Montreal, the concrete jungle where vines grow

The Urban Agriculture lab is supporting agricultural projects within the city of Montreal – projects aimed not at filling your plates up but making you think

Montreal is a popular city for urban farms — more than 4.3 square kilometers of agricultural land around the island according to the Louis Bonduelle Foundation, an international organization dedicated to sustainable food missions.

Some of these farms are in the west of the island and despite being called urban farms, they are traditional farms in less urbanized areas of the island. The Urban Agriculture Lab (AU/LAB) is taking urban agriculture a step further by developing innovative agricultural techniques and connecting motivated individuals with land for their projects.

Vignes en ville is the success story of the Urban Agriculture Lab. Launched in 2017, and supported by the Urban Agriculture Lab, its vineyards are planted on five different roofs around Montreal.

“Urban agriculture is not meant to nourish the city,” said Véronique Lemieux, the founder of Vignes en ville. It shifts the focus from an unrealistic ideal of a city fed by its roof gardens, and chimeric proximity agriculture that relies on subsidies to survive, showing the lack of real need or interest from the inhabitants.

Education is the focus of urban agriculture; “It allows people that don’t necessarily have access to the soil to discover new ingredients, texture, colours.” said Lemieux.

She mentioned that some people don’t know what a potato plant looks like because they are not exposed to potato plants in their daily lives and don’t need to be. Yet, knowing what a plant looks like implies you know how it grows but also how hard it is to make it grow — giving value to the products.

Lemieux’s goal is to create initiatives that “bring a real solution. The point is not to be in competition with bio-intensive farmers, there are families behind these farms.”

The lab is developing innovative forms of agriculture by using existing agricultural knowledge and adapting it to the city’s needs: what needs to be produced, or recycled.

Vignes en ville, with the help of the Urban Agriculture Lab, responded to a need to recycle glass in the city: the sandy soil needed by the vine to grow can be replaced by crushed glass from used bottles, which avoids having to bring sand from mines from outside of the city. “You can’t destroy nature to develop agriculture in the city,” said Lemieux. According to Lemieux, 20,000 glass bottles were recycled in partnership with the SAQ, supplying a total of 345 vines around the roofs of the city, all with glass enriched soil.

The Urban Agriculture Lab’s new project, MontréalCulteurs, is a program inspired by the Parisculteur program launched in Paris in 2016. It links people with an empty plot of land, an available roof, basement, parking lot or any available space to facilitate urban agriculture businesses in need of space.

The Vignes en ville project is the perfect example: launched before the start of MontréalCulteurs, Lemieux had to approach the Urban Agriculture Lab proactively and convince them to start the Vignes en Villes project. The Urban Agriculture Lab is currently taking applications for starting urban agriculture companies via their email. The application needs to have a clear plan to start the project before 2023 and to be able to generate at least $5,000 in sales.

With just under 50 projects around the island, the Urban Agriculture Lab helps Montreal to be a leader in urban agriculture.

If you’re interested in projects like what the Urban Agriculture Lab is doing, contact the organization and the next Montreal melon roof farm project could be yours.

Photos by Kaitlynn Rodney


Stopping time in the Frédéric-Back Park

Taking a look at a new project that encourages Montrealers to put headphones on in one of the city’s largest parks

The Pause MTL app features 10 ambient music pieces each related to a specific spot in the Frédéric-Back Park. Users are invited to listen to the compositions on the location that inspired their creation. This platform allows people to discover a variety of sounds and atmospheres since 10 different music composers worked on the project. Artists Olivier Girouard and Antoine Bédard initiated the project with the goal to create music that enhances peace of mind in times when unpredictability and stress are present in everyone’s lives.

Once users have downloaded the free Pause MTL app on their phone, their listening journey begins by pressing on a button with the slogan “Press Play to take a Pause”. The next page takes them to an interactive map featuring the locations that inspired the creation of the music pieces. While the compositions are ideally discovered on-site, it is also possible to listen to them from home or anywhere the users feel like immersing themselves in this relaxing experience. They are free to discover the application at their own pace.

Bédard and Girouard chose the 10 locations. They were then assigned to the creators randomly. Bédard worked on the Parvis Papineau, a modern plaza on Papineau St. For Girouard, a specific part of the park where people came together to fly kites in the summer of 2021 was his inspiration. The other composers created music based on locations including the soccer stadium of the park, a group of pine trees at the north end of the green space, and a skatepark.

The Frédéric-Back Park is named after an important artist whose work touched on environmental issues.

