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

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. 


Thanks to our generous supporters

‘People Powered’ Restoration: The Greenbelt River Valley Connector Program in Action

Volunteers are most certainly the backbone of Friends of the Rouge Watershed (FRW), an environmental group dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Rouge River ecosystem – including land that is now Rouge National Urban Park. Since 1991, FRW has engaged over 65,000 community volunteers in local hands-on restoration and stewardship efforts. Through their collective efforts, volunteers have helped plant 730,000 trees, shrubs and wildflowers. With a full-time staff of two, this type of impact would not be possible without FRW’s dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers.


In 2019, FRW received core funding through the Greenbelt River Valley Connector Program to further their restoration efforts and engage community volunteers in the enhancement of the Greenbelt protected urban river valley. With support from the Greenbelt River Valley Connector grant, FRW hosted over 25 events and engaged 960 people, including volunteers, throughout the summer and fall. Danielle Marcoux-Hunter, Environmental Project Coordinator with FRW shared how she celebrates the contributions of over 100 FRW volunteers!

1. Give Thanks

A personal thank you goes a long way. We all know from our personal lives that an expression of gratitude helps people feel appreciated and valued. Danielle has even started posting a monthly ‘volunteer profile’ on social media as a means to recognize the key individual’s efforts.

2. Offer perks

Danielle provides volunteers with exclusive invites to nature walks, local events, holiday socials and meetings with politicians. Volunteers really appreciate the opportunity to mingle and get to know one another in a more relaxed setting (compared to helping run a planting event!). Their annual wreath-making social held each December is a unique way to bring volunteers together, learn about native trees and shrubs, flex their creative side and have fun!

3. Celebrate achievements

In addition to timely-thank-you letters, Danielle likes to send out a year-end e-card that celebrates all the accomplishments made possible by volunteers. Although a simple gesture, these little interactions have helped to build rapport between volunteers and FRW and have supported volunteer retention.

There is no better way to understand the importance of our Greenbelt protected River Valleys then to play a hands-on role in their naturalization. The over 900 volunteers who pitched into these restoration efforts are vital ambassadors who will go on to spread knowledge about the Rouge Watershed. Making the experience as memorable as possible by providing the right kind of thanks and appreciation helps these vital volunteers have a deeper experience which will help build collective support for our protected watersheds.

For other ways to attract and retain volunteers, have a look at the resource page on our website.


TD Park People Grants Make Green Spaces Into People Places

Our shared green spaces have the potential to significantly improve the quality of life in our cities. However, that potential can only be reached when green spaces become people places. Research has found that each additional supervised activity in a park leads to a 48% increase in park use. As modern life continues to coax us to stay inside with the promise of comfort and convenience, park events help draw us outdoors into our green spaces, where we can build meaningful connections to nature and to one another.

Now in its third year, TD Park People Grants have helped bring 663 events and 61,398 people into city parks across Canada. This year, TD Park People Grants will reach even further providing critical support to community park events in Metro Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Greater Toronto Area, National Capital Region (Ottawa-Gatineau), Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax Regional Municipality.

Starting today, qualified organizations and community groups are encouraged to apply to receive a $2,000 grant to host three events in their local parks or green spaces between Earth Day, April 28, 2019, and New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2020.

The $2,000 grants give more people more reasons to head to their local park. The grants are supported through TD’s global corporate citizenship platform, The Ready Commitment, which is designed to help open doors for a more inclusive and sustainable tomorrow.

“The more time we spend time in our precious green spaces, the more deeply we can connect to nature and the people in our communities,” says Carolyn Scotchmer, Executive Director of TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.

Over the past two years, TD Park People grants have supported events like a Vancouver community BBQ where 100 people gathered together for a free outdoor meal served on a 30ft long table, a Zero Waste picnic at a Toronto park, offering people new ways to reduce their environmental footprint, and nature walks exploring wild Montreal landscapes in the fall.

If you are part of a park group looking to host engaging community park events that connect people with local green spaces, apply by March 2nd at parkpeople.ca/parkgrants/


We’re proud to launch this round of grants with a series of videos highlighting the impact TD Park People Grant events have in city parks across Canada. Enjoy!  




21st Century Park Wayfinding for a 21st Century Town

Bowmanville, Ontario has taken a decidedly thoughtful approach to growth. While the town has experienced significant population growth, residents maintain a deep commitment to the local agricultural sector and environment.

Bowmanville is uniquely situated at the convergence of Bowmanville and Soper Creeks. These lush river valleys have always been central to the town’s identity. In the past, the creeks powered several mills and were home to apple orchards and a World War II prisoner of war camp.

Local fish anglers led the effort to actively re-naturalize the local valleys and creeks, and as a result, more and more people began using them. The City of Bowmanville recognized that the trails fulfilled people’s need to connect to their river valleys and watersheds and invested in creating 6km of paved trails that have been extremely popular.

Since the trails were established, people have flocked to the river valleys to experience nature, fishing and cycling. For the past several years, the community has been working to create a connected network of river valley trails. The project is what Lloyd Rang, treasurer of the board for Valleys 2000, calls “a community dream.”

A key step in realizing this dream happened in 2017 when Greenbelt protection was extended to 21 major urban river valleys and 7 coastal wetlands across the Greater Golden Horseshoe – including the Bowmanville Creek. As Lloyd Rang says,

“Greenbelt protection of the river valley makes us part of one of the most successful conservation projects in the world.”

Now, Valleys 2000 wants to help people fully experience all the protected river valley has to offer. With support from the Greenbelt Foundation and Park People’s Greenbelt River Valley Connector Program, this 21st-century town is getting a 21st-century wayfinding system in its Greenbelt-protected river valleys.


In the spring, visitors to Bowmanville Creek and Soper Creek will be able to tap their smartphones on one of 17 well-marked digital wayfinding stations to learn more about wildlife, flora and history of the creek systems. The new stations will send participants’ phones to web pages, games and activities that help tell the story of the valley and its place in the Greenbelt.

Lloyd Rang is bursting with excitement as he shares:

“My son is now 15. Since he was a little kid we spent a lot of time in the creek, following animal tracks, exploring plants and seeing salmon in the creek. He’s developed a strong sense of and appreciation for nature. Now, this wayfinding system is going to be scaled up so more people, especially families and kids, get to have this valuable experience.”

The innovative digital wayfinding system is also intended to build momentum for Valleys 2000’s vision to join Soper and Bowmanville Creek trails to create a circle of greenspace and trails around Bowmanville for cyclists, anglers, runners and families to enjoy.

The solution may be high tech, but the wayfinding system has a decidedly old fashioned goal to keep the town meaningfully linked to its beloved watersheds. As Lloyd Rang says:

“Good planning and people have been key to preserving all of the key features of small-town life and a big part of that is sharing all that our Greenbelt-protected river valleys have to offer.”


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