Maintaining the Mountain

Local Association Addresses Mount Royal’s Future

  • Photo Leslie Schachter

  • Photo Leslie Schachter

Surrounded by Montreal’s rapidly growing urban core, increasingly buried by its skyscrapers, governed by repeatedly shifting managerial mechanisms and covered by soon-to-be vacant institutions, sits Mount Royal.

While the geological formation itself might be sturdy and sound, its future is becoming increasingly unstable—it’s not immune to the physical and legal changes inevitably resounding from the bustling city that encircles it.

Friends of the Mountain

Things stand to change a lot for Mount Royal over the next decade.

“The city is facing a threat to the reality of this mountain and to its character that really has not been on the table throughout our history,” said Peter Howlett, president and founding member of Les Amis de la montagne. “There is every chance that much of it will be lost, in terms of access to the community—and that it will be unrecognizable in ten years’ time.”

Founded in 1986, Les Amis de la montagne is an organization dedicated to the preservation of the mountain. Its self-proclaimed mission is to “protect and enhance Mount Royal through community involvement and environmental education.”

The group has been actively working on identifying the key issues that will affect Mount Royal in the coming years, and seeks to inform and mobilize the community to ensure that Montrealers can continue to enjoy the mountain as they have come to know it.

They say that with a new provincial government recently taking office, and a change in municipal administration looming ahead, people need to act now if they want to avoid potential threats to the state of the mountain as we know it, and ensure its longevity.

Major Issues

At the forefront of issues identified by the organization are the impending changes to many of the longstanding institutions housed on Mount Royal.

Sixty per cent of the mountain’s territory is currently occupied by institutions, but many of them are on the cusp of moving away—and what will replace them is a matter of concern.

The Hôpital Hôtel-Dieu will be out in 2014, and both the Royal Victoria hospital and the Shriners children’s hospital will be gone the following year.

The organization wants to ensure that the land is used in a way that is acceptable to the local community.

Another major consequence affecting the mountain comes courtesy of Montreal’s developing urban centre—the view of the mountain shrinks as the city’s skyline grows. In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to see Mount Royal from certain areas on the island because of office towers and condominiums.

“We’ve got to be more and more concerned by the building of high-rise towers in the downtown area which block the view of the mountain,” said Marcel Côté, founding partner of SECOR-KPMG and board member of Les Amis de la montagne. “What is the symbol of Montreal—is it the towers or the mountain?”

The organization hopes, among other things, to see legislation passed limiting the height of these structures and expanding the protected radius around the mountain to Decarie Blvd. and St. Urbain St. on the east-west axis and from Ste. Catherine St. to Sherbrooke St. on the north-south axis, as Les Amis’s Director General Sylvie Guilbault pointed out on a large map of the mountain and surrounding area.

Other issues plaguing Mount Royal are the complex mechanisms that currently manage the mountain’s territory, and the importance of preserving institutional domains that are currently located outside of the designated protected territory was also mentioned.

“We’ve got to be more and more concerned by the building of high-rise towers in the downtown area which block the view of the mountain. What is the symbol of Montreal—is it the towers or the mountain?”
—Marcel Côté, Les Amis de la Montagne Board Member


Les Amis de la montagne will be hosting a summit meeting in May 2013, as a follow-up to one that was held ten years ago in 2002. They hope to reassess and revisit issues plaguing the mountain, and address new problems that have arisen.

Since the initial summit, the organization has compiled a document outlining the progress that has been made in the past decade, and identified issues moving forward.

The summit in 2002 resulted in the mountain being declared a “Historic and Natural District.” Now, however, the organization thinks the protected zone needs to increase in size.

Leading up to the spring summit, Les Amis de la montagne will be hosting a slew of public forums in order to obtain feedback from the community and speak with organizations and government members to ensure they are well informed on the situation moving forward.

The summit will attempt to outline solutions to the problems identified by the public, just as it did ten years ago.

From there, recommendations towards action and solutions will be presented to municipal and government authorities following the summit.

A Mountain of History

1535: The mountain gets its name. Jacques Cartier climbs to the top, receiving guidance from the inhabitants of Hochelaga. He calls it Mount Royal.

1643: A cross is erected on top of the mountain, courtesy of Paul de Chomedey. The cross stands as a symbolic gesture, offering thanks to God for protecting the colony from a flood.

1763: Ville-Marie becomes Montreal—its name deriving the Italian version of Mount Royal, Monte Reale.

1874: The City of Montreal’s Charter adds an article protecting Mount Royal Park. This becomes the first piece of Quebec legislation ensuring the protection of a natural site.

1876: Mount Royal Park is inaugurated.

1924: The cross on top of the mountain is illuminated. The current cross—over 30 metres tall—was erected by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste.

1942: The first communications tower is built on top of the mountain, to be used by the city for security purposes.

1960: A Mount Royal Park master plan is tabled, though many of its elements never materialize.

1962: Mount Royal Park expands as a result of the City of Montreal acquiring land alongside Mont-Royal Blvd.

1981: The Centre de la montagne is founded—a non-profit initiative with aims to preserve the mountain’s heritage and promote environmental education.

1986: Les Amis de la montagne is founded, dedicating itself to conserving and bettering Mount Royal.

1987: Mount Royal is declared a heritage site.

1990: The public is consulted on a preliminary plan for the conservation and restoration of the mountain. This is facilitated by the Bureau de consultation de Montréal for Montreal, Westmount and Outremont.

1992: A fiber optics system replaces the original incandescent lights used to illuminate the cross at the mountain’s summit.

2001: Mont-Royal Park celebrates its 125th anniversary with an entire year of special events organized by the city of Montreal, Heritage Montreal, Centre de la montagne and Les Amis de la montagne.

2002: A Mount Royal summit is held, jointly organized by Les Amis de la montagne, Heritage Montreal and Centre de la montagne.

2003: The Quebec government makes an announcement, stating that it intends to declare the mountain to be a “historic and natural district.” This decree, however, gets put on hold a few weeks later when Jean Charest’s Liberal Party replaces Bernard
Landry’s Parti Québécois in the National Assembly.

2004: The Bureau de Mont-Royal is created by the city of Montreal.

2005: Table de Concentration de Mont-Royal is established to support the Bureau de Mont-Royal.

A decree making Mount Royal a historic and natural district is finally adopted. This is the first of its kind in the province.

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