Free Gardens For All

Zac Clarke wants everyone to have a garden — so they’re building them for free

For Zac Clarke, founder of “Free Gardens for All,” the pandemic was an opportunity to rethink the direction of their life. Clarke owns “Dirty Pizza” on Mont-Royal Avenue, and after three years of working 60-70 hour weeks, they were completely burnt out. Then came the pandemic.

“I call coronavirus ‘the great pause,’” said Clarke. “I kinda stopped and thought: is this what I wanna do? And I decided that I wanted to make more money with my labour and less money exploiting the labour of others.”

Clarke originally studied carpentry at École des métiers de la construction de Montréal, but worked a series of kitchen jobs after graduating, which led them to Dirty Pizza.

Clarke’s goal now is to return to woodworking as an entrepreneur, and in the meantime they had a great idea: building free garden boxes. Not only would this allow them to get back into the swing of things with carpentry, but “as a baby socialist and anarchist, it’s good praxis!”

Garden boxes are small, raised planting beds that can be placed in a backyard, on a porch, a balcony, or even on the sidewalk, turning what was once bare concrete into a place to grow your own organic produce.

Clarke finds scrap wood — their first three boxes were all made from one-third of an old deck — and constructs the boxes with the help of volunteers.

The plan is to construct 20 boxes over the cold season and get at least 80 per cent of them producing food by next summer. After that, they’ll register as a nonprofit co-op and, if all goes well, Clarke can leave the project to grow on its own.

“When I was in high school I had a great theatre teacher, Louise Chalmers, who always said ‘If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I want this production running,’” said Clarke. “The hope with this is that I get the legs going, I get people motivated, and people can build free gardens whether I’m here or not.”

But they need volunteers to help make that happen. In particular, Clarke is looking for someone with a truck and anyone who has carpentry experience, but they made it clear that Free Gardens For All is an anti-ableist organization and welcomes everyone who has time to help.

Right now they’re focusing on building boxes and getting them installed, and once the spring comes, Clarke and volunteers will fill all the gardens with soil and compost from the Eco-Quartier so folks can get started planting.

With this project, Clarke hopes to get food back into the hands of the people. Another way to achieve that, they told me, is to get the city to expropriate roofs from the landlords who are hoarding them. All that extra growing space is a huge, unused resource.

“We’re fucked when it comes to climate change, when it comes to where our food comes from, when it comes to people not being able to afford food or healthy food,” they said.

But by making as many boxes as possible, hopefully “The spaces get greener, the money gets greener, and if the rooftops start coming, instead of people like Lufa, you’ve just got free fuckin’ gardens on people’s roofs.” Lufa is a Montreal-based company that sells produce grown in rooftop greenhouses.

Free Gardens For All is taking an intersectional approach for distributing garden boxes, and giving priority to anyone whose life would be really improved by having access to free, organic produce.

To volunteer, or to request a free garden box of your own, email and they’ll send you a Google form.


Timelines bridges the gap between artists

An intergenerational approach brings students and alumni together

A specific idea or theme is usually what draws artworks together in an exhibition. Timelines, on the other hand, is themeless. Held at Atelier Galerie 2112, in the Plateau, the show, organized by the Painting and Drawing Student Association (PDSA), features the works of 10 Concordia artists.

“The exhibition is about celebrating and showcasing the great works that are created by both students and alumni,” said Jose Guillermo Garcia Sierra, President of the PDSA.

Timelines functions like a mentorship program. “We paired each alumni with an undergraduate for them to meet and have a small mentorship relationship,” said Garcia Sierra.

The PDSA’s primary goal is to give students enriching opportunities at Concordia. Garcia Sierra added that while their focus lies on painting and drawing, they are not limited to the mediums. Student artists practicing a number of disciplines can participate in their workshops, events, and vernissages.

While the show itself does not feature a specific theme, the exhibited artists demonstrate a mutual interest in the notion of the environment. “We were mainly looking for individuals that were really committed to their craft,” said Garcia Sierra. “We focused on how excited and serious the people were going to take this project that we made.”

