Montreal looks to revive beloved park as swaths of shoreline wash away

Sections of the walkway and retaining wall in Dieppe Park have been washed away. Fencing has been installed around the erosion, but some are determined to access the water. (Dave St-Amant/CBC - image credit)
Sections of the walkway and retaining wall in Dieppe Park have been washed away. Fencing has been installed around the erosion, but some are determined to access the water. (Dave St-Amant/CBC - image credit)

When it comes to shoreline fishing in the Montreal area, there's really no comparison to Dieppe Park — a park that juts out into the St. Lawrence River, a brown gazebo perched on its grassy, tree-lined point just in front of the Old Port.

"You're casting into 18, 20 feet of water," said fishing guide Andrew Walker, listing off prized fish like walleye, sauger, smallmouth bass and sturgeon that can be hooked there.

"There's a little bit of everything there. It's a good spot."

But parts of this popular fishing spot — and beloved park — are falling into the river as erosion eats away at retention walls and walkways along the water's edge.

This is worrisome not only to fishermen, but also to picnickers, surfers, cyclists and anybody else who appreciates breathing in a bit of fresh air while soaking up some breathtaking views of the cityscape, Jacques Cartier Bridge and Jean-Drapeau Park.

It's also worrisome for the city, and officials are working on a solution that will not only be costly, but will have to be implemented with the care to protect the fragile but thriving underwater ecosystem that surrounds the park.

Dave St-Amant/CBC
Dave St-Amant/CBC

Covering about seven hectares near the Concorde Bridge, Dieppe Park is on Montreal's list of large parks.

Along with a bicycle path and picnic areas throughout the park, there's a popular surfing spot steps away, adjacent to the stacked-cube housing complex known as Habitat 67.

Fixing retaining walls won't happen overnight

Sections of the park's shoreline have been fenced off,and signs warn of the dangerous erosion, but people have been vandalizing the barriers and slipping by regardless, according to spokesperson Camille Bégin.

She said an announcement is coming soon about the city's plan to stabilize the shoreline and revitalize the park.

But before carrying out any major work on the retention walls, an environmental impact study must be conducted and submitted to the province's Environment Ministry for approval.

"Unfortunately the degradation of the riverside retaining walls is not a problem that can be solved in the short term," she said.

In addition to stabilizing the river banks, the city is working on expanding the site's offer of activities and increasing the amount of urban furniture on site, Bégin said.

Additionally, the revitalization will aim to "improve biodiversity, improve access to the shores and highlight the spectacular views of the river, the city and its many landmarks," she said.

This effort will be part of the city's Nature and Sports Plan that, announced last year, "puts nature at the heart of the city to improve our quality of life and help fight climate change," the city says on its website. For example, the plan includes planting 500,000 trees by 2030 and developing all-new parks.

Important to anglers, important to fish

Either way, repairing the retaining wall while protecting the fish habitat is an important step, according to Walker, who runs Cast & Conquer Fishing Adventures.

He said it's an important place for fish to breed and thrive. At the same time, it provides enough space for dozens of anglers to fish at one time without worrying about crossing lines.

He said it's also accessible, attracting people from all over the region who fish for both sport and food.

There are rapids, he said, but also pools of slower moving water collecting around the shoreline's structure that attract fish of all sizes.

"The fish use the shoreline, where it drops off, and there are rocks and weeds that grow up there in the summer," said Walker. "With all that being eroded away over the years, it gets pulled downriver and you lose all the structure."

But it's not just fishermen who worry about the erosion. Jérémie Gauthier-Lacasse says even if the park is downstream from the natural, standing wave formed in the rapids near Habitat 67, any erosion could damage the popular surfing spot.

"Erosion is always part of the puzzle," said Gauthier-Lacasse. "There are so many things that impact the wave."

He's the vice-president of Surf Grand Montréal, a non-profit group that strives to raise awareness about the local surfing scene. He has seen first-hand the damage erosion can cause, and he has also seen the improvements that can be made when the city steps in.

One such example is the landscaping that was done near the Vague à Guy, another popular spot upriver that needed shoreline reparations.

The standing wave near Habitat 67 is one of the region's few year-round surfing spots, Gauthier-Lacasse said, as other waves only show up in the spring or when the water flow is high.

With the wave having been such an important part of the local surfing scene for decades, he said he wants to see the shoreline protected.

"It could affect the wave and the access to the spot," he said. "So that's definitely something we have to keep an eye on, and we must prevent because we don't want to lose our spot."