Discovering the St. Jacques Escarpment – Jane’s Walk and Bioblitz last weekend
On Saturday, May 7, some 75 people walked through NDG’s St. Jacques Escarpment urban wilderness organized by Sauvons la Falaise. The earliest started at 7:25 am. to look for birds. The largest group, a “Jane’s Walk,” arrived by foot and bicycle towards 11 am. to discover what there is to learn about this neglected part of the city. In the afternoon, environmental activists conducted a “bioblitz”
The bird watchers, led by Luc Falardeau, came up somewhat short-handed with only 16 species, due in part to a cool, wet spring that is slowing down bird migrations. In evidence were chickadees, blue jays, woodpeckers, yellow warblers, and a small hawk.
Jane’s Walks are named after Jane Jacobs (1916—2006), an author and expert on urbanism. She was noted for her opposition to projects like the Lower Manhattan Expressway and Toronto’s Spadina Expressway. In her honour, free guided neighborhood walks are given in cities around the world, exploring the social issues of urbanism, usually in the first week of May that was Jacob’s birthday.
The principal guides Saturday were Patrick Asch, a biologist largely responsible for the restoration of Parc des Rapides in LaSalle, and Serge Quenneville, a coordinator of the Eco-quartier du Sud-Ouest.
The Escarpment is a thin ribbon of trees running for 3km parallel to St Jacques Street. On the lower side, participants could the Quebec Ministry of Transport’s (MTQ) Turcot highway reconstruction project. Quenneville spoke about the destruction last September of the Tannery Village, a unique archeological site in Quebec. He was critical of how the MTQ moved to quickly destroy the site.
Asch spoke about how there is relatively little biodiversity on the Escarpment. “Most of the tree species here are either pioneer species, like the cottonwoods, or introduced species such as Norway maples and European hackberry.” Such a forest does not lend itself to a rich diversity of insects, birds or mammals.
Asch related how he had rehabilitated the Parc des Rapides site without support from the former mayor of LaSalle. “In the early 1990s, there was only one bird watcher there. We replanted the area with native species and today there are sometimes hundreds of people entering the park hourly, many with binoculars.” Asch also related how the mayor of LaSalle ultimately had an epiphany, becoming a strong supporter of the park.
Environmental justice was another topic discussed by Asch, pointing out how poorer neighborhoods often shoulder a very disproportionate share of noise, traffic, and pollution, without benefits such as green space. He spoke of activist Majora Carter and her efforts to “green the ghettos” of the Bronx. She has also worked to created urban parks and walkways and bike paths to connect them.
Asch spoke of the necessity of creating a pedestrian/bike overpass over the relocated Highway 20 and CN tracks and also creating corridors for wildlife to migrate. The MTQ originally promised such an overpass, but has since quietly dropped it from the plans. The estimated cost of the overpass, at perhaps $37 million, represents about one percent of the total estimated cost of the Turcot project.
The afternoon’s bioblitz was led by Floris Ensink of the Quebec Sierra Club to find and tally the number of species found on the Escarpment.