Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city.

A mountain meadow in an urban setting

Across from the Montreal General Hospital on Cedar Avenue, Mont Royal park begins. And it starts with stairs to a meadow.

Right away you see Queen Anne’s Lace and chicory blooming.


You also see purple bells, but I don’t know their name.

I stopped to listen to and record a tiny bird up in the dead tree, with a sweet three-part song. 

It turned out to be an Indigo Bunting. This makes me really happy because on my fantastic Point Pelee Big Day, when I saw 55 (or more?) species before 1:30, I did not see an Indigo Bunting. Nor for the rest of the trip, either.

Good news for Monarch butterflies: the milkweed is in bloom and it has a light scent. I am happy to see it, as now I know where to come and get more seeds to plant this fall. I planted some this year, but they were a couple of years old and have not come up.


I proceeded to Beaver Lake, where I heard a mama wood duck is raising her 7 ducklings. This kind of duck is famously shy so that she chose a man-made lake is a little lucky for us and a little odd for her. But they have had some difficulty, in that the lake has no shore – and some pretty clueless people harassing them.

Les Amis de la Montagne is looking after them, providing little resting and feeding platforms, which these two juvenile mallard ducks are taking advantage of.


They provided this floating platform that the mamas and babies sleep on at night – and these two mallards are taking a break.


On my walk back through the woods, I came across an escargot. I moved it across the path so that no one unwitting might step on it. A few years ago, I found an ad for a garage sale where a giant African land snail and its tank were up for grabs. I could not let this just go to chance; I went over and got it. The snail’s name was Fluffy Margaret, and it went to my wildlife technician educator friend, who loved the snail dearly. As did her students. They were despondent when she died in 2011.

Today, I found a butternut on the path. Butternut trees are endangered in Canada, and I’m going to write a blog post about it. Because the Ontario farmer/developer mentality of “hey, let’s just cut ’em down and plant them where we want them” is just … wrong. (Sure, plant 20 to replace one – you’ve “done” your job. But if they don’t grow, you don’t care.) Nonetheless, I’m happy to see that there’s one in Park Mont Royal. Now I’m going to have to learn how to identify the tree and find it (or them). Strange that I can identify the nut, but not the tree.


Red clover, and morning glory. This vine is also called bindweed, because it’s really strong – so strong, it can break the disks on a tiller, a piece of farm equipment that gets pulled behind a tractor to turn the soil.


This flower I haven’t seen before. It’s a legume – a member of the pea family. The leaves and vine are bigger than the ubiquitous cow vetch.


The pea, the milkweed, and another spiky flower coming into bloom soon.

I am so glad this meadow is there. Forest cover is essential for birds and wildlife, but so are wild open spaces, and in that case, though snags (dead trees) should be left standing, small (very small) clear cuts can be beneficial to an ecosystem, and that’s the only way I can think of this meadow being there. Gaps, of course, occur naturally, through fire, flood, and blowdowns (windy storms). And at the perimeter of this clearing, you can see the first of the succession species, sumacs, coming back in.


Also published on Medium.

3 Comments

  1. Me and my team are doing the follow-up of the Butternuts in the Park. There is almost 200 of those trees, a small part of them are sick and should die in a few years. That's sad.

    For the clearing, it's the ancient location of the Children's Hospital. There is almost no soil that's why it remain open and also the city is doing a yearly cut to keep it open too.

  2. Thank you, Claude, for stopping by! I surmise you are from Les Amis de la Montagne. Good work with the ducks! I would be interested in going on a walk to see the butternut trees, and I also find the return-to-nature of a developed site fascinating. I'd like to learn more about it, and how it can best be encouraged by naturalists and parks workers.

    I also heard and saw the Indigo Bunting again today, high in a dead tree by the General parking lot. This area is totally its habitat.

  3. The mountain meadow once was home to this beautiful building. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreal_Children%27s_Hospital#/media/File:Childrens_Memorial_Hospital_Cedar_Avenue_Montreal_1913.jpg

    I am glad to have the meadow; it would have been nice though if the building had been relocated. It was stately, though likely doomed to prove inadequate for a growing population.

    I hope that the remaining hospital buildings on the mountain that are due to be vacated get consolidated down to what is most historic, and nature replaces their former sprawling footprint.

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