Each of the soundscapes is accompanied by a description of the preferred way for the audience to be sitting, where to look, and what to think about in order for users to enjoy the experience to the fullest. Composer Christophe Lamarche-Ledoux worked on a piece inspired by two large bronze sculptures located close to 2e Ave. Titled Zénith, the 18-minute composition proposes a soothing atmosphere that feels like being in a spaceship. In his description, the artist encourages the listener to lie down in one of the structures while reflecting on a more sustainable future for humanity.

The Frédéric-Back Park was the perfect location for Girouard and Bédard. Located in the Saint-Michel area, the green space opened in 2017. A quarry and a landfill previously occupied the lot. While the quarry is still visible in the middle of the park, the landfill site has been covered by grass, trees, and paths. Large white bubbles also dot the space. They are meant to capture the methane that still emanates from the waste under the land so that it does not get into the atmosphere.

Pause MTL encourages its users to walk around these white spheres through the work of Nick Schofield. The composer was assigned with sphere 23-27. He created an energetic music piece to accompany the listeners’ steps. These otherworldly bubbles are closely related to one of the themes of the park: sustainability.

The Frédéric-Back Park is named after an important artist whose work touched on environmental issues. Born in Germany in 1924, Frédéric Back moved to France at a young age. He then came to Montreal in 1948. Throughout his career, Back created films related to sustainability and nature preservation. His 1987 film, L’homme qui plantait des arbres, is particularly related to the park. In the animated movie, the protagonist lives on a deserted land that he revitalizes by planting trees.

Bédard explained that he was inspired by Back’s story as well as the visual aspect of the urban space. “You can see some of the most intriguing landscapes in Montreal. It even looks a bit post-apocalyptic sometimes,” he said.

The park is still evolving, with new developments coming in 2022. For Bédard, it adds to its charm. “I guess if this park had to be a person it would be a teenager, and we’re just getting to know each other, but eventually it will be more mature. […] It looks a bit weird to be frank, so does the music, it sounds a bit weird too. So, I think it’s a great match,” he said.

Pause MTL also aims to put forward the work of ambient music composers. Girouard described this type of music as “soft, without punches, not particularly catchy.” He explained that its strength was the sensations it creates, noting that “it is something that touches the emotions, the feelings.”

For Bédard, the project started as a personal quest. He was looking for an escape from his anxiety at the beginning of the pandemic. “When the pandemic hit, I felt helpless as a composer, especially because stages were closed, theatres were closed, and I was wondering how to stay creative in these uncertain times,” he said.

Bédard noticed the healing effect his creations had on him. This sparked the idea of an ambient music project that could be shared with the audience. Girouard’s motivations were also related to music’s benefits. For him, the project is about getting listeners out of their homes, far from their computers. “I wanted to bring something that feels good in a physical space,” he said.

Girouard is used to composing music for the stage. For the creator, projects related to urban environments give him access to an audience he would not usually reach. “I’m interested in talking to these people who haven’t paid for a ticket, but who discover an artist and a space at the same time,” he said.

Girouard and Bédard hope to get Montrealers to discover their city in a different way through this project. In the future, they aim to expand the concept in more green spaces.

The Pause MTL app is available to download on all Android and Apple devices.


Visuals by Jonathan Lapalme & Véronique Morin



Launch of Montreal’s urban sprawl interactive map

 A Concordia student has developed a web-map to spread awareness of urban development in Montreal

Concordia undergraduate student Mirya Reid developed an interactive map of Montreal’s urban sprawl to raise awareness of the environmental impact of residential choices on future generations. The map was launched at an online panel on Oct. 1, leading into Campus Sustainability Month.

The is two webmaps side-by-side, the two maps convey different kinds of information, allowing the viewer to easily compare information in one map with the other and see how they are related. One map is of the urban sprawl in Montreal, the other map contains survey data on Concordia students resident preferences and perceptions of urban sprawl.

“Each map has a menu that allows people to select which variables they want to compare,” said Reid. “So you could choose to look at median income by borough in 2011 alongside levels of urban sprawl in 2011 and get a really clear visual of what that relationship looks like.”

The Montreal Metropolitan Community (CMM) released a report in 2020 that stated urban sprawl is intensifying across the outskirts of Montreal, and that the number of people driving from the suburbs to urban areas has increased steadily over the last decade.

The report goes on to say that the rise in single-family homes being built in the outskirts of urban areas is resulting in a loss of agricultural land and green space.

“It is increasingly apparent that urban sprawl is really not a sustainable form of urban development,” said Reid at the panel. She explained that there are significant greenhouse gas emissions associated with heating and cooling larger single-family detached homes in the suburbs.

According to Reid, the homes are built in areas that were created to be easier to get around by car rather than public transit. This contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the production of particulate matter which are linked to various respiratory illnesses.