Vibrant blues and greens fill the canvas in Laura Douglas’ The Empty Place. The oil painting depicts an empty parking lot which contrasts with a lush green forest and makes a statement about nature’s reclamation of human-occupied spaces.

Alumnus Sylvia Trotter Ewens’ Untitled portrays a modern glass-paned building, a burning urban space and a forest fire. Inspired by artificiality and the natural landscape, Trotter Ewens work engages primarily with environmental ethics.

However, paintings are not the only works exhibited, Malachy Schwartz’s 3D printed sculpture, Textures #1, #2, #3, explores the permanence of the image and visual transformation. Each sculpture originates from a photograph. This notion of the manmade and the artificial is present in Schwartz’s project which further delves into the idea of landscapes and the relationship between natural and unnatural materials.

Aside from works centred around the natural environment, artists like alumni Rihab Essayh and Colas Eko investigate the interpersonal as a result of familial and societal environments. There is no doubt that regardless of the artists’ age or background, their works complement one another and allow for an enticing and visually stimulating experience.

Fine Arts students looking to have their work featured in a future exhibition can follow the PDSA’s social media pages for updates on submission dates.

Timelines is on display until February 19 at Atelier Galerie 2112, at 2112 Atateken. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 12 to 6 p.m. Further information about the PDSA’s upcoming workshops and events can be found at /


Feature photo by Britanny Clarke


L’épicerie Muscade brings the zero waste movement to the Plateau

Green lifestyle swaps are happening everywhere and Montreal has become a hub for the new eco-friendly businesses to open.

After a month of spreading the zero-waste spirit with their business, l’Épicerie Muscade strives to deepen its roots in the iconic Montreal borough, the Plateau Mont-Royal.

Quebec still struggles to find ways to cope with the waste it makes yearly. In 2012, residents were producing approximately 750 kilograms of waste a year, and according to Recyc-Quebec only 64 per cent of recyclables are recycled.

Muscade tries to reduce plastic waste by selling dry ingredients and spices in bulk and local artisanal zero-waste swaps. Swaps are re-usable products that you can buy or make to help lower your single use plastic consumption. But what draws customers into the shop is the cozy cafe that serves vegan foods and drinks.

Although it isn’t the first of its kind on the island, this grocery store is giving many eager shoppers access to zero-waste product in the Plateau. François Guinaudeau, a local who has been working towards a zero-waste lifestyle was very pleased with the new business.

“We live right near l’Epicerie Muscade,” said Guinaudeau. “We had been waiting for a long time for something that did ‘vrac’ shopping that was close.” There are limitations to what products they offer. Zero wasters still need to go to their local fruiterie to find fresh produce and protein, which still makes low-consumption shopping a difficult task.

The cozy store is located a short walk from Mont-Royal metro station, on the corner of Messier Street and Mont-Royal Avenue. The warm-coloured decorations and giant window let in some natural light to create a homey feeling space.

Éline Bonnin, the head chef at Muscade, explained how the concept for this business came alive.

“At first it was more of a restaurant, but once we found this location everything changed,” she said.

Since she started living a zero-waste lifestyle, Bonnin realized that she wasn’t finding what she needed in her neighbourhood. Shortly after her realization, Bonnin, Lola Farruggello and Melyssa Lemieux–the other co-owners of l’epicerie Muscade–quickly jumped on the opportunity for a zero waste business.

The three young women hope to reshape the way residents think about vegan and zero-waste lifestyles through their new business. “There’s a big cliché that being zero-waste and vegan is more expensive,” said Bonnin. “But this isn’t always true. We hope to offer something that can break this mould.”

Although there isn’t any fresh produce, this store is neatly stocked, offering typical ‘dry’ ingredients as well as spices in bulk. Additionally there are a variety of zero-waste swaps you can find there.

