The Mayor of Beaconsfield, one of the wealthiest cities in Canada and a West Island suburb, has announced that a portion of Angell Woods, a large undeveloped tract of old-growth forest between highways 20 and 40, will be developed for residential use.
Angell Woods is one of the last remaining large expanses of ‘Montreal wilderness’ and an important wetland, a key component of the West Island’s broader ecosystem. Half is owned by a public consortium of sorts including the cities of Montreal and Beaconsfield as well as the Province of Quebec, while the remaining is in private hands. Mayor Pollock suggested that existing zoning regulations will stipulate high-density residential construction to preserve as much of the forest as possible, but that buying out the owners was impossible simply because no one is willing to front the coin, so to speak.
I think it’s fairly evident any residential development in this space will have a deleterious effect on the quality of the forest as a whole, severely undermining what such a large concentrated wetland provides to those living around it.
We don’t often think about it, but wetlands play a crucial role in water purification, flood and drought control as well as groundwater replenishment. All of this is of vital concern to every homeowner in Beaconsfield, Baie d’Urfé and Kirkland (at the very least).
Consider this: if you ever wondered why Beaconsfield and Baie d’Urfé had such a ‘lush’ quality about them, perhaps you should consider that Angell Woods has been providing considerable, and free, water treatment services for its immediate environs for thousands of years.
Destroying half of it may wind up killing the other half, and either way I can anticipate Beaconsfield may suffer some unintended consequences by permitting development in Angell Woods (namely seasonal watering bans, lower general groundwater retention, among other potential environmental changes).
For your consideration, an open letter written by one of those land-owners.
She makes a compelling argument. These people have paid taxes and the cost of surveys and environmental studies never reimbursed by either the province or cities, they’ve been denied access to their rightfully owned property and further denied the right to develop it. Imagine yourself in their shoes, jerked around by the public sector and prevented from making the fortune you and your family may have worked tirelessly to secure. I suppose it isn’t easy for most of us to imagine ourselves as property developers or land owners, but these people exist and have a right to conduct their business.
Unfortunately for them, the simple fact is that we were not thinking strategically about environmental issues and ecological conservation back in the 1950s and 1960s, when most of the properties in Angell Woods were secured by their current owners. Today we’re a little more in tune with the realities of environmental degradation, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas, and so a far broader interest must be considered. Inasmuch as it’s wrong that these property owners (and tax payers) be denied the right to conduct their business, it’s worse for the greater number of people to lose these woods. What’s Beaconsfield without it? The question is not how much it’s worth to the city, but what it’s worth to all the people who live in Beaconsfield and benefit from what I hear is an absolutely splendid little forest?
It’s not merely an issue of the public having grown accustomed to walking their dogs on private land they thought was a nature preserve for the last sixty years, it’s that this land is better off – for all of us – if it continues to exist in its natural state.
The quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil we stand on should always be held in higher esteem than any individual’s right to profit.
And yet, unless someone comes up with a lot of cash really quick, Montreal will lose another fundamental component of its natural self.
It’ll be a damn shame if the housing market collapses after the area is clear cut…