As summer temperatures keep rising, residents fight for a green Dorval

A major concern for the community is the increasing temperatures in the summer, caused by urbanized areas without tree coverage. To combat the heat, citizens are leading the charge to prioritize green spaces.

City working to build up tree canopy, but concerns over development remain

Rachelle Cournoyer has voiced her concern that Dorval has lost too much of its greenery over the years, leading to a heat island effect in the area. (Submitted by Robyn Bell)

This story is a collaboration between Concordia University's journalism department and CBC Montreal.

Take a drive with Rachelle Cournoyer through Dorval and she can tell you every spot that has lost its greenery, from reduced trees in suburban neighbourhoods to the construction of large homes with smaller lawns.

In the more than 30 years she's lived here, Cournoyer has seen a shift in her community from a garden city atmosphere to one of urban development, a concern echoed across the West Island.

She says the solution is simple: the city needs to listen to its citizens.

"The people who live [in Dorval] are the ones with the most expertise to design their own city," she said.

With this in mind, Cournoyer started Citizens for a Better Dorval in 2014, a Facebook page dedicated to voicing citizen concerns and providing updates on municipal plans.

A major concern for the community is the increasing temperatures in the summer, caused by urbanized areas without tree coverage.

"You noticeably feel it getting hotter. Beyond the waterfront, you go three blocks and hit a wall of heat," said Cournoyer.

To combat the heat, citizens are leading the charge to prioritize green spaces.

Dorval is working with an environmental organization to replace sick trees. (Submitted by Robyn Bell)

Strengthening Dorval's urban canopy

Groupe de recommandations et d'actions pour un meilleur environnement (GRAME) — an organization dedicated to sustainable development — is working with Dorval to replace sick trees and plant new ones.

Dying ash trees have depleted Dorval⁠'s urban canopy due to an infection caused by the emerald ash borer. Although the city has placed capture traps for the insect, infected trees still need to be replaced.

Through their Ensemble on verdit program, a selection of indigenous trees are made available for residential homeowners. Each tree is subsidized by the municipality to encourage residents to use the program.

Beyond residential lots, GRAME has worked with the city to plant 2,594 trees on private properties in Dorval since their partnership began five years ago.

They're now setting their sights on the city's industrial sector.

"These spaces are targeted because they're huge heat islands," said GRAME greening co-ordinator Lia Chiasson. "Often there are no trees, there aren't even sidewalks for people to walk on."

A heat island is an area that has a higher temperature than its surrounding areas. Elyssa Cameron, a researcher from the Université du Québec à Montréal PaqLab forestry research centre, says two main factors create head islands.

"One is a lower cover of canopies — so fewer trees — and the other is an increase in mineralized surfaces like asphalt and parking lots," she said.

To strengthen the urban canopy in the industrial sector, Chiasson and her team go door-to-door explaining the benefits to private business owners.

The human experience of greening is at the heart of their mission. Adding vegetation to an industrial space helps combat the heat island effect and can have a major impact on people's well being.

"It may seem like we're just planting 10 trees on the property," said Chiasson. "But often we're trying to do it with employees and we get so much positive feedback from that experience of being in touch with nature."

Battle for the Technoparc wetlands

For non-residents, the Montréal–Trudeau International Airport likely comes to mind when they think about Dorval. But for many of its citizens, what 's more important is the massive green space beside it.

Montreal's Technoparc is 218-hectares of wetlands divided between Dorval, federally owned land leased to Aéroports de Montréal (ADM) and Montreal's Saint-Laurent borough.

Citizens and municipal officials have pushed to make it an official park for years, but the space has been threatened by developments, including a factory for surgical masks.

The split ownership makes changing its status less than straightforward.

"That complexity has been used as an argument and it's gotten in the way of conservation efforts," said Katherine Collin, a birder and the spokesperson for conservation group Technoparc Oiseaux.

"It's actually quite simple: We have stakeholders to act to preserve that space."

ADM launched its Cityside project in 2018 with the intention to make commuting to the airport easier, and two years later committed to preserve 18.5 hectares of the land.

The project originally included a green roof on top of a new parking lot. But plans have since changed. It's now under review due to financial constraints resulting from the pandemic, said Martin Massé, vice president of sustainable development at ADM.

WATCH | Dorval residents want to see green spaces protected:

Dorval losing greenspace, say residents and activists

2 years ago
Duration 0:56
Featured VideoDorval residents and activists are calling for more green spaces in their community. ‘When we are losing so much green space, it's important to preserve it,’ said Rachelle Cournoyer. Katherine Collin, spokesperson for conservation group Technoparc Oiseaux, said greening the community reduces the heat island effect. Video by Robyn Bell and Lola Kalder.

Green space and new construction

The mix of residential and industrial sectors in Dorval means the city juggles with the needs of both citizens and business owners and their different interests.

During Dorval's March 21 city council meeting, councillors unanimously adopted a temporary ban on all development in a triangular section of its territory between Highway 20, Côte-de-Liesse Road. and 55th Avenue.

The city said the sector was strategically selected given its position near the Dorval train station and the airport.

Marc Doret, who was elected Dorval's mayor last fall, said a ban would also be imposed on all new high-density housing projects in the city as it works on a new urban plan.

Montreal's airport cancelled its plans for an extensive green roof project due to a loss of revenue during the pandemic. (Submitted by Robyn Bell)

"We have the ability to demand more from developers," said Doret in an interview in March, prior to the ban being issued. "They have to work with [the city] and ensure what they're building is also enjoyable for people."

Rachelle Cournoyer was in attendance, along with other Dorval citizens, when the ban on development was announced.

Among other questions directed to the mayor, Cournoyer asked that citizen consultation be prioritized when it comes to upcoming changes to the city's plan. He responded it would be.

Public consultations on draft by-laws are set to begin on April 14. While pleased that residents will be heard, Cournoyer remains cautiously optimistic about Dorval's future. She and her fellow citizens say they'll continue showing up, to hold Doret to his word.

"When we're losing so much green space," said Cournoyer, standing in Pine Beach Park a few weeks earlier. "It's really quite important and you can't put a price on that."