“We have an entire table dedicated to zero-waste feminine hygiene products” said Bonnin. Lots of cosmetics and kitchen stuff, the house, artisanal products made in Quebec.”

On top of the grocery shopping experience, customers can also buy ready-to-eat food in mason jars. L’epicerie Muscade also offers dishes, soups, vegan cheeses and yogurts for customers to take home. “What we’re most proud of is the little fridge with all of our homemade goodies,” said Bonnin.


Photo by Juliette Palin


YUM or YIKES: Arepera

On my next vegetarian foodie adventure, I searched Montreal for a Latinx restaurant. My friends and I found Arepera when scouting where to eat dinner. My experience with Latinx food has never gone past Mexican, Brazilian or Salvadorian which are, more often than not, very meat-based cuisines.

Arepera is a Venezuelan restaurant in Montreal’s Plateau located on the pedestrian walkway Prince Arthur St. E. The restaurant is much larger than it looks, with bright yellow walls, similar to that in the Venezuelan flag. They also have old church benches in the waiting area, which I found was a really fun touch to the traditional look of the place.

The restaurant specializes in arepas, a Venezuelan-Colombian cornmeal bread stuffed with a variety of ingredients that forms a sort of sandwich. The arepa has a rich history dating back centuries. According to an article on, the cornbread was a staple in diets across many Indigenous tribes in Latin America, which are now distinguished as Venezuela and Colombia. According to the article, arepa got its name from the Latin-Indigenous word for corn, erepa.

Arepera is not labelled as a vegetarian restaurant but it has a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options featured on its lengthy menu, with options varying from $8 to $16 per arepa/plate. The menu is also 100 per cent gluten-free — since arepas are made from cornmeal, there’s no risk of contamination.

Queso y aguacate vegetarian arepa. Photo by Brittany Henriques.

I chose a serving of fried plantains as a starter and a mango juice to drink. I always teeter towards water instead of juices or soft drinks, but their juice flavours piqued my curiosity and I could not resist mango. My friend opted for a guava juice which was just as delightful.

The plantains were delicious and hot, and came with a cup of grated cheese instead of a dip, which I found interesting. From my Caribbean restaurant experience (plantains are common in Caribbean dishes), I’m used to having dipping sauce with the dish. At Arepera, the grated cheese stuck to the plantain and they actually ended up tasting incredible together. The plantains were so sweet and ripe that I found a dipping sauce unnecessary.

I had the queso y aguacate vegetarian arepa, which included cheese and avocado as the main stuffing ingredients. I had never had arepas before, nor have I ever had thick grilled cornbread, but it tasted incredible. I loved the texture and, because of the lack of wheat, the bread tasted light and I didn’t feel bloated afterwards. The dish also came with a small salad which I could not even get to because I was so full after the last bite of my arepa. My friends had the pabellón arepa (beef, black beans, plantains and feta cheese) and the llanera de pollo arepa (chicken, feta cheese and avocado). Both said they enjoyed every bite.

The restaurant was big, the staff was friendly and the food was incredible. I have no complaints aside from the fact that I would’ve liked for the arepa to have a choice of sauces to make it a little bit more flavourful when choosing a vegetarian option at least.

As a whole, I would rate Arepera:

4.5/5 for the food,
4.5/5 for the price,
4/5 for the service,
3/5 for the ambiance.

I would definitely recommend it to everybody. I believe this place would be more popular if the aesthetic, design and overall ambiance was more current and Instagram-worthy (I personally like the more traditional look they have going on, though).

This piece was written with the current Venezuelan Crisis in mind. Though western countries get to indulge in traditional Venezuelan dishes, residents of Venezuela are still going days without food in their stomachs.

For more information on the Venezuelan Crisis and the Government’s standpoint, click here


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Flora takes over the Plateau Mont Royal

RU: MÉTAFLORE draws creative crowds  

Mount Royal is always bustling with people and last weekend was no different. In addition to the weekly tam-tams on Sundays, shops moved onto the streets under gazebos for an end-of-summer sale. By night, musicians, dancers and visual artists claimed their space on the crowded street. 

