July 6 @ 5 pm
Aylmerites to form human chain aiming to protect ‘Deschênes Forest’
Before Gatineau council’s decision on the fate of the ‘Deschênes Forest’ at their scheduled Council meeting of July 7, a group of residents wanting to preserve the land have invited the community to joint them in protest. The demonstration will take place on July 6 at 5 pm, along the sidewalk on Fraser Road near Lucerne Boulevard, next to the forest in Aylmer. Street parking means arrival prior to 5 is recommended.
Participants are asked to follow public health COVID-19 safety guidelines, including two-metre social distancing, and wearing face coverings. Intending for a peaceful demonstration, one of the event’s organizers, Emma Davida-Catmur, said police will be on hand to ensure protesters are respecting social distancing and aren’t blocking the road or bike path circulation.
The protest will be a last opportunity for residents to prevent councillors from making a big mistake, Davida-Catmur added, hoping for the forest to be preserved entirely. More information regarding the event is available via the following link: https://www.facebook.com/events/576359616359990/.
Despite specialists dedicating themselves to the cause over the last three months - doing independent research and sharing information on social media and with the city - Davida-Catmur believes the city has worked hard to keep the file out of the public’s eye to prioritize selling it for urban development. “Given the way the municipality has been looking at this, it doesn’t seem to be thinking at all that we need to preserve this land,” Davida-Catmur said.
She added that the area was significantly affected by floods in 2019, raising questions as to why the city insists on building there. “I don’t know if anybody remembers, you had to access that area with a boat,” Davida-Catmur said. “Is all of that being considered?”
On June 22, Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin unveiled a document compiled by the city - http://www.gatineau.ca/upload/newsreleases/20200622_note_breffage.fr-CA.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3KVjTd76mfKn6i3HZzxGs7wd-UZarxIB7-T0Xg-RJmLsPbqmFYyVxtVXw - which included information about the property intended to help municipal council make its final decision. “It did not provide a fulsome look,” Davida-Catmur said of the document. “It was very narrow.”
The mayor suspended the property’s sale on April 30, responding to information that wasn’t presented during discussions of the property’s initial sale - notably its archeological potential and its natural richness.
Revenue from the sale is intended to subsidize a $10 million municipal property purchase for land west of the Canadian Tire in the Plateau for the development of a multi-ice sports complex – adding that the sale’s suspension would not affect the project’s progression.
Residents provide their own report
Earlier this month, a group called the Comité d’action pour la sauvegarde de la forêt Deschênes (CASFD) – comprised of Resident’s Association Presidents, biologists and historians – compiled a 20-plus page report, explaining the forest’s ecological and cultural value.
The report - https://www.coo.qc.ca/Desjardins/ForetDeschenes2.pdf - noted that the city’s Revised planning and development scheme (SADR) classified the forest as a “protection and integration woodland”, indicating that at least 25 per cent of the land must be protected. Residents are calling reclassify the property as a “conservation woodland”, meaning that the entire forest would be protected.
Located along the intersection of Lucerne Boulevard and Fraser Road, lining the shore of the Ottawa River, the 5.3-hectare property boasts more than 930 wildlife species, significant wetlands and an important population of Oak trees.
According to Aylmer-based zoologist and contributor to the CASFD’s report, Dr. André Martel, the property is rich in fauna and flora, with great educational potential. With too much history and value to be replaced, selling the property would inevitably have significant negative impacts on local biodiversity, Martel said.
On June 28, Martel submitted a letter to the mayor explaining the forests’ ecological and archeological value, and proposing the city to preserve it as an urban forest – inspired by Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, B.C. “We could do something great with this if we value it correctly,” Martel said. “It’s therapeutic to have green spaces in highly dense urban areas. We want to protect this for future generations so they can have access to a forest in the city. A piece of land like this, in the middle of a city next to a river is priceless.”
Understanding the file’s complexity, one CASFD’s spearheads France Gagnon said the mayor has done a great job of respecting resident’s sensitivities when it comes to destroying one of Aylmer’s last urban forests. “We can’t forget that the mayor doesn’t decide everything,” Gagnon said. “There’s a margin between the nice words we see in documents and reality. We need to reduce than margin.”
While the city’s recently published report provided plenty of depth on the matter, its information was largely outdated, Gagnon said, noting that the CASFD’s report provided somewhat of a fact update. Generally, in favour of the city’s urban densification approach, Gagnon suggested that the city shouldn’t sacrifice one of its last remaining natural gems to support that vision. “Yes, we will densify, but not in any way whatsoever or in any location,” Gagnon said
More than 20 residents’ associations in Gatineau, as well as several organizations including the Aylmer Heritage Association, the Boucher Forest Foundation and the Canada Parks and Wilderness Society, have supported preserving the forest. On June 30, Deschênes councillor Mike Duggan hosted a meeting over Zoom to discuss the matter with residents. Promising great value as an urban green space, which so many residents have worked tirelessly to preserve, making the Deschênes forest a construction site would be devastating, Davida-Catmur said. “We would be extremely disappointed and have a lot of lack of faith in how our councillors are operating,” Davida-Catmur said. “People will be angry.”
Whatever Municipal council decides at its July meeting, preserving the Deschênes forest will always remain a top priority for Aylmer residents, Davida-Catmur said. “It’s not the end,” she said. “If they vote against this land, these people aren’t going away. We’re getting more and more organized and that frustration is going to go somewhere.” A Facebook group dedicated to the cause - https://www.facebook.com/groups/590535875144710/ - founded by Davida-Catmur’s seven-year-old son Winston, back in April, has more than 1,000 members.