June 14, 2012 ─ One of the things that make Montréal such a breath of fresh air is the abundance of green space. With everything from vast playing fields and nature parks to tiny hidden gardens and “green” alleys, locals and visitors alike can enjoy the bounty of nature without leaving the city.
Mount Royal Park
The brainchild of Frederick Law Olmsted (perhaps best known for designing New York City’s Central Park), Mount Royal Park is undoubtedly the jewel of Montréal’s city parks and a symbol of the city’s dedication to green living. It’s where Montrealers go to picnic and jog, take in the sunset or just sit and daydream. Located right in the heart of the city and covering more than 200 hectares, it offers an easy escape from the hustle and bustle below.
Not only is Mount Royal an escape from city life, it’s also a place for Montrealers to get involved in the environment on a local level. Founded in 2007 by Les amis de la montagne, the Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) solicits volunteers to partake in the planting and nurturing of new trees on Mount Royal, all under the supervision of trained professionals. In 2012, the ESP expects to enlist approximately 1,400 volunteers and to plant a total of 2,000 trees and shrubs atop the mountain.
A similar commitment to not only enjoying nature but also learning about it and participating in its conservation is evident in many of the city’s most prominent green spaces. Of Montréal’s seventeen large parks—covering an area of nearly 2,000 hectares—almost half are designated nature parks, a special distinction that includes commitments to environmental conservation, architectural heritage, and the preservation of diverse plant and animal life.
One of Montréal’s newest green spaces, the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex, was conceived out of the desire to promote sustainable development and decrease the city’s environmental footprint. Part of the vast complex is home to a recovery centre, where recyclables are processed, a power station that converts the biogas produced at the landfill site into electricity, as well as composting stations. The areas where waste was landfilled for more than 30 years are being developed into a large and beautiful park, comparable in size to Mount Royal Park, that will bring together nature, culture, science and sports. Although the transformation won’t be complete for almost a decade, several kilometres of trails for walking, biking, skiing and more are already available. Visitors can explore the complex independently or go on an environmental “safari,” which takes them on a guided tour of this stunning transformation.
The Road Not Taken
While many of Montréal’s parks are well known, some of its smaller gems are hidden in areas known only to locals. Find the city’s more inconspicuous green spaces—like the garden of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul—using the DistrictMontréal app.
Those inclined to venture even further from the beaten path will also want to check out Montréal’s “green” alleys. Developed out of an ongoing collaboration between local residents and Plateau-Mont-Royal’s Eco-Quartier group, the green alley initiative aims to transform the underused areas behind buildings into green spaces that help to improve air quality, reduce heat and provide numerous other benefits. It’s just one of many projects that make it easy to get a breath of fresh air—right in the heart of the city.