RU (Réappropriation Urbaine) is a four-day creative hub connecting artists with the public and reclaiming Mont Royal Ave. for pedestrians. Marking the end of summer, RU is followed by the closure of St. Laurent Blvd. for a very similar family-friendly weekend.

Located in the aire commune between Boyer and Mentana streets, several local artists were grouped together for MÉTAFLORE, a multidisciplinary exhibition set among cargo crates, grassy patches and wooden structures, and also the theme of this year’s fair. Clad in turquoise and shaded by giant green and yellow prisms, the artwork below shared a similar biophilic essence.

Genevieve Dagenais’s fuzzy, pink, sea-cucumber-like sculpture was set in the heart of the  space— flanked on either side by two cargo crates featuring the work of several other artists. On one side, Cesar Cruz-Merino’s bright and bristly sculpture complimented Dagenais’ nicely, and, though smaller, invited onlookers to get much closer. The sculpture, titled Euphoria Gloom, is a carnivorous fruit tree with an appetite for fresh flesh, born from their need for nitrogen, which is essential for the growth of the tree and the production of it’s nitrogen-rich Gloom berries.

Hanging on the crate walls surrounding Euphoria Gloom are a couple photographs from Linda Rutenberg’s series, The Garden at Night, depicting  a variety of plants in ominous dark purple and mauve light.

“The project is a foray into the unknown nocturnal world of flora… I become an explorer and witness as photographer,” said the artist, who has a BFA in film and music and an MFA in Photography from Concordia. Rutenberg, who currently works at Dawson College, frequently leads open photography workshops, encouraging others to become explorers as well. 

At the entrance of the site,  a large metallic prism sits on a bed of grass.

“It is a sculpture that was designed to highlight two stages in the evolution of a modernized lily flower… the root, structured and straight which is the base of its development, and its flamboyant heart in full bloom which brings flexibility and life to the work,” explained Or Luminaria. Through this industrial sculpture, her intention was to become aware of the fragile beauty of our environment.

Among all the artwork being created and exhibited, onlookers were given opportunities to participate in collective murals and theatre performances throughout the weekend.

In an opposite crate, several glass bottles of various shapes and sizes containing obscur colourful liquid lined a white table, facing a video touring Montreal with a twist. Digital sculptures interrupted the urban and earthy scenes, transforming biological matter into the robotic.

These bottles were part of a matching game created by Alix Leclerc. The bottles contain olfactory elixirs that correspond to one of six plants and imaginary animals, archived on the walls of the crate. Visitors are invited to sniff, testing their nose’s ability to identify the scents and match them to the artist’s invented animals.

On Friday night several painters took to working on the streets, creating murals with tempera paint, which is easily washable, in line with the floral theme. Freelance illustrators Maylee Keo and Raphaël Dairon had their work screen-printed on RU tote bags by French artist, Léa Mercante, free of charge. While MU facilitated a participatory mural, inviting onlookers to take part of the action, crowds gathered to watch, dance and lounge on large red bean bags with Belle Guelles, completely inhabiting the Avenue.

RU: MÉTAFLORE took place on Mont-Royal Ave. between St. Laurent Blvd. and D’Iberville St. from Aug. 22 to 25. St. Laurent’s rendition of the street fair,  BLVD – Boulevard Piéton, will be taking from from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1 between Sherbrooke St. and Mont-Royal Ave. with numerous games to participate, and free skateboard lessons provided by Empire in celebration of their 20th anniversary.


Photos by Chloë Lalonde.


“The Lower Plateau”, a movie half a decade in the making

How Montreal local and Mcgill graduate, Liz Singh turned her life into a film

Liz Singh spent nearly half a decade working on her first film, The Lower Plateau, which was released in 2018. Made on a $19,000 production budget using just one camera and a boom mic, the film was Singh’s way of illustrating the many facets of her own life in the lower Plateau as an emerging artist. Based in Montreal, Singh obtained her bachelor’s degree in cultural studies at McGill in 2006, and went on to study film and television production at the University of Southern California.

