New Cabot Square park aims to empower aboriginal Montrealers
Park set to officially reopen July 8 with new services and activities
Inuk artist Simiuni Nauya is one of many people who will contribute to welcoming the community back to the revitalized Cabot Square.
He's been hired to give soapstone carving workshops there this summer.
"It's my first time being asked to carve at Cabot Square. It's exciting," Nauya said.
The newly renovated square will focus on empowering aboriginal Montrealers, who, for more than 30 years, have gathered at the park on the corner of Ste-Catherine Street West and Atwater Avenue.
"We've put an emphasis on hiring as many people from the marginalized aboriginal population, people experiencing homelessness or people who struggle," said Rachel Deutsch, Cabot Square project manager with Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network.
Nauya has been living in Montreal for 20 years and already sells his carvings to some galleries but, at the moment, he does not have a place to call home.
He's hoping this opportunity will give him enough exposure to attract more clients.
"It's not like I want to be homeless," he said. "I am looking for a place because I have a girlfriend and I'd like to bring her home."
The Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network has been meeting with the Ville-Marie borough and Montreal police to plan how to make the new Cabot Square safe and welcoming for everyone.
The small building in the park has been renovated and will house a cafe run by community group L'Itinéraire, which aims to help marginalized and homeless people find employment.
That building will also be home base for two outreach workers. A university student, who is aboriginal, has been hired to work in the park office, to help educate people about available resources and to phone outreach workers or police officers when necessary.
Many activities have been planned to bring aboriginal and non-aboriginal people together to enjoy the park.
In addition to soapstone carving, there will be movie nights, swing dancing and every Friday will be Aboriginal Day.
"It shows that they care and they want to bring something out of that place instead of leaving it the way it was before," Nauya said.
Although he spent time at Cabot Square when he first arrived from Nunavik, he has avoided the park in recent years after witnessing some violent incidents.
Police liaison officer assigned to aboriginal community
Before the renovations, Montreal police received frequent complaints about disturbances in the park.
The renovated park will have better lighting, fewer bushes — where bottles and metals bars have been hidden in the past — and two officers patrolling six days a week.
"They'll be focusing on the park and the vicinity all around. That's going to be something that's new," said Const. Adalbert Pimentel, a Montreal police community officer with Station 12 who has worked in the area for close to 20 years.
Montreal police have also assigned Const. Carlo DeAngelis to the new role of aboriginal liaison officer.
DeAngelis is a patrol officer in the downtown area and has an established relationship in the community.
"The people know me on the street level, the most vulnerable, and they come toward me," he said.
In his new role, he will serve aboriginal people across the island of Montreal by answering calls about their concerns, researching any file in question and then getting back to them with a response.
Outreach workers have been holding weekly meetings with aboriginal Montrealers to inform them of all the changes coming with the park reopening and to get their feedback.
"Everybody wants the park to succeed," said Nakuset, executive director of Native Women's Shelter of Montreal and co-chair of Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy NETWORK.
"They're doing a lot of activities, a lot of cultural awareness and they want everyone to cohabitate in a good way."