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A mountain meadow in an urban setting

Living rural in the city is great – you can do it, too.

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. They’re not foxglove (digitalis); that grows wild in Vancouver, but not in Montreal.

I stopped to listen to a tiny bird perched up in a dead tree, with a sweet three-part song. It turned out to be an Indigo Bunting.

Milkweed flowers

This makes me really happy, because on my fantastic Point Pelee Big Day, when I saw 55 (or more?) species before 1:30 pm, I didn’t 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 but distinctive scent. I’m 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 the seeds were a couple of years old, and haven’t come up.

I proceeded to Beaver Lake, where I’d heard that a mama wood duck is raising 7 ducklings. Wood ducks are famously shy, so her choosing a man-made lake is a little odd for her, and very lucky for us. But they’ve 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. They provided this floating platform that the mamas and babies sleep on at night – and these two mallards are taking a break.

Mallard ducks on platform

There are other floating platforms in the lake for the ducks to rest and feed on.

On my walk back through the woods, I came across a snail. I moved it across the path so that no one might unwittingly step on it.

Look at that S car go! — escargot is the French name for snail

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 had the snail in her class and was very fond of it. As were her students. They were despondent when it died in 2011.

Today, I found a butternut on the path. Butternut trees are endangered in Canada, 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 twenty to replace one” is the law. But you killed one that was thriving, and if those 20 don’t grow or mature – you’ve “done” your job, so what do you care!) So I’m happy to see that there’s one in Park Mont-Royal. I’m going to have to learn how to identify the tree and try to find it. 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 of a tiller, a piece of farm equipment that gets pulled behind a tractor to break up the soil. Not that, with no-till farming, that matters so much anymore. This is a good thing.

Morning glory, red clover
A flowering pea vine, a milkweed, and a spikey flowering plant…

I am so glad this meadow is there. Forest cover is essential for birds and wildlife, but so are wild open spaces. A lot of bird species rely on meadows for nesting habitat, and foresting them is a habitat loss. Though snags (dead standing trees) should be left standing and not removed, small (very small!) clear cuts can even be beneficial to an ecosystem. 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.

At first, that’s the only reason I could think of this why this meadow was there. But then it turned out: This was the original site of the Montreal Children’s Hospital. In 1956, it moved to its site on Tupper (update: itself now demolished, as the Children’s moved to the MUHC Glen superhospital in 2015) .

Click the picture or this link for more inforamtion from the Wikimedia Commons project. This photo was taken by William Notman, a famous photographer.

This stately building, doomed to prove inadequate as a hospital for a growing population, must have been demolished anywhere between 1956 and the mid-1990s (when I got here – because while I do remember a lot of other derelicts long since replaced, I never made its acquaintance). Picking a date in the middle, if this hospital was demolished in the 1970s, then this meadow has regenerated in the 40 intervening years. But this is also a testament that reverting built-on land back to parkland doesn’t automatically let it return to its former glory. It would have been forest to begin with. If there’s no forest here now, there’s a reason for it.

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.


  1. Claude Drolet

    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. Jane Sorensen

    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.

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