Singh’s inspiration in pursuing this venture arose from a lack of interest in other opportunities. “I was looking for a project, and I couldn’t find anything I wanted to work on, so I made my own,” she said. Filmed in Montreal, the cast and crew consisted of about 50 people, many of whom had never worked on a movie set before. For a bunch of first-timers, the end result is quite impressive.

The Lower Plateau follows a 20-something named Jaine, who seems to be idling in uncertainty as to where to take her life. In an experience that is all too familiar to the creatively-adept young adult, she navigates toxic relationships, unemployment and a routine that seems tantalizing in its swift ability to direct her attention back to both.

A few solid friendships pull Jaine through the worst of times, though each bond bears its own set of scraps. Singh attributes the personalities of some of the supporting characters to her real-life companions. “I think probably every character that you write is a facet of yourself, and then mixed in with bits and pieces of people you know,” she said. “I wanted it to feel like my life in the lower Plateau; a lot of people I know, this is how we’re living, sort of working in bars and working at night, doing multiple gigs and making art on the side.”

Right now, Singh and co. are working on a few web series, one of which may involve “a modern take on superheroes,” Singh said. Through her production company, Dépanneur Films—which was established in 2014 under the name Cinéma La Vox—Singh has also put out a web series that resembles The Lower Plateau, called Bonjour Hi.

In listening to Singh describe her past as well as her ambitions, the parallels between her and Jaine are clear, despite one poignant detail. If Jaine is a version of Singh in any capacity, I have reason to believe that she represents a Singh of the past. The beaming woman who stood before me to eagerly discuss the details of her debut film seems to have surmounted a period of uncertainty and poured her heart and soul into her art. The result is content as beautiful as it is sad.

Though The Lower Plateau is a noticeable first attempt a full-length film, if it’s any preview of what Singh and the rest of her crew are capable of under a tight budget, I’m looking forward to whatever’s next.

The Lower Plateau was screened on April 7 at Transparent Film Festival in New York City, and will be available online next month as part of the Lift-Off Sessions.


Montreal entrepreneur eyes borough city hall

Zach Macklovitch is beginning a campaign to lead the Plateau-Mont-Royal

In 2011, an inspired West Islander, fresh out of Concordia University, partnered up with his friend Nathan Gannage, to start what would become one of the largest creative agencies in Montreal, focused primarily on event promotion.

The team took a calculated risk and invested in early St-Laurent Boulevard, when the street had a high commercial vacancy rate and very little beneficial guarantees, and opened up three venues. The clubs were a hit, immediately bringing up the street’s economic value, like a winning lottery ticket. The venues are now among the most well-known places to party in Montreal, created to be places for diversity, unity and entertainment.

This is Saintwoods, the company behind SuWu, Apt 200 and École Privée. These businesses are thriving, and now the owner, Zach Macklovitch, is shifting his focus to a new playing field: politics.

Macklovitch is running for mayor of the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, alongside Équipe Denis Coderre pour Montréal in the upcoming municipal election. Sixty-five seats on the Montreal city council will be up for grabs, along with 38 borough councillors positions. If elected, Macklovitch would take the seat of Luc Ferrandez of Projet Montreal, who has been mayor of the borough since January 2010.

As he sat in his sunny office on St-Laurent Boulevard among walls of exposed brick and racks of branded T-shirts, he detailed how his political science background at Concordia helped him decide to run for mayor when the opportunity presented itself this summer. “Denis Coderre approached me as he was looking for, what he would say, a ‘real second option’ against Luc Ferrandez,” Macklovitch said.

It took Macklovitch a few weeks to accept Coderre’s offer. He said he wasn’t expecting the proposition and had to get advice of many family, friends and partners before seriously pursuing the position.

