Grandmother on a mission: Mile End woman seeks to rid neighbourhood of ragweed

Irène Mayer started pulling up ragweed in her own Mile End yard, and then moved her efforts into the public sphere, after her grandson was diagnosed with an allergy to the plant.

Irène Mayer hopes to eliminate ragweed for the sake of her grandson and others with allergies

Irène Mayer took on the project when her grandson, Xavier, was diagnosed with a ragweed allergy. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Irène Mayer has spent the last 10 years picking out tens of thousands of ragweed plants by hand.

Her weeding work began after her grandson, Xavier, was diagnosed with allergies.

"After my retirement, I knew that my grandson was allergic so I [decided to] do something to help him," she said.

Mayer started in her own Mile End yard, and she pulled the plant out around her grandson's house, too.

She then moved her efforts into the public sphere, successfully pitching a three-year pilot project to eradicate ragweed in an old rail yard that has been transformed into a park.

The area, on the border of the Plateau–Mont-Royal and Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie boroughs on Gaspé Avenue, is now known as the Champ des Possibles.

More than 150,000 plants pulled up

Ragweed is an invasive species and its pollen causes itchy eyes, stuffed noses and sneezing for those with allergies.

Last year, the first year of the project, a small group of volunteers pulled up more than 150,000 ragweed plants.

Irène Mayer is out to prove that ragweed can be eliminated from gardens and parks with persistent weeding. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

"This year, we have a lot less," Mayer said. "My project is three years, and it's only the second year, that's why I'm really optimistic."

She said she hopes to put a theory to the test — that if you weed three times per year, ragweed will disappear forever.

Caroline Magar, development coordinator for Les Amis du Champ des Possibles, said she applauds Mayer's dedication.

"It's amazing," she said. "I think it's necessary when you're facing such a big public health concern like that."

Mayer said she'll continue working with groups of volunteers to try to drastically reduce the ragweed population, always with her grandson in mind.

With files from CBC's Kate McKenna