Introducing Montreal’s Park People – A Series: Les AmiEs du Courant Sainte-Marie

Case-Study | août 19, 2021

When protecting the insularity of a city becomes the passion of a community.

Parc du Pied-du-Courant sector and environs, in brief

  • Borough: Ville-Marie and Mercier-Hochelaga Maisonneuve
  • Location: Area of interest – from rue Davidson in the neighbourhood of Hochelaga, forming the eastern border, west to the Old Port of Montreal (since 2020).
  • Format: Linear public space on the West, as far as the Old Port, located at the edge of the Sainte-Marie current.
  • Area: n/a
  • Equipment: urban furniture (picnic tables and benches), shops, shrubs and perennials along the river as far as the Old Port. On the eastern edge, there is just Bellerive Park, which has only a few picnic tables.
  • History: Initially, the organization, which called itself Les Amis du parc Bellerive, focused primarily on this park and then expanded its coverage and renamed itself Les Amies du Courant Sainte-Marie. Village au Pied du Courant has been at its current location since 2014, following an invitation from Les AmiEs du Courant Sainte-Marie. La Pépinière co-produces the site and runs the programming and is responsible for seasonal management (4 months per year).
  • Accessibility: a 10-14-minute walk south from the Square-Victoria-OACI Metro station to Champs-de-Mars to reach the Western portion, and a 15-22 minute walk south from the Beaudry Metro station to Préfontaine for the Eastern portion. Bike trail on Notre Dame.



Victor Balsis and Gaëtan Auger met in 2011 after they both coincidentally moved into the same building in the St. Marie neighbourhood. Gaëtan, who is now Vice-president of Les Amis du Courant St-Marie, has been passionate about the St. Lawrence River ever since he was a child.

"For me, it's something that we don't value highly enough. There is a whole world of energy—it’s like the mountain, like nature. I would love to see Montrealers be able to rediscover and reconnect with the river. - Gaëtan Auger

Victor’s interest in understanding the impact that the construction of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge was having on the neighbourhood, formerly known as the "Faubourg à m’lasse,”* motivated him to get more involved in his community. He is now President of the group.

“I was more interested in the effect of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge and the separation that it created between the 2 neighbourhoods.” - Victor Balsis


The NGO (non-governmental organization) grew out of a public consultation held under the special planning program (PPU) for the Sainte-Marie neighbourhood. Gaëtan filed a submission explaining that his access to the river was paramount and that the views of the bridge were just as important. Later, the first Sainte-Marie citizens’ forum voted to focus on re-appropriating Bellerive Park*.

The two neighbours took matters into their own hands and founded the group called Les Amis du parc Bellerive in 2012, which initially focused on the community’s relationship with the park and its access to the river (not to be confused with Parc de la Promenade-Bellerive, which is located further east*). They were fierce champions of the idea of reclaiming the river in the South Central/Suburban area, in terms of both development and maintenance, as well as preservation of the views and integrity of the surrounding environment.

The group eventually changed its name to Les AmiEs du Courant Sainte-Marie, a reference to the history of the neighbourhood, which takes its name from its location at the foot of the Sainte-Marie Current, caused by the narrowing of the river at that point. The group's primary goal is to expand the portion of the Montreal island to be revitalized, which extends from Davidson Street to the Old Port of Montreal. The group also plans to become a key player in redevelopment and river accessibility issues within the metropolitan area (Greater Montreal Green and Blue Network).

"We had this broad vision that we would be able to have access to the river, to have a linear park on the bridge. That's how it evolved." - Victor Blasis

This small group has lofty ambitions. They believe that all Montrealers should be aware of and able to enjoy the beauty of the city's islands. They would one day like to see Pied-du-Courant Park become a major Montreal park visited and appreciated by everyone. To achieve this, they do refuse to shy away from the challenges associated with taking over the waterfront properties currently owned by the Port of Montreal and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP)!


Vision and aspirations

By meeting with and educating other residents, Victor and Gaëtan are trying to demonstrate the potential of under-used "public" sites (e.g., snow dumps and brownfields, etc.). Of course, Pied-du-Courant park is at the centre of their vision of connecting the community to the river, but they also envision adding land along the river, between Davidson Street and the Old Port, including land owned by the Ministère des transports du Québec (MTQ) and the Port. “Sure, it's a huge challenge requiring a long-term effort, and future generations will benefit from it. We’re patient and we intend to persevere," says Victor Blasis.



