Mount Royal Park, designed by Olmsted of Central-Park-in-New-York-fame is an oasis of greenery right smack in the middle of the busy island-port of Montreal. From the Saint Lawrence River you can look up at what Montrealers fondly call “The Mountain” and from the top, you can see the blue depths of the river below. Montreal became a great metropolis thanks to the canal that linked the port to the factories in the hinterland. This canal, known as Lachine Canal, is no longer an industrial waterway and has been converted into a leisure navigation route that leads to the lakes. The factories on either side are slowly being converted into high-end condominiums. Centuries of industrial sludge and other pollutants in the canal, however, have left their mark. City administrators and developers claim the canal has been “cleaned” but the truth is that the toxic sludge has simply been swept under a rug of “watertight” underwater pavement. Cleaning up, after all, delays development and raises construction costs. Time alone will tell when and how this band-aid will disintegrate.
Montrealers are just beginning to become aware of the environmental damage that the city has endured throughout its history and they are trying to reverse it by greening the city, building bicycle paths along the canal, converting old buildings to efficient heating and cooling systems and trying to curb the prolific car. The results are mixed. But we love our city, regardless of all the good, the bad and the ugly that it contains.