Plateau-Mont-Royal borough mayor candidate Zach Macklovitch pictured in his office, situated above Apt. 200. Macklovitch is running as part of Équipe Denis Coderre pour Montréal. Photo by Sarah Jesmer

“It was something I always wanted to do, I just didn’t think I was going to do it at 27 years old,” he said about getting involved in politics. Macklovitch’s entrepreneurial investments in St-Laurent caught the attention of the city and news media not just because of their economic success, but also because of his age. He’ll be 28 on Oct. 4, embraces his youth and stands out among older co-workers. For example, in his candidate profile picture for the Équipe Denis Coderre campaign, he’s wearing a loose white T-shirt––a significant contrast to the other candidates wearing three-piece suits.

As mayor, Macklovitch still wants to be a business owner and prioritize the strengthening of businesses on St-Laurent. He said he believes there’s value in facilitating a relationship between the municipal government and Montreal business owners.

His unofficial platform prioritizes the revival of “commercial arteries” that have “taken a hit,” he explained, such as St-Denis and Prince Arthur. He is also looking to reevaluate the policies regulating the business ventures in Montreal.

“There’s an unbelievably awful amount of red tape,” Macklovitch said, explaining how hard he feels it is to get city approval for new business-related projects in the Plateau.

According to him, the current municipal regulations for businesses are impeding progress, citing examples such as the difficulty of creating parking spaces or adding a patio to a small restaurant. “We use our rules and regulations just to be lazy and to say no to things. And that’s not what they’re there for,” he said. “We want to be working with our private citizens to make this city better.”

“We should even be attracting other businesses,” he said. “I would love to see an Amazon campus in the Plateau,” he added, using the online retail giant as an example of the economic future he sees for the area. American cities, such as Los Angeles and Atlanta, have become homes for Amazon, but so far the company hasn’t set up shop in Canada.

The values and goals Macklovitch developed during his experience as an entrepreneur at Saintwoods cross over with his vision as a political leader.

“We fought so hard against Projet Montreal to do everything we’ve done on this street. We had to fight tooth and nail for every step forward that we’ve made,” Macklovitch said, referring to dense procedural regulations Saintwoods encountered during its early stages.

When asked whether he would continue to be involved with Saintwoods should he win the election, Macklovitch was confident that balancing both responsibilities wouldn’t be an issue. “I will continue to be fully involved in Saintwoods. I’ll do both. Absolutely,” he said, adding that he’s a workaholic.

“I’m planning on just adding 15 to 20 hours to my work week every week,” he said. “If you want to do great things, that’s what you’ve got to do, and I’m willing to make that sacrifice if that means I can help to make this neighbourhood what I think it should be.”

According to Élection Montréal spokesperson Pierre G. Laporte, there is no law against borough mayors maintaining their own business. “Not at all,” Laporte said, adding that, unless a mayor breaches a contract with the city or breaks the code of ethics, he or she can’t be asked to resign.

With unblinking eyes he detailed the company’s expansion plans, like opening an Apt 200-esque venue in the United States, the release of a Saintwoods vodka and continued support of artists, such as Ryan Playground, as they release new projects.

Macklovitch said he hopes to bring more full-time employees onto the Saintwoods team with time. “Once everybody has reached a place where they’re comfortable in the company, then I can step back and focus more on the municipal responsibilities,” he said.

As far as issues outside the business world, Macklovitch said he wants to focus on community development and school support. He’d like to see city-organized sports leagues and park enhancements, inspired by the years he spent at summer camp as a kid, he explained.

Macklovitch’s non-economic goals are to make the Plateau feel more like a close-knit neighbourhood. However, he doesn’t intend to make it into its own isolated town, as he emphasized his goal is to work in partnership with other boroughs.

“All that I’m trying to focus on right now is the next six weeks—making sure that we have a strong, well put-together, informative plan-based campaign that’s going to talk about real issues and solving them,” he said, adding that this official platform is expected to be made public this week. “I can tell you that it’s going to be pro-family and pro-business.”

Photos by Sarah Jesmer

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