'It is the heart of Montreal': Group pushes for Mount Royal to become UNESCO World Heritage Site

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Man dies after fall near Mount Royal lookout

Could Mount Royal be the next UNESCO World Heritage Site?

Some Montrealers, along with city officials, say it should be, so they are launching a campaign to win the special designation.

"It is the heart of Montreal. We live on it, we go to school on it. We've got two hospitals there, there are cemeteries…It's this incredible space, but this space needs to be protected," said Hélène Panaïoti, a member of the group Les Amis de la Montagne.

The group has teamed up with the city to launch a bid for official UNESCO designation.

Panaïoti said the designation would be the highest honour the mountain could receive and would ensure its protection.

"It would, I suppose, change the way we see Mount Royal and the way we take care of it," she said, holding Montreal "to the highest standards for protection of Mount Royal."

Although the bid was due at the end of January, Les Amis de la Montagne has until the end of the month to add Mount Royal to the list of contenders.

If ultimately selected, Mount Royal would join Canada's other 18 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Some of those include the Rideau Canal, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks and the historic district of Old Quebec City.

Montreal's political leaders and the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake are also behind the campaign.

Chief Christine Zachary-Deom, a member of Kahnawake's band council, says that although the mountain's iconic cross was erected by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve in 1643, the mountain's history dates back much further.

"The City of Montreal now celebrates 375 years, and I'd say they're still our younger brother for sure, because we've certainly been here for thousands of years," she said. 

"We are really appreciative of this inclusion which has occurred now," she said.

Dinu Bumbaru, the policy director of Heritage Montreal, said the park on Mount Royal was created by Montrealers, for Montrealers.

"In the 1860s, they were clear-cutting on the mountain, and that prompted Montrealers to sign petitions. It was aimed at creating a people's park."

"It was a Montreal-type of initiative, and it led to something that was quite important," Bumbaru said, adding that now Montrealers can speak out again to try to obtain for the site special UNESCO status.

Les Amis de la Montagne is aiming to collect 30,000 signatures on a petition by April 26.

CBC Montreal's Roots of Montreal