Unapologetically Canadian Episode 23 features an interview with Lachine Mayor Maja Vodanovic.
I asked her three key questions:
I first asked Lachine Mayor Maja Vodanovic about her experiment in public participation government. She’s holding an official consultation about the development of a 60-hectare site at the east end of her borough prior to a plan being developed, something that’s never been done before in Montreal.
We spoke about the normal process in which developers and the city agree on a plan before the public gets a say. Residents and neighbours are only consulted afterwards, in the assumption that citizens will green light changes.
The traditional process includes enough hurdles that only the most unpopular projects get refused, but at that point everyone involved has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and sometimes millions on plans that never see the light of day.
Mr. Yaccarini [François Yaccarini, development agent with SDC Angus] you know he was he was there at a conference that we organized. And he said that even with the best intentions, things can go wrong. They had made a plan and the citizens were not happy. And they had to review it and they wanted to do something good and ecological but it was turned back. And they spent over a million dollars on the plans.
Vodanovic also spoke about her public participation plans after the OCPM releases its report about the Lachine East development.
Once the consultations are over, we’re gonna do an atelier de travail. So every week or every two weeks I don’t know how exactly it’s going to develop but I know the promoters are willing to meet every month.
Around the table, we will have the urban planner that the the developers hire, the architects that the borough hires, urban planners, that we have the central city around the table, because of course that’s complex in Montreal there’s always two levels of everything, and we have representations from the citizens.
Imagine Lachine Est is an organization that’s been around for two years. I was part of it before. Now I of course I can’t, I had to distance myself but it was a citizen movement that I very much support because its urban planners, engineers, government workers live in Lachine and are very interested in being a part of the development of their own city and doing something innovative. So they will be around the table. And I think I don’t know but their membership is growing monthly. They’re becoming quite quite important.
And there’s also the organizations have regrouped into something called under the SDEC societé de developpement economique so there’s are 10 or 12 important organizations in Lachine that have come together and that are pushing for the same things and they also want a green development. Because a development durable when you say it is is actually a development that has inclusion of social housing, that has a mix.
You can’t be green if you’re just rich and segregated from the others. You don’t get the points. It has to be a true durable development is a mixed development where you can actually work can live and where all society can be together. And that’s actually the best kind of development and it’s best for everybody not just for the rich or the poor. A mixité is very good for all.
Integrating social housing properly will be a particular challenge, says Vodanovic, but another big challenge with the Lachine East Development will be including schools within the project.
So in planning it out, we have to figure out where the schools are going to be. That’s another issue. The school board doesn’t have the money to buy the land. Usually the land is given to them across Quebec. But the land is so expensive in Montreal so promoters can’t really say ‘oh here’s a couple of million dollars’ to the school board. You know it’s very hard. So we’re going to try to deal with all those problems from the beginning with everybody and brainstorm together.
Vodanovic is confident she’ll be able to bring people together because she’s always done so, even when issues are difficult. She began her public service activism with a concern about pesticides that led to a successful campaign to get them banned.
15 years ago I started the fight against pesticides in urban areas. So I am from Beaconsfield. At that time in Beaconsfield during the spring it would smell of chemicals instead of flowers because everyone’s spraying their lawn to kill all the dandelions. And I had neighbors who had had who lost their children to…it was horror stories all around.
After that, her activism extended into a concern about clean water, something she investigated with the help of local schoolchildren.
We wanted to clean it up. We figured out that what was wrong with the stream, why it was polluted. About 150 homes had their toilets connected to it. You know the sewage was going directly into the stream and I found this out with the kids. And as we were doing our investigation and then we said well how are we gonna change this? And the kids went and spoke to the federal government and the provincial government and the municipal government.
Her experience studying water has been particularly helpful because Vodanovic now serves as Montreal’s representative on the regional government organization (La Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal) that links 82 municipalities. One of the key CMM concerns recently includes proper flood zone mapping for its territory.
There’s three million dollars given from the provincial government from the last provincial government to do the mapping and to look about how the dams can help and how they interact with the waterways and what can be done to prevent the floods and how we can be resilient. And the mapping will show the chances of areas being flooded in 20 years 50 years and 100 years. You can make ways for the water to get in into the land but to be redirected in a controlled way.
After speaking about her current challenges, I asked Vodanovic about her biggest surprise becoming a politician.
