Sad News for Montreal Conservationists – Angell Woods to be Razed for Housing

Angell Woods, the big green space in the middle of the photograph above
Angell Woods, the big green space in the middle of the photograph above

The Mayor of Beaconsfield, one of the wealthiest cities in Canada and a West Island suburb, has announced that a portion of Angell Woods, a large undeveloped tract of old-growth forest between highways 20 and 40, will be developed for residential use.

Angell Woods is one of the last remaining large expanses of ‘Montreal wilderness’ and an important wetland, a key component of the West Island’s broader ecosystem. Half is owned by a public consortium of sorts including the cities of Montreal and Beaconsfield as well as the Province of Quebec, while the remaining is in private hands. Mayor Pollock suggested that existing zoning regulations will stipulate high-density residential construction to preserve as much of the forest as possible, but that buying out the owners was impossible simply because no one is willing to front the coin, so to speak.

I think it’s fairly evident any residential development in this space will have a deleterious effect on the quality of the forest as a whole, severely undermining what such a large concentrated wetland provides to those living around it.

We don’t often think about it, but wetlands play a crucial role in water purification, flood and drought control as well as groundwater replenishment. All of this is of vital concern to every homeowner in Beaconsfield, Baie d’Urfé and Kirkland (at the very least).

Consider this: if you ever wondered why Beaconsfield and Baie d’Urfé had such a ‘lush’ quality about them, perhaps you should consider that Angell Woods has been providing considerable, and free, water treatment services for its immediate environs for thousands of years.

Destroying half of it may wind up killing the other half, and either way I can anticipate Beaconsfield may suffer some unintended consequences by permitting development in Angell Woods (namely seasonal watering bans, lower general groundwater retention, among other potential environmental changes).

For your consideration, an open letter written by one of those land-owners.

She makes a compelling argument. These people have paid taxes and the cost of surveys and environmental studies never reimbursed by either the province or cities, they’ve been denied access to their rightfully owned property and further denied the right to develop it. Imagine yourself in their shoes, jerked around by the public sector and prevented from making the fortune you and your family may have worked tirelessly to secure. I suppose it isn’t easy for most of us to imagine ourselves as property developers or land owners, but these people exist and have a right to conduct their business.

Unfortunately for them, the simple fact is that we were not thinking strategically about environmental issues and ecological conservation back in the 1950s and 1960s, when most of the properties in Angell Woods were secured by their current owners. Today we’re a little more in tune with the realities of environmental degradation, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas, and so a far broader interest must be considered. Inasmuch as it’s wrong that these property owners (and tax payers) be denied the right to conduct their business, it’s worse for the greater number of people to lose these woods. What’s Beaconsfield without it? The question is not how much it’s worth to the city, but what it’s worth to all the people who live in Beaconsfield and benefit from what I hear is an absolutely splendid little forest?

It’s not merely an issue of the public having grown accustomed to walking their dogs on private land they thought was a nature preserve for the last sixty years, it’s that this land is better off – for all of us – if it continues to exist in its natural state.

The quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil we stand on should always be held in higher esteem than any individual’s right to profit.

And yet, unless someone comes up with a lot of cash really quick, Montreal will lose another fundamental component of its natural self.

It’ll be a damn shame if the housing market collapses after the area is clear cut…

Premier Marois to Stifle Opposition with Métro Extension Plan

AMT Métro Extension Plan
AMT Métro Extension Plan

The mayoral contest officially kicked off today with Projet Montréal taking a strong lead, winning the idiotically-named ‘poster war’ thanks primarily to the fact the party is fielding 103 candidates and an immense volunteer effort. Aside from Projet’s street sign ubiquity, Mélanie Joly may have come in second place (who’s counting?) with her unconventional Super Woman pose and dark background posters.

And in response to a week of outright hostility from nearly all quarters of our city, the Premiere, Benevolent Queen Pauline Marois, announced a Métro extension. As the CBC puts it, “Montreal’s Metro system is about to get its biggest and most expensive upgrade since the Laval extension.”


In fact, the PQ has announced that they’ve set aside $38.8 million for a planning office with a two year mandate. Whether the PQ lasts that long is another issue.

So don’t get your hopes up – this isn’t a ‘shovel-in-hand’ announcement of the immediate construction of Métro tunnels. It’s more an announcement of intent to eventually do something.

When it comes to the Métro, that’s pretty much all we’ve gotten for years anyways. The Charest government made a similar announcement back in 2009 though nothing came of it, and the idea to extend the Blue Line further east dates back to the mid-1980s when the line was first developed. Of note, Charest’s 2009 plan called for closing the Orange Line loop, as well as extensions in both directions of the Yellow Line, in addition to the Blue Line extension, as you can see in the above image. Today’s announcement mentioned that a Yellow Line extension would be contemplated once the Blue Line project is completed.

Why not do both?

Why not do the 2009 plan?

Wouldn’t we save money in the long run if we streamline one big Métro expansion, rather than small, piecemeal extensions? It would certainly streamline bidding processes and purchasing, no?

