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Torched playground structure in Montreal's Saint-Michel neighbourhood leaves residents on edge

The well-used structure in Gary-Longhi park was set on fire Saturday night, police say.  (Submitted by Félix-Antoine Marchildon - image credit)
The well-used structure in Gary-Longhi park was set on fire Saturday night, police say. (Submitted by Félix-Antoine Marchildon - image credit)

Maxime Sabourin was excited to take his three-year-old son to Gary-Longhi park in Montreal's Saint-Michel neighbourhood to show him the ropes of, well, the ropes.

"He just started climbing, he's really active," he said. "We were actually looking forward to come play here."

A well-used yellow and brown playground structure, equipped with a slide, ropes and steel bars, sits in Gary-Longhi park, formerly known as Saint-Damase park, just down the street from Sabourin.

But some residents and parents like him are on edge after part of the play structure was set on fire over the weekend.

"It's super frustrating, it's scary," said Sabourin.

"A park in a neighbourhood, it feels like the heart of a neighbourhood and having something like that happen is like a strike right to the heart."

Saint-Michel resident Maxime Sabourin says the playground fire and other recent cases of violence have left the neighbourhood feeling scared. He's wants more police visibility in the area.
Saint-Michel resident Maxime Sabourin says the playground fire and other recent cases of violence have left the neighbourhood feeling scared. He's wants more police visibility in the area.

Saint-Michel resident Maxime Sabourin says the playground fire and other recent cases of violence have left the neighbourhood feeling scared. He's wants more police visibility in the area. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

It's unclear exactly how one of the structure's little wooden houses, a unique rope bridge and part of the slide were burned, according to Montreal police, who say it happened Saturday night.

The Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM)'s arson squad is still investigating. So far, no suspects have been identified.

Andréanne Leboeuf, an industrial designer and landscape architect for playground equipment supplier Elephant Play, is the designer behind the playground structure.

She said she was informed of the fire when someone sent her a picture of the charred metal poles.

"I was really mad because it's something I designed just for this park a couple of years ago and it's the only nice park of this area," she said, adding there are few other places for kids to play in the neighbourhood.

One of the structure's little wooden houses, a unique rope bridge and part of the slide were burned. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

The fire happening in a playground near two schools generates a sense of fear among residents and parents, said Sabourin, who added "it's not the first thing in the neighbourhood that's shocking."

In 2021, 16-year-old Thomas Trudel was shot and killed just steps from the park. No one has been arrested or charged in connection with his death.

In August, a 25-year-old man was fatally shot near the corner of 25th Avenue and 46th Street, and two teenagers were arrested in October after shots were fired in the Saint-Michel library on François-Perreault Street.

Sabourin says officials have told residents action is being taken, but "we don't see more police in the neighbourhood ... we don't feel the extra safety of their actions."

He's calling for better communication from officials and more police visibility in the neighbourhood.

In the meantime, Sabourin says he doesn't know he'll explain to his son why he can't play on the well-known structure.

"I hope that they're gonna fix it and build it back as soon as possible," Sabourin said.

Sandwiched between two schools and inaugurated in June 2019, the playground structure was a well-used amenity in Gary-Longhi park, formerly known as Saint-Damase park. (Submitted by Andréanne Leboeuf)

The Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension borough declined an interview but said the site was cleaned and secured and the playground will eventually be repaired or replaced.

Designer Leboeuf says she'll be able to use all the surviving steel pieces to help rebuild the structure "nearly as it was before."

"[We'll] repaint and the plastic has to be redone, but yeah, we can redo the park," she said.