My biggest surprise is that I can stay the activist that I am. That’s my biggest surprise. You know usually you say when you go into politics that you’ll change, you you will have to compromise, you will have to…but I don’t feel that. Not yet. So far I’ve been able to push things and speak my mind and do things. In ever since I was elected, there’s been over 160 articles about Lachine and things I’ve said and done and I’ve never really briefed anyone you know. I’m still alive, I’m still in politics. So that surprises me. It surprises me that I have this freedom and I have the capacity to do things. So it’s like a win win win win so it and I just don’t want it to to stop.
I can give you an image. At the beginning when I was an activist and working with a whole bunch of volunteers and we were trying to find solutions for things. I felt like a locomotive. I felt like a red locomotive but I was going real slow and I was working real hard to just move a couple of inches with all the wagons that were very heavy.
And now the train is going very fast. And I’m try to keep on, you know not to derail. And just to keep going and there’s like more and more wagons and where we gonna go. Where are we going? It’s very exciting. Because there’s the potential of great change. But with the speed comes responsibility. More responsibility with the position I have and a chance to do greater things.
Like many politicians who love their jobs, Vodanovic struggles to maintain a standard of excellence while also keeping her personal relationships strong.
Yesterday I had so much work to do for today because today’s council, the council at the town hall, and I have to speak about some things. And I wanted to spend the day preparing for it. And my niece came from Edmonton. And my kids are working and so I took care of my niece and I went to see my daughter. And I did not work. I took time for them. And. I think it’s good you know. And I went to bed and I said Oh God my speech today’s not going to be the best. But it’s a compromise.
When I asked Vodanovic about whether she considers herself a Canadian, she said yes. She then spoke about how her experience on the Canadian Council for Zero Waste has strengthened her appreciate for our country’s diversity.
I get to work with Canadians. You know I was mainly in Montreal and I worked with you know people from Quebec City but now it’s people from Vancouver and people from Alberta and from Ontario. And I love them. I realize like they’re so nice you know we kiss in Quebec but they hug. And it’s a very genuine hug. There’s a kindness.
I think Canadians are very kind people and peaceful. But we’re very far apart. It’s a very big country. And I feel very privileged now being on the council to meet them and we do a lot of Skype Conferences and we we were together by phone and and then sometimes we see each other and there are very very very incredible moments. And I feel my Canadian identity very much. I feel like this need for us to be more cohesive and more united as a country because we’re so small.
We’re such a small country where there’s so few of us that if we’re separated we’re not strong. But if we’re all connected we become strong. So to me that’s a huge issue.
You know, I’m an immigrant so I was accepted by Canada. And when I go to ceremonies recently I was invited as an elected official to go. When immigrants become Canadians, there’s a special ceremony. And I cry. I still cry. Oh my God, these are so good. This is such a good thing that we accept all these people. We should accept more people.
That’s my point of view. I came from Croatia I came from Croatia in 1975.
And I go back a lot. So I feel very much. You know my kids feel very strongly even if just half of them is Croatian.
I wish Canada was more like Germany you know. Like where Angela Merkel just said you know what she brought in a million people a million Syrians. Because she said we can do this and we need we need a lot of skilled people. We don’t have enough people especially in Montreal. There’s a lack of skilled workforce right now. So immigration should not be a problem for us. We should welcome it, especially people that are skilled. You know. So I definitely feel Canadian.
Are you wondering when to sow seeds in Montreal?
Here’s my guide to when you should sow seeds indoors before the season begins and outdoors when you see common plants blooming.