“Sprawling development also results in ecological fragmentation which threatens biodiversity and the ability of natural areas to adapt to the increasing urban areas,” said Reid.

“The other reason we’re concerned about all this is because urban sprawl is increasing in Montreal, at alarming rates, and it’s been accelerating continuously since 1951. It has increased by 26 per cent between 1971 and 2011.”

Reid explained that there is a correlation between having more children and living in the suburbs, as having children generally demands more room. Yet she stated that it also depends on affordability: property is significantly more expensive downtown, thus some families must opt for the suburbs where it can be more affordable, while higher-income families are able to afford to live downtown.

“Some studies are finding that preferences can change with the younger generation,” said Reid. “My generation and millennials are increasingly choosing to remain in denser urban environments.”

According to a recent Statistics Canada report, Montreal and Toronto have had a record amount of people move from urban areas to the suburbs, as well as smaller towns and rural areas. The report states that Montreal had 24,800 people move from the city, while places like Farnham and Saint-Hippolyte had their population rise.

Reid explains that she learned how to create the interactive map in a class about geospatial technologies, where they were taught the programming language Python.

“It was stressful at times because I’m really not a programmer,” said Reid, who explained that she had only taken a few programming classes, and taught herself the rest with help from friends and the internet. “Sometimes I would start trying to do something without even knowing if it was actually possible, and just problem-solve until I ended up with what I like to call a ‘Franken-code’ that did what I wanted.”

“Doing that all summer was extremely fun and rewarding, it feels like a victory when you finally fix a bug or get something to work,” said Reid.

She received $4,620 of funding from the Sustainability Action Fund (SAF), which is a fee-levy group that gives the majority of its funding to support projects that develop sustainable infrastructure.

When asked why students should be interested in the interactive map, Reid explained that public trends should always be a priority for students. She stated that it is important for people to have a wide range of information on sustainability issues, including this one.


Photograph by Hadassah Alencar


Planting trees on the Loyola Campus

The Concordia Greening Project collaborated with non-profit organization Soverdi in planting over 185 Indigenous trees at the Loyola campus.

You may have noticed a new addition to Loyola’s scenery this week – around 129 Concordia students, professors and staff planted various types of trees that are native to Quebec’s forest system on campus.

The Loyola tree-planting event began last week, on Nov. 5, but the idea came up last February at the Concordia Greening Project’s first committee meeting.

The Concordia Greening Project is a new student-faculty collective that aims to promote greener practices on Concordia campuses.

Before the project, the campus’ landscape was mainly occupied by species of maple trees. Now you can find more than 20 varieties of Indigenous species such as the Canadian Serviceberries, White Birches, Red Oaks and Jack Pines.

“It’s a shame not to use the wonderful space that we have to its fullest benefits,” said Concordia Biology Professor Rebecca Tittler. “Trees provide cleaner air, water filtration and also improves well-being,”

Trees feed off carbon dioxide which takes up a little more than 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

“Young growing trees sequester a lot of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and put it into their own growth; the growth of their leaves and trunk,” Tittler said.

According to a 2019 StatCan report on greenhouse gas sources, the combustion of fossil fuels is the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide in Canada.

Trees are also commonly used to help fight extreme hot weather by providing shade and protection against heat waves. They cool the air with the water filtered through their roots, which is later released through the trees’ leaves. Trees also filter stormwater runoff from transporting toxic substances into nearby rivers and avoid contaminating the city’s clean water system.

A little over 100 trees were planted around the Stingers Dome, 44 more native trees near Hingston Halland and 41 forest trees similar to Quebec’s woodlands in front of the Communications Studies and Journalism building.

“We’re just students trying to see action in what we’re studying and trying to make changes,” said Founding Member of the Concordia Greening Project Theo Vergnet, who also studies Human Environment at the university.

With over 500,000 people who joined this year’s Montreal climate march, this is a step up for Concordia students and faculty members to demonstrate their part against global climate change. The event went on for four days, but the new installation provides the Loyola campus with a sustainable and long-term solution to certain environmental issues.

These Indigenous trees will be used as a teaching tool for the biodiversity classes taught by professor Tittler at the university. Being right outside the school buildings, students in the Sustainability program can get a more hands-on experience of the subject rather than learning about it from lectures in a classroom setting.

Over $50,000 went into funding Loyola’s tree-planting project, with the City of Montreal subsidizing 54 per cent of the cost and TD Bank covering 36 per cent as part of its #TheReadyCommitment program. Concordia University contributed 10 per cent.

“I think it’s a great partnership between institutions and Soverdi. Green spaces are really important; that we preserve and take care of it.” said Mayor of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Sue Montgomery in an interview with the Concordian. She visited the sites and even planted her own tree at the campus.


Photo by Laurence B.D.


