Southwest residents call for more public access to Lachine Canal

Several people to paddled rented canoes to a private wharf owned by a condo complex to occupy a dock over lunch on Saturday.

Pointe-St-Charles community group Action-Gardien occupy a private dock in protest

Pointe-Saint-Charles community group Action-Gardien occupied a condo building's private wharf on the Lachine Canal to denounce what they say is a lack of public access to the water. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

Jocelyne Bernier says she's lived in Pointe-St-Charles for more than 40 years, but that in all that time she and her neighbours haven't had proper access to the Lachine Canal, which borders the community. 

Bernier was one of a couple dozen people to paddle rented canoes to a private wharf owned by a condo complex and occupy the dock over lunch on Saturday. 

The initiative was organized by local community group Action-Gardien, and it saw some wear pirate hats and hold banners decrying privatization.

Their fear, Bernier says, is that as more of these condos pop up along the waterway, officially owned by Parks Canada, there will never be public access to it. 

"When I came here, this was an industrial space," Bernier said while sitting on the dock. "And one by one, piece by piece, the developers bought the ground and built these condos."

Jocelyne Bernier has lived in Pointe-Saint-Charles for 40 years. She says it's time for more public access to the water on the Lachine Canal. (CBC)

There are high banks between the canal and the public spaces lining it, including a bike path and patches of grass with benches and picnic tables. 

Bernier would like to see public wharfs so Pointe-St-Charles and Saint-Henri residents can dip their feet in just as much as the condo dwellers with access to quais can. 

"I never even see them use the wharf. I think they are going to their house in the country or something like that," Bernier said. 

Some condo residents gathered on a ground floor balcony to watch, but there were no clashes between them and the group occupying the quai. 

The group of 'pirates,' made up of Southwest borough residents advocating for public access to the water, had lunch on the condo building's private dock. (CBC)

It's not only access to the water itself the community members want more of, Bernier says, but more public housing, too. 

The group says the developers have been given too much leeway to build in the area.

The area's development and gentrification has pushed rents up, further marginalizing people who've lived their for decades, they add.

Natacha Alexandroff is part of the History Society of Pointe-St-Charles, as well as Action-Gardien, and drew parallels between that development and access to the canal. 

"It's for the elite only," she said. 

The issue of private docks on the waterway has been denounced before. In 2015, Projet Montréal's former leader Luc Ferrandez called on Parks Canada to stop the canal's "privatization."

Craig Sauvé, a Projet Montréal city councillor for the Southwest borough, told CBC Radio's Homerun at the time that docks "should be accessible to everyone."

The docks are often blocked off by a locked black cage leading to a staircase, which in turn leads to the water. 

Parks Canada did not return a request for comment on Saturday. 

With files from Matt D'Amours