Darlington Ecological Corridor: A Socio-Ecological Approach that’s Transforming Landscapes and Mindsets

avril 27, 2023
Park People

Alexandre Beaudoin, Founder of Montreal’s Darlington Ecological Corridor, is a biologist with two Masters’ degrees in environmental sustainability and socio-ecology.  The Darlington Ecological Corridor puts both disciplines into action by enhancing ecological connectivity between Mount Royal and Montreal. The project simultaneously addresses biodiversity,  food security and climate resilience.

Alexandre will give a Keynote presentation at the 2023 Park People Conference on unpacking the socio-ecological approach at the heart of Darlington Ecological Corridor. 

Source: The Darlington Ecological Corridor

Jodi Lastman: What was the inspiration for Darlington Ecological Corridor?

Alexandre Beaudoin: I was a Conservation Assistant with les amis de la montagne, and we witnessed the foxes disappearing from the mountain. Foxes are one of the biggest mammal species in the city, and a symbol of Mount Royal. The fact that they were vanishing was tragic. 

Three years later, the foxes began returning to the mountain. We asked ourselves: “What can we do to help foxes cross the city to get back to the mountain? That question was the genesis of the Darlington Ecological Corridor. We knew animals used the train tracks north of the Mountain to cross the city. We wanted to establish a corridor to connect the railway tracks to the mountain.

At the time, I was working at Invest in Montreal and as a biodiversity consultant at Université de Montréal. We saw an opportunity to connect parks, public lands and greenspaces to link The University of Montreal’s new MIL science campus to the mountain.

We presented the idea for the corridor to the Director of the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough in 2014 and they were very enthusiastic. Together, we put 44 large plant pots along major streets so people living immediately adjacent to the corridor could start to connect to the project at a community level and participate in it by gardening in their community.


Source: The Darlington Ecological Corridor

JL: How do you balance ecological with human needs in the corridor?

AB: Your question is at the heart of every effort to create nature in the city. It’s the same challenge faced by Mount Royal. The mountain is a forest that supports biodiversity but it has more than 5 million visitors a year. 

It takes a socio-ecological approach.

The city is an ecosystem, but a very disturbed ecosystem where we can create a habitat for species to thrive. But the ecosystem is also full of people with connections to the places they live.

A socio-ecological approach balances people’s attachment to the places they live with the needs of ecosystems and creates new connections between both, for the benefit of both.

In the beginning, I was entirely focused on the ecological needs in the corridor.

But, my thinking has shifted. The corridor is in an urban environment that is incredibly hot and poses a risk to people’s health in the summer. At the same time, 77% of the people living proximate to the corridor are lower-income newcomers to Canada. There is widespread food insecurity.

We’ve been working with Multi-Caf, a much-loved food security organization that’s been in the borough for 32 years. They want to support ecology, but they are committed to serving people first. That helped us evolve our mission and strengthened the “socio” side of our socio-ecological approach. Here people don’t have the luxury of giving their time to gardening without anything in return.

We’ve built out a new part of the corridor focused only on food. The President of a rehabilitation hospital is excited to cultivate the connection between food and health and provided us with land for the community to use for gardening. And, the borough has provided space for community gardens in the park. 

If we talked about this project a year ago, it would’ve been much really focused on ecology and forestry. Now, we’re also focused on the community, and that’s a good difference. 

Source: The Darlington Ecological Corridor

Last September, I started a Ph.D. focused on how the corridor can shift people’s mindsets around their relationship to nature and biodiversity. This summer, we’re creating a mico-forest with 400 trees. It’s a visible orchard in the park. When people see something like the orchard they feel a sense of momentum, and say: “something is happening.” People on the team wear our t-shirts and people walk up to them to talk about the project. They’re not going to our website or calling us. They’re meeting us in the community. So how can we make it easier for people to recognize us? How can we position how we talk about the project to transform people’s mindsets? 

These bigger, more visible projects change both landscapes and minds. 

Parks are the first places to change mindsets. People are connected to places and we must retain those connections at the same time that we support ecology.

That’s what’s at the heart of the socio-ecological approach. 

Man speaking at a workshop

Presentation by Alexandre Beaudoin during a workshop on the corridor’s co-management strategy (source: Vincent Fréchette)

JL: How have the city’s policies helped enable the project?

AB: Montreal’s Planning and Sustainable Development Department was the first partner to come to the table. They wanted to enhance the quality of life in the city while reducing runoff and addressing the urban heat island effect. This project helped them meet their goals.

The corridor also helped the borough fulfill its social and ecological development goals. Now, there’s a new person in the borough that is focused on Darlington. So now we have a strong, dedicated connection with the borough. 

Initially, our focus was on governance and building institutional relationships and building deep relationships with engaged community members living immediately adjacent to the corridor. Later, we broadened our reach and relationships in the community. I think this was the right approach.

Woman speaking at a workshop

Workshop on the corridor’s co-management strategy (source: Vincent Fréchette)

JL: What are the ingredients that have allowed partners to work together on a complex project like this one?

AB: Being part of Invest in Montreal and the University of Montreal certainly helped open doors with the borough. I was able to sit in two chairs – I had credibility as part of Invest in Montreal and as part of the community. These two roles were mutually supportive. 

Part of our success is attributable to the fact that our project helps partners achieve their goals.

The University of Montreal is happy because the project helps them serve and be connected to the community. There are 19 Masters’s students working on this project so it serves the University’s academic mission.

The open-mindedness of the borough has made a huge difference. The municipal staff who work in Cote-de-Neiges are committed to making a difference. Cote-de-Neiges isn’t a stop on municipal staff’s career journey. If they choose to work and stay here it’s because they’re committed to this community. If things aren’t possible this year we collaborate on how to create policies that open new opportunities the next year. 

Each partner has helped bring a new lens through which we see the corridor a little differently. It’s helped bring new, valuable perspectives that have reshaped the project and the space.

Presenting sponsor

TD Ready Commitment

Host City Partner & Event Sponsor

The City of Toronto
Parks Canada