By-law deals fatal blow to residents’ petition

Construction on Loyola green space to move ahead despite opposition

N.D.G. resident Irwin Rapoport’s campaign to save the Loyola campus green space was dealt a fatal blow on Monday.

Construction of the new research centre on the green space will now move ahead after Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough officials discovered a clause in Bill 122, a new provincial law adopted in June, which states “public property intended for collective use in the education sector is no longer subject to approval by a referendum.”

Rapoport and other N.D.G. residents had hoped to preserve the green space. “The residents are seeking a moratorium on any development of green space on the campus,” Rapoport told The Concordian early last week. A group of residents wanted to have the development moved to one of the nearby parking lots, with an underground parking garage built to replace the current lot.

Following a borough council meeting on Monday night, Rapoport called the legislation “an attack on democracy.” He criticized the borough for its oversight. “You didn’t cross the t’s and dot the i’s on this one,” he said.

C.D.N.—N.D.G. Mayor Russell Copeman said the city is just respecting the rule of law. “I was as startled as the next person about this [discovery],” he said. “But we’ve double-checked everywhere, and we really feel that, by our legal department, we have no option but to reject the petition. It would be illegal to hold a register under these conditions.”

With the threat of a referendum off the table, Concordia can move forward with its plan to begin construction of the $52-million research centre this spring. The building, which will house research centres for nanoscience and cell biology, will occupy 15 per cent of the nearly 8,800 square metre field behind the Richard J. Renaud Science building.

Rapoport said he is concerned the research centre may only be the beginning of development on the green space. At an C.D.N.—N.D.G. urban planning committee meeting on Aug. 7, he confronted a Concordia official about whether or not further developments would follow. “I asked him: ‘Would you guarantee that the remainder of the field would not be developed?’ He couldn’t say no. He couldn’t say yes or no.”

University spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr said Concordia has no plans to develop the green space beyond the current project. Furthermore, “any future development would need to be approved by the borough and would involve public consultation,” she said.

Even moving the development would not solve all of the community’s concerns. Lisa Kagan lives adjacent to the green space, and said she is worried about noise pollution from the construction and the building’s ventilators. She also worries the building’s presence will create more traffic on her street, which borders the space.

“Already, I have to deal with a lot of Concordia students on my quiet street hopping my fence, and parking and traffic.” She said students often block her neighbours’ driveways with their cars. In addition, she said, before Concordia security stepped in, she would catch a student hopping her fence “at least once a week.”

Rapoport had originally petitioned the city to open a register on the project, gaining 95 signatures of the necessary 12 before the clause in Bill 122 was discovered.

Rapoport said he will continue to fight this project. “We’re going to have to appeal to a higher level of the opposition of Montreal.”

“This green space is more than just Concordia’s green space—it’s become a de facto public green space,” Rapoport said.

Concordia student Gabi Mandl disagrees. “I am so thankful that Mayor Copeman and the council unanimously approved the project because they clearly understand how valuable it is,” the chemistry graduate student said. “This isn’t a building being constructed for business or profit. It is for students to be able to learn and flourish.”

Concordia chemistry graduate student Gabi Mandl. Photo by Kirubel Mehari

Mandl said she hopes to pursue her PhD at Concordia once the new centre is built. She said the community’s demands are unreasonable and unrealistic. “I don’t think it’s a good use of funding to build [an underground] parking lot when all they have to do is build a building next to a parking lot on a huge, unused plot of grass,” she said.

Some residents had previously proposed moving the building either to the parking lot across campus next to the physical services building or the one next to the green space behind the St-Ignatius of Loyola Church. Mandl said the first option would place the new building too far away from the existing science building for the two to be connected by a tunnel. Such a tunnel is necessary to protect the student body from exposure to dangerous substances, including nanoparticles and cell cultures.

The tunnel is also necessary to protect samples from contamination and exposure to the elements. Biochemistry undergraduate student Tommy Roumanas said the human cells Concordia uses for research must be kept safe while in transport. “Human cells are very, very delicate,” he said. “As soon as we take them out of that 37 C incubator, we’re on a timer.” Furthermore, contamination of these cells can go unnoticed for months.

As for the parking lot next to the green space, which is close to the science building, Mandl said she worries about the cost of replacing this lot with underground parking. According to one study, underground parking garages cost on average about $41,600 per space. At this rate, replacing the roughly 80 existing parking spaces would cost more than $3.3 million. Furthermore, Barr said the university does not have permission to build on the suggested parking lot.

According to Barr, a website is in the works to keep the public informed on the project. “Our neighbours are important to us,” she said. “They have always been welcome on our campuses. We aim to create a campus that is an asset for all.”

Exit mobile version