The Blue Line’s proposed eastern extension to Anjou (specifically, to an intermodal terminus at the Galleries d’Anjou suburban shopping complex) will undoubtedly alleviate congestion on the Metropolitan Expressway and extend a convenient and efficient mass transit system into a broad medium density residential area. There’s no question about whether the extension is the right way to go, but we need to be vigilant regarding the estimated cost.

The PQ is projecting a $250 to $300 million cost per kilometre and a total extended length of six kilometres (about the distance from University to the Olympic Stadium along Sherbrooke) with five stations. On the outside that’s a $1.8 billion extension to serve a combined population of about 120,000 Montrealers living in the boroughs of Saint-Leonard and Anjou, one hell of an investment in a relatively small number of citizens.

The cost to extend the Orange Line to Laval by three stations cost about half that amount per kilometre, and that project was announced in the late 1990s but only completed in 2007. As you might expect, post-industrial Québec takes a lot longer to get anything done.

So don’t expect this Blue Line extension any time soon; those making the announcement today were indicating ‘the beginning of the 2020s’ for ‘full operations’.

Christ; I’ll be old by then.

I’ll say it one more time – we built 26 stations between 1962 and 1967 across three lines and it cost just under $1.5 billion (or 213.7 million in 1966 dollars).

Granted I’m obviously not an economist, but I would like to know why the cost of construction has increased so much in the past decade in particular. You’d figure we’d be getting some kind of rebate in Post Charb Commish Quebec, but this is as expensive as ever.

And we’re not exactly reinventing the wheel either – so how the hell did it suddenly become so expensive to build basic mass transit systems in our city?


Original design of Edouard-Montpetit station's connection with Mount Royal Tunnel
Original design of Edouard-Montpetit station’s connection with Mount Royal Tunnel

There’s another issue we should consider when thinking about the Blue Line and any potential future extensions. It has the lowest ridership of all four lines and the trains are shorter by three cars (you’ll notice that the platforms at Blue Line stations have barricades at either end as the stations were designed to operate ‘full’ nine-car trains). I think this is as a consequence of the line not directly connecting with the city centre.

As long as we’re re-hashing old ideas, why not take a closer look at the original design of Edouard-Montpetit station, which was intended to act as a transfer point between the Blue Line and the commuter rail line passing fifty meters under the Métro in the Mount Royal Tunnel (as you can see in the station’s original design plan above). The tunnel is now owned and operated by the Agence Métropolitain de Transport and is in need of upgrading to support new dual-power locomotives inasmuch as some kind of emergency exit at some point in between the tunnel entrances. I would argue strongly in favour of developing a connection between the Métro and the Mount Royal Tunnel as a means to transfer passengers on the Blue Line to Gare Centrale. This would not only require high-speed, high-capacity elevators (as they have at some Parisian Métro stations), but the potential construction of a short ‘by-pass’ tunnel deep underground. A difficult job no doubt, but far from impossible.

The benefit is that the Blue Line becomes a lot more useful with this upgrade. I’d even argue prioritizing this element of the original design before any eastern extension. If this connection were made, transferring at Edouard-Montpetit would give Blue Line passengers access to the Orange and Green lines via the Gare Centrale and Place Ville-Marie portion of the Underground City. For the hundreds of thousands of people living along the line’s route, Downtown Montreal suddenly becomes much, much closer – about five minutes from Université de Montréal to the heart of the financial district.

Such a development could lead to increased land values of properties within proximity of the Blue Line, not to mention give the Blue Line’s extension a more practical raison-d’etre. Call me a cynic, but I smell subtle vote-buying.

Don’t get me wrong – expanding eastwards is a good if very costly idea, and I’d like to know why this is taking so long and costing so much.

But if we’re going to extend the Blue Line’s reach, why not also expand its capacity and increase its utility as well?

I have a feeling realizing the original plan would have the effect of increasing ridership on the Blue Line to such an extent that the STM upgrades to nine-car trains on the line, thus giving the line the ability to truly operate at full capacity.

In any event, I should close with a thought.

There was once a time in which elected officials had to deliver on promises made, otherwise they’d lose the public’s confidence and the right to govern.

This is not the case today. The people are so incredibly disengaged and cynical we don’t expect anything from our supposed leaders at all. We carry on despite them. Sometimes they do something good, most of the time they’re an annoyance, occasionally they’re discovered to be outright criminals.

I don’t know what was so different about life in this city back in the 1960s and 1970s that made the people here demand action and quick results for their political support. I don’t know what lit a fire under people’s asses to get shit done. I know many people suggest Expo and Olympics being the sole motivating factors, but surely this can’t be the case. The people wanted action and their will was respected. We elected, and kept electing, a visionary mayor, who paid us back by giving us a truly global city to live, love and play in.

Today we get flashy press conferences that ultimately only promise more study and preparation for some interminable project whose only purpose seems to be to sap whatever confidence the people have in their elected officials.

I suppose my question is why the PQ isn’t coming to us with a plan to actually begin development?

I wish government had the self-respect and restraint to only bother the people with announcements of actual accomplishments.