The Association’s Activities & Philosophies

Cassandra Tooley
This section will provide an overview of several of the important activities and projects of the Montreal Parks and Playgrounds Association. It will focus on Montreal’s largest park, Mount Royal, as well as smaller community-based initiatives. Through a close analysis of these activities, this section will identify the goals and philosophies of the organization.

The Development and Preservation of Mount Royal

The creation of the park on Mount Royal was one of the main reasons for the formation of the Montreal Parks and Playground Association. In analyzing the planning activities surrounding the creation of the park, the goals and philosophies of the association become evident. Montreal was influenced by the “City Beautiful” movement, which was founded in Chicago at the end of the nineteenth century. [1] The movement aimed to renew urban areas through the creation of large, open public spaces. Mount Royal Park was an implementation of the movement’s goals. The City Beautiful Movement also had a social objective. Those behind the movement believed improvement of the landscape would have a “consequent improving effect on public morals.” [2]

It is noteworthy that the architect behind the development of Mount Royal, Frederick Law Olmsted, believed in similar social objectives of open space. In a report to the Mount Royal Park Commissioners, Olmsted stressed the importance of scenery:

“Charming natural scenery,” he claimed, “acts in a more directly remedial way to enable men to better resist the harmful influences of ordinary town life, and recover what they lose from them. It is thus, in medical phrase, a prophylactic and therapeutic agent of vital value; — and to the mass of the people it is practically available only through such means as are provided through parks.” [3]

Due to the important moralizing goals surrounding the establishment of Mount Royal Park, the protection and preservation of the mountain would define a major role of the MPPA for decades to come. The MPPA was an essential actor in lobbying efforts and the raising of public awareness for the need to conserve the mountain. This lobbying role was particularly evident during the late 1950s when Mont Royal was “en grand péril.” [4] Land that was owned by the Mount Royal Cemetery Company on the slopes of the mountain in the City of Outremont was proposed for sale to an apartment housing development project. [5] On this issue, the MPPA made their position very clear:

“WHEREAS a mountain in the centre of Canada’s largest city is unique among the great cities of the world constitutes a priceless asset which not only must be preserved, but which must not be permitted to be walled in my multi-story, multiple-dwelling buildings.” [6]

The ensuing support for the MPPA’s position was significant. Many groups and individuals penned letters of protest to the mayor of Montreal to express their support of the MPPA’s opposition to the development of the land. These groups included, among others, the Kiwanis Club of Montreal [7] and the Young Men’s Section of the Montreal Board of Trade [8].

Ultimately, the Montreal City Council determined by a vote of 61 to 23 not to authorize the expropriation of the land. [9]

The Community Garden League of Greater Montreal in Numbers: [12]
During the growing season of 1942:

  • 1,409 gardens each measuring approximately 25 by 100 feet, were under cultivation.
  • The productive capacity of one lot could provide more than enough vegetables for the average family of five
  • It is estimated that over 1,700 tons of home-grown vegetables with a value of $53, 542 were produced in community gardens in this particular year

The Community Garden League

“The Community Garden League of Greater Montreal, operated by the Montreal Parks and Playgrounds Association, operates a central clearing house providing general supervision of organization of garden allotment districts spread over the Greater Montreal area. The allotments are primarily for the use of the needy unemployed which includes heads of families on relief, part-time employed, and others on pensions or low earnings.” [11]In collaboration with the Montreal Council of Social Agencies, the MPPA launched one of its largest projects: The Community Garden League of Greater Montreal. The Community Garden League had its own administrative body, and held its own meetings separate from the Montreal Parks and Playgrounds Association. However, from 1937 onward, the business of the Community Garden League was the responsibility of the MPPA. [10] The creation of community gardens would aim to address issues of poverty by providing garden plots to unemployed heads of families.