The organization's three-member board of directors meets once a month and members work concurrently to lobby various political stakeholders by writing and submitting briefs* and reports and by attending meetings of the borough council and consultation committees.

"We're not architects, we're not urban planners, but we live on these streets, we cross these streets every day, we live here, so we're kind of experts on the area." - Victor Blasis.

The group is also reflecting on the best ways to share and promote their ideas and find solutions to development issues. The group uses its social networks (Facebook and YouTube) to share pictures and articles about inspiring communities and hopes to share sketches and videos made by its members to illustrate their vision for the community.

“Right now, we are in the process of informing and training activists to enable them to dream these spaces." - Victor Blasis.

The organization also sets up information booths at neighbourhood events, such as at the Pied du Courant Village, to inform residents about its mission and to help raise awareness about its work.

Needs and challenges

For the area of interest

“Our dream is to one day be able to walk on the docks,” Gaëtan tells us.

Les Amis du Courant Sainte-Marie agrees that the critical issue for the Pied-du-Courant Park and the immediate area around it is still universal accessibility to the river. They believe their involvement is critical to ensuring area residents, workers and students are heard and have improved access to the river. Still, the two co-founders say that despite all the challenges, the gains they have made since they started in 2012 have been incredible.

"The park, when we got there, was in disrepair. Then gradually, there was the fence, the strings of lights, the new self-cleaning toilet, the paths that were redone, and then there was the water fountain. All these was the group that brought them forward by going to the Council many times."



In the short term, the group is also concerned about the deployment of the Réseau Express Métropolitain de l’Est. Indeed, its construction could further complicate access to the rivers and views. They have therefore been lobbying municipal and provincial elected officials to put forward and share their ideas and plans. In the report of its last Annual General Meeting, the group stated that:

"Cities that have prioritized the redevelopment of their waterfronts and water bodies (i.e., by relocating or redeveloping their ports, rail lines and highways) have enjoyed international recognition and increased economic development. As a result, citizens have seen an increased quality of life that comes with having access to their waterfronts."

For the group

The organization is facing a number of challenges, most notably at the organizational level because it has reached a crucial point in its development. In fact, Victor and Gaëtan have numerous critical files that they feel they need to tackle. As both of them grow older, they are concerned about who will be able to take over from them.

“We've got issues, visions and projects for the short, medium and long term, over 5, 10, 15 years, but I'm 75 years old. I will continue to remain active, as I have a passion for it, but we also need new people."- Gaëtan Auger

Indeed, the group, which is made up primarily of retirees between the ages of 60 and 65 who have ample time to devote to their many projects, is having difficulty attracting younger people. Victor and Gaëtan would like to see new ideas and new skills, specifically computer skills, to help bring new blood into the organization, which has had the same members for the last five years.

"We are the faces of the group. I wonder if people want others who look like them. So we want to reach out to the younger people because we're trying to bring more young people into our group. They are the next generation. We don't want it to happen that if Gaëtan and I leave that there will be no one to take over." - Victor Blasis

This is especially important since, as the two co-founders explain, the younger generation would also be able to help them with everything that involves the media. "We have a certain media presence, but we find that we don't reach enough people. How can we reach more people, have more of a presence in the public arena? That's where we're somewhat lacking." Among other things, this could help make their mission more widely known and even encourage people to become more involved with the organization.



In an attempt to improve the situation, they have changed their membership requirements and opened it up to everyone, rather than limiting it just to local residents. But, the problem still remains. Because the organization is primarily advocacy-focused, some residents are reluctant to deal with the various levels of government. Nevertheless, additional support could make all the difference, according to Victor and Gaëtan:

"We come up with ideas for projects, and then when people see them, they like them. They say "We want this!" But if 100 people from the neighbourhood or interested individuals went to the borough council and pushed for our proposals, we would be able to move forward faster."

Between now and the end of the year, Victor and Gaëtan hope that each member of the organization will take concrete steps, large or small, in order to spur change in the community.

"We'd like everyone to look at why they like this group, why they want to be in it, and for everyone to look at at least one thing they can do. We need everyone to get involved. We don't want people on the sidelines anymore, this is an active group and we don't want to wait for proposals from the city, we want to be on the leading edge."

Some relevant links