Another Neat Idea from Yesteryear

So way back in the day you could rent rowboats, canoes and gondolas at the lagoon at Parc Lafontaine.

Today you can rent over-priced plastic pedal boats at Beaver Lake and Lac des Dauphins.

As you can see above, some of these modest river craft featured canopies, advertisements. In some cases you could even get someone to row you around.

And if I’m not mistaken, many of our parks had lagoons filled with swans. Why did we get rid of the swans?

Not too shabby eh?

Today no such luxuries exist, nor do the ornately designed boat houses (as you can see above) which once housed the boats and offered citizens and tourists alike a variety of services. Instead, the pedal boats are accessed via an exposed impermanent deck. The people responsible have a folding table.

It looks cheap.

What you see above does not (in my eyes, feel free to disagree).

I believe parks and public spaces have a variety of important societal and economic functions which must be encouraged through direct city involvement. I’m certainly not saying we’re not doing this today – Montreal’s parks and recreation department does good work. Our parks are clean and generally well used throughout the year. We are a city that still adores its parks and generally integrates park usage into our day to day lives, whether for recreation, a pleasant stroll, to let the dog out, whatever. This is not particular to Montréal, but there is a significant portion of the urban city which was designed with parks playing crucial roles in traffic diffusion and societal cohesion. We benefit immensely by having many first-ring suburbs oriented on parks, squares, plazas etc, providing exceptional amounts of public green space. As intended in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, Montreal’s urban parks have become fully integrated into the urban tapestry and our way of life.

But what I find fascinating is how four of our most important urban parks (the nature parks; Maisonneuve, Jean Drapeau, Lafontaine and Mount Royal) are generally not visited by tourists; they are used chiefly by locals. By contrast, the smaller urban squares (Place d’Armes, Dorchester, Place du Canada, Square Victoria etc) are overloaded with tourists and too few citizens.

It might be time to end our voluntary park segregation. Admittedly, you can indeed do a lot more in the nature parks and the urban squares are closer to the major hotels (so as to account for this distribution of users), but we should consider that the urban squares have for the most part received significant upgrades of late, whereas most of our nature parks are beginning to look worn-out.

We might want to consider a significant investment in our larger nature parks, and further seek to extend our best foot forward. If we wanted an international audience to discover our mega-parks, we’d still have the swans, still have gondolas in lagoons, not to mention impressively clean public washrooms and other public facilities. Today our biggest parks, which ought to rank highly among the major tourist destinations of our city, are instead largely hidden.

And if you’ve ever had to use the washroom at Parc Jeanne Mance, you know why.

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