern city park building.
That’s when landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted devised 19th century park systems that focused on green spaces, large and small, connected through a network of linear parks.
Great examples of this form of park system building can still be found in cities like Boston, where the Olmsted-designed Emerald Necklace connects 450 hectares of parkland throughout the city. Olmsted also designed Montreal’s Mount Royal Park (as well as, of course, New York’s Central Park).
There are still some major hurdles before Le grand parc de l’Ouest can be implemented, however, including the fact that large portions of the proposed new green spaces are owned by developers.
Montreal’s mayor, Valerie Plante, says she is hoping to buy that land back to secure it as green space.
Large Canadian city parks