Montreal

Why trees are being felled in Montreal's La Fontaine Park

People who live near the park have been subject to the sound of chainsaws in recent days as crews have begun felling trees weakened by the ice storm two decades ago.

'We heard a tree crack,' says teacher of nearby school who has seen firsthand the danger of weak trees

Municipal workers have been clearing out trees with hollowed trunks because they pose a risk to the public. (René Saint-Louis/Radio-Canada)

With its artificial lake surrounded by a rolling treescape, Montreal's iconic La Fontaine Park is brimming with a majestic mix of saplings and ancient hardwoods.

But a total of 132 of those to trees are being taken down by the city because, with hollow trunks, they pose a threat to the public.

Residents of the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough who live near the park have been serenaded by chainsaws in recent days as crews have begun felling what amounts to 4.3 per cent of the park's approximately 3,100 trees.

The city warned residents before beginning the project, which will take an estimated two years. Crews will also be reforesting the park next, planting 200 new trees by 2025.

The city says the trees were damaged during the ice storm of 1998. Since then, workers have made effort to slow their decline.

Teachers at the school near the park's edge first heard the tree crack before it fell on a recent windy day. (René Saint-Louis/Radio-Canada)

But after more than two decades of monitoring and maintenance, the city says it's become evident the trees are weakened structurally and the risk of collapse endangers park users.

Some of those trees have already met their demise naturally and people like Manuel Laforme, who teaches at a primary school bordering the park, knows all to well what happens when the wind picks up.

"When we exited the school, we heard a tree crack," Laforme told Radio-Canada of his recent experience.

"It was an immense cracking sound. With the wind, the tree was breaking. We called the city to let them know and by the next morning, it was on the ground."

While some park users understand the need to fell the trees, others are not so happy about the clear cutting. (René Saint-Louis/Radio-Canada)

The tree Laforme described is a silver maple, which is common in the park and throughout the region. They can live up to 130 years in an urban environment, but often die after 80 years in the wild.

Laforme agrees that it is a safety concern and taking down the weakened trees makes sense. But not everybody feels that way.

People have been watching the trees come down with mixed emotions, with some feeling public safety is the most important while others are sad to see the ancient trees cut.

In one case, a tree that had been marked for removal with spray paint and a laminated sign explaining the situation, somebody scribbled "STOP le carnage" on it in black marker.

Last year, the city unveiled its plan to freshen up La Fontaine Park with a special focus on pedestrians and cyclists.

That plan focuses on improving the park for pedestrians by turning Emile-Duployé Avenue, the only street that runs through the park, into a pedestrian-only thoroughfare. The street currently splits the park in two.

As part of the plan, the city has also moved part of the bike path onto the street. The renovations are planned over the next 10 to 15 years.

With files from Radio-Canada's René Saint-Louis

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