In addition to providing families with opportunities for sustenance farming, the community garden was also regarded as a means of contributingto the allied war effort. During the war, Britain experienced severe food shortages, and a “Seeds for Britain” appeal was launched. [13] Local efforts in Montreal were made to send crop seeds to Britain. The Community Garden League of Greater Montreal collaborated with other local gardening organizations, such as the Diggers and Weeders Garden Club. Together these organizations decided on care packages that would best be adapted to the conditions of English soil. Cultivating garden plots became a way for those who could not participate in army service to have a chance to actively contribute to the war:

“Men who secure employment are encouraged to continue the cultivation of their plots. A questionnaire revealed that 67 percent of the gardeners were over 45 years of age, too old for active participation in army service.” [14]

While the Community Garden of Greater Montreal played a significant and largely successful role in the social welfare of Montreal’s citizens, it also served a clear ideological purpose. The gardens were able to contribute to the war effort during a time when the “British Government was stressing the importance of homegrown vegetables as an indispensable aid in the Battle of Democracy.” [15] It is clear that the development of garden plots for the use of unemployed citizens had an important ethical goal. In a 1937 report, the executive secretary of the MPPA:

“This project is of great value not only from the point of view of the volume of produce raised, but also for its moral effect as an occupational and recreational outlet.” [16; emphasis added]

Community Recreational Facilities

Industrialization, which occurred in the late nineteenth century in Montreal, rendered the city’s natural spaces considerably less accessible as well as smaller in size. [17] By the end of the century, the concept of “public services” was beginning to expand, incorporating recreation into the services available for citizens. [18] The MPPA was established in 1902 with a goal of preserving and promoting parks, playgrounds, and open spaces. [19] The largest recreational facility would, of course, be Mount Royal. In the planning for the Mount Royal Park, the MPPA as well as others in the community understood that the big dividend would be “recreation, in many forms.” [20] In addition to Mount Royal Park, the MPPA collaborated with other organizations to provide recreational facilities for public use. The annual reports of the MPPA discuss the creation of skating rinks, and open spaces for community dances in particular. While these smaller projects provided citizens with a place to relax and enjoy themselves, it is evident that there was a moral intention behind these recreational facilities. For example, one of the street dances that was sponsored by the Rosemount Community Center aimed to distract citizens from other activities:

“These dances were closely supervised and provided a healthy outlet for many who might have found amusement elsewhere in questionable commercial dance halls.” [21]

It is thus evident that the MPPA’s aim was not only to provide recreational facilities, but more specifically to provide supervised, morally acceptable entertainment for the citizens of Montreal.


  1. Maude Desjardins, “Open-Air Spaces: Montreal’s Parks,” McCord Museum, http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/explore.php, accessed 20 March 2014.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Box 4. File 5. Mount Royal Park, Montreal-1966. Address to the 1966 Annual Meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians in New York City, January 28 1966, McGill University Archives.
  4. “Mount Royal en grand péril,” La Presse, September 16, 1959.
  5. Container 1. File 30. Letter: C.J.G. Molson, to his worship Mayor Fournier, June 22, 1959. McGill University Archives.
  6. Container 1. File 30. Re: Land belonging to the MRCC in the City of Outremont, situated South of Mount Royal Boulevard. Address by the Montreal Parks and Playgrounds Association President Raymond Caron, June 19, 1959, McGill University Archives.
  7. Container 1. File 30. Letter: Chairman of the Public and Business Affairs Committee of the Kiwanis Club of Montreal, to Raymond Caron, July 10, 1959, McGill University Archives.
  8. Container 1. File 30. Letter: Young Men’s Section of the Board of Trade to Mayor Romauld Bourque M.P., June 22, 1959, McGill University Archives.
  9. “Mount Royal en grand péril,” La Presse, September 16, 1959.
  10. Container 1. Description of the Montreal Parks and Playgrounds Association/Community Garden League of Greater Montreal Collection, McGill University Archives.
  11. “Seeds for Britain Appeal Launched,” Montreal Gazette, March 13, 1941.
  12. “City War Gardens Proving Popular,” Montreal Gazette, January 30, 1943.
  13. “Seeds for Britain Appeal Launched,” Montreal Gazette, March 13, 1941.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Container 4. File 33. 1937 Report of the Executive Secretary, emphasis added, McGill University Archives.
  17. “Lachine Canal National Historic Site: The Cradle of Industrialization.” Parks Canada, http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/qc/canallachine/natcul/natcul2/c.aspx, accessed 15 March 2014.
  18. Maude Desjardins, “Open-Air Spaces: Montreal’s Parks,” McCord Museum, http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/explore.php, accessed 20 March 2014.
  19. Container 1. Description of the Montreal Parks and Playgrounds Association/Community Garden League of Greater Montreal Collection, McGill University Archives.
  20. Container 4. File 33. Foresight Planning for Mount Royal Park. Brief by Arthur L. Gravel. February,1952, McGill University Archives.
  21. Container 4. File 33. Fortieth Annual Report. 1941, McGill University Archives.

 

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