UNESCO status for Mount Royal – Les amis de la montagne held a press conference at Place Ville Marie’s Observation Summit on April 5th to announce the launch of its campaign seeking UNESCO status for Mount Royal. The citizens group hopes to gather 30,000 signatures on its online petition before April 26th to make UNESCO status for Mount Royal World Heritage site. Executive Director Sylvie Guilbault said the international designation will help to provide a stronger framework to manage the mountain which is an iconic symbol of Montreal’s identity. UNESCO status would ensure stringent preservation protocols and add a level of world scrutiny to local decision-making, providing a structure to address the competing concerns of people who use the mountain.
The 750-acre hectare urban park with 3 peaks and rich bio-diversity attracts more than 5 million tourists annually, as well as being a magnate for locals who enjoy its beauty, tranquility, exceptional landscape, and breathtaking views. Peter Howlett, President of les amis de la montagne commended Montreal’s decision to support UNESCO status for Mount Royal, calling the city’s bid to protect and enhance the mountain “visionary”. The Quebec Government supports UNESCO status, but in the past the authorities haven’t always been supportive. The group may envision its role as a “channel for the views of the community”, he said, noting that Montreal Anglophones and Francophones find common cause in the mountain. Not everyone is convinced. “The really tried-and-true politicians in our ambit are always very dubious,” Howlett said.
“We will not be silent,” Guilbault said, from the PVM Observation Deck with its panoramic view of Mount Royal. “The mountain is our heart.” With 30 years on the front lines of fighting for Mount Royal, the conservation group is urging Montrealers to recognize that the mountain is a treasure and citizens are its best protectors. The mountain is a destination of choice for parties, joggers, charity walks, movie shoots, tam tams, and the tour buses that roll into town all year-round. Yet, as much as it is a fun spot, it is also an “urban sanctuary”. So say the “friends of the mountain”, pointing to its storied history as a territory where spiritual, educational, and health institutions co-exist alongside the pastoral cemeteries where our ancestors are buried. Flanked by bustling neighbourhoods within walking distance it offers great livability for residents, students, and businesses.
Peter Trent, who only very recently announced he is stepping down as the mayor of Westmount, said he was proud to join Montreal in supporting UNESCO status for Mount Royal. He said the city of Westmount has always been a “staunch ally” of les amis de la montagne and took the opportunity to pitch Westmount’s latest project to join Summit Woods to the parkland in the north, noting this would increase the contiguous surface of the natural park from 30-50 acres. “Summit Woods will be knitted together with kindred green space,” he said. Westmount City Council has signed off on adding over half an acre of forest and will plant 75 new indigenous trees.
Chief Christine Zachart-Deom of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake said she was pleased to join the alliance of Francophones and Anglophones on behalf of the Mohawks in supporting UNESCO status for Mount Royal. “This mountain behind us is in the heart of Mohawk territory,” she said, noting that the territory had never been ceded. She said the mountain’s history goes back far in history, in fact, to pre-history. “This is the year of inclusion and we really appreciate being included,” she said.
There are currently 18 UNESCO sites in Canada. The city of Montreal has taken the first step towards UNESCO status by submitting Mount Royal’s candidacy to a special committee of Parks Canada which evaluates proposals from across the country. If the committee recommends Mount Royal as a World Heritage site, then the request will be passed on to UNESCO which will make a final decision. The process is long and only comes up every decade or so. The last time Canada updated its repertoire of sites deserving protection was in 2004. In the meantime the organization is keeping its fingers crossed and hopes that Montrealers will step up and show their appreciation of the mountain by signing the petition.