Osheaga’s new home the Amphithéâtre Naturel – A park or a devastated place? (video)
Amphithéâtre Naturel – Except for those going to the Casino, I guess very few Montrealers visit Île Sainte Hélène in the winter. But as soon as the weather improves and La Ronde opens its doors or people simply feel inclined to visit that enclave of nature in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, they will be for a surprise; albeit, an unpleasant one I should say. After coming out of the Jean Drapeau metro station, where trees used to stand, now visitors would face what seems a devastated place, comparable perhaps to what is left behind when a hurricane has passed.
The cause of this desolate landscape is no other than a “legacy” of former Mayor Denis Coderre: his beloved “Amphithéâtre naturel,” the transformation of the southern part of St. Hélène Island into a giant outdoor venue for concerts and other big events. For this purpose, hundreds of trees and large green areas were removed in order to install gradients where the public could be accommodated. Of course, these new installations will be concrete structures.
When the project was first discussed in city hall, the then opposition leader and now Mayor Valerie Plante, decried the idea. Her argument was precisely the massive destruction of mature trees that the project entailed. However, since the projected amphitheatre is now in its initial phase —the removal of all the trees— little can be done, and the city apparently had no option but to let the construction of the giant venue go ahead.
When the project was first proposed by Coderre, the justification was to provide improved facilities for music events such as Osheaga and others that are staged at Jean Drapeau Park. In principle, this may sound fine, except that as far as we know, those attending those concerts —mostly young people— were not complaining about the facilities as they stood until now. Indeed, having areas with trees was seen as an advantage, since when these events take place during the day, it may get very hot, having a break in the shadow of a big tree could then be a good thing. Another factor that was not considered is that trees —as seen in the area of the Notre Dame Island where the last Osheaga concerts were held— also serve as natural reducers of excessive noise, thus addressing some of the complaints of neighbouring communities in the South Shore. In the new location, without trees around, the public will not have much relief from the sun, the inevitable noise that a concert generates would still get to the South Shore, and on top of all of this, what is a park without green spaces?
It is unfortunate that at this point nothing can be done to remediate a situation that threatens the character of Île Sainte Hélène as a sort of oasis in the middle of our urban setting. Of course, concert producers will have what has been promised to be a state-of-the-art outdoor auditorium, but that would have been at the expense of what used to be a pleasant place that now has been destroyed.
Feature image: The park around the Jean Drapeau metro station as it looks in this 2013 picture (Google photo) Right: The same area of the park as it looks right now