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Protesters in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve rally to protect local forest

'Increasing the number of roads just makes no sense and we're dealing with climate change,' says Cassandre Charbonneau-Jobin,  member of Mobilisation 6600 Parc-Nature MHM.  (John Ngala/CBC - image credit)
'Increasing the number of roads just makes no sense and we're dealing with climate change,' says Cassandre Charbonneau-Jobin, member of Mobilisation 6600 Parc-Nature MHM. (John Ngala/CBC - image credit)

Protesters gathered in the Montreal neighbourhood of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve on Saturday to voice their opposition to a construction project that may see Assomption Boulevard extended into a roadway that runs through a forest known as Boisé Steinberg.

For years, protesters have been showing up, camping out in the summer and braving the frigid cold in the winter, to protect the greenspace.

On Tuesday, the city is holding an information session to discuss the different development scenarios on the table — all of which it says involve a road being built on part of Boisé Steinberg.

Bordered by rail lines to the west and south, the land is made up of long grass, patches of trees and some walking trails. But to Cassandre Charbonneau-Jobin, the forest is more than an undeveloped lot.

"We're protecting our greenspaces, our very few remaining greenspaces," said Charbonneau-Jobin, a member of the citizens' group Mobilisation 6600 Parc-Nature MHM.

Alice Paquette, right, says she is worried about her future.
Alice Paquette, right, says she is worried about her future.

Alice Paquette, right, says she is worried about her future. (John Ngala/CBC)

"Increasing the number of roads just makes no sense, and we're dealing with climate change. Last summer, the sky was orange. It smelled like fire."

Charbonneau-Jobin says the project won't benefit the thousands of residents nearby, but it will benefit Ray-Mont Logistics and the Port of Montreal, and that will increase industrial trucking operations in the area.

"We cannot have a healthy life while we're living next to thousands of trucks, thousands of containers being moved around and trains coming in," she said.

Whether or not the road is finally built on the greenspace, Charbonneau-Jobin said she suspects the city will find a way to build more roads to serve the companies and the Port of Montreal.

She said she'll show up Tuesday to fight the project and present her own alternative scenario in which there are no new roads being built at all.

For several  years, protesters have been demonstrating against development projects on the forest’s land.
For several years, protesters have been demonstrating against development projects on the forest’s land.

For several years, protesters have been demonstrating against development projects on the forest’s land. (John Ngala/CBC)

Piling on the pressure

In 2022, the city acquired some of the land and promised to protect a portion of it as part of a $50-million deal with Hydro-Québec.

According to the City of Montreal, the municipality owns two-thirds of the forest while the remaining third belongs to the province's transport ministry.

Fourteen-year-old Alice Paquette showed up for the march. She said she is concerned about the world she is inheriting.

"I'm very worried about my future," she said.

Paquette said she's frustrated and saddened by the fact the community comes out in a show of force again and again, but there's no clear sign of changing policy.

"No one is really doing something for us," she said. "We're fighting and fighting, over and over again … but I feel it's not really going anywhere."

The MNA for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Alexandre Leduc, was in attendance and said he's also against turning the greenspace into a construction site.

"Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is one of the neighbourhoods of Montreal with the [least] space for [greenspace], for forest, for nature," he said.

"I want to put pressure on the transport minister to forget this project and just erase it from the board to protect [Boisé Steinberg] in its entirety," he said, adding that the neighbourhood needs fewer roads and more public transport and greenspace.

On the other side of railway tracks across from the Boisé Steinberg, Ray-Mont Logistics owns a large swath of land it purchased for $20 million in 2016 to build a transportation hub where goods will be sent via rail and road to the nearby port.

The company is suing the city for $373 million in damages, claiming delays in obtaining the necessary permits have caused the company massive financial losses.

CBC reached out to Ray-Mont Logistics and Quebec's Transport Ministry but did not hear back.

Protesters blocked parts of Assomption Boulevard on Saturday.
Protesters blocked parts of Assomption Boulevard on Saturday.

Protesters blocked parts of Assomption Boulevard on Saturday. (Submitted by Josée Desmeules)