|Date||Bloom||Sow inside||Sow outside||Other info|
|February 18, 2019||peppers, zinnias|
|February 25, 2019||datura, delphiniums, nicotiana|
|March 4, 2019||cabbage, tomatoes|
|March 11, 2019||brussel sprouts, celeriac|
|March 18, 2019||marigolds, green cauliflower|
|April 15, 2019|
|daffodil, forsythia||Cold hardy seeds such as: allysum, baby’s breath, chard, calendula, carrots, cornflower, hollyhock, impatiens, lovage, peas, poppies, radishes, rudbeckia, spinach, sweet pea flowers|
|lilac, dogwood||Cold hardy seedlings such as: cabbage, broccoli, dusty miller, feathertop grass, larkspur, leek, onion, pansy, penstemon, salvia and snapdragon|
|May 20, 2019||summer savory|
|May 27, 2019||nicotiana|
|May 31, 2019||average last frost|
|June 3, 2019||datura, delphinium, brussel sprouts|
|spirea (all the pink types)||Cold tender seeds such as: basil, beans, beets, borage, catnip, cilantro, corn, chervil, cucumber, dandelion, delphinium, green manures, lavatera, lettuce, okra, melon, marigold, mint, morning glory, nasturtiums, nicotiana, parsley, petunia, savory, sunflower, thyme, zinnia|
|black locust trees, Vanhoutte spirea (the white one)||Cold tender plants, such as anise, datura, dahlia, dematis, grapes, ladies mantle, lavender, peppers, tomatoes|
|Mock orange, catalpa||Fall seeds, such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, celeriac, cauliflower, fennel|
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Roch Carrier, a wonderful author who wrote a series of diverse works from La Guerre, Yes Sir to The Hockey Sweater to his latest novel Demain, j’écris un roman.
He also directed the Canada Council for the Arts in the early 1990s and became National Librarian of Canada in 1997.
Carrier became an officer of the Order of Canada in 1991 and also serves as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Most of our conversation focussed on The Hockey Sweater, which became a musical last winter in the latest of a multitude of diverse creations.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation, which took place in early 2017.
So I guess the first thing I would like to say is congratulations. It seems like you’re everywhere these days.
Yes there is a lot of things that are happening and I’m very lucky.
Is there a strategy about this? Did someone reach out to you?
No, there is no strategy around that story. The story is getting more and more popular because I don’t know why. It’s a good story. There was never a special strategy around that story. You know, it was just an anecdote that I turned into a story.
and they have been connecting for sometimes three generations.[00:02:13 I was in Calgary some days ago. And there were grandparents asking me to sign the book that they had when they were kids. The grandmother told me ‘oh I read that story when I was a little girl. I read it to my kids.’ [00:02:43] That’s amazing. There is no marketing that can do that. It just happens. [00:02:58] You captured I think the sentiment of a lot of people in that story
Yes you know when I go to schools by example and before reading, I ask the kids ‘did it happen to you that you had to wear something that you didn’t want to wear.[00:03:23] All of the hands raise, you know. [00:03:28] Everybody has had that type of experience. Maybe it’s because of that that this story is successful. [00:03:55]There’s the book, the NFB film, the play and the musical. It’s almost like every decade or so someone comes up with a new way to present it. [00:04:23] Yes. Every activity is like a gift to me.
I have this symphony thing that I’ve been doing now for five years. Abigail Richardson composed symphony music around the story. And it started very small I think.
So I was I received a phone call asking me ‘would you be free for one evening to read the story with the symphony orchestra.’ I answer yes because I like a challenge I like to do what I never did. I like to do anything that I’ve never done.[00:05:26] And then we were in Toronto. I think we gave 14 readings at the Roy Thompson Hall.
And I’m very happy because am going back to Toronto in two or three weeks from now.
When do you do that?
I would be doing the same thing again. Reading the Hockey Sweater Story with the symphony orchestra. I mean it’s wonderful. You know people come and they wear sweaters.
So for the musicians you know they put the sweaters over their outfits. It’s such a good mood you know. Not once was there tension. There are always multiple sweaters. Everyone has so much pleasure with this hockey mood at the symphony orchestra.
The music is great.[00:07:00] It’s amazing these. Just two weeks ago I was in Kingston, and I think the players in the symphony and so they were hockey boys and hockey girls too playing this music. And having fun and at the same time you know I heard them talking like musicians, between musicians, and talking about the quality of that music. It’s entertaining and at the same time, it’s good music.
For me, it’s a new experience because even if I listen to a lot of music and I know musicians, I don’t have a sense of rhythm. I have nothing as a musician. So for me to be to come into that universe is quite interesting.[00:08:10] Now the Segal will be doing a musical.
Before talking about that, I want to tell you a story. After reading in Calgary, after the Symphony was applauded and all that, somebody came on the stage and I was made a Member of the Order of the Black Hat, and I received a huge white cowboy hat. And I had to make some kind of statement about how I would wear this hat. It was explained that it was like giving this hat was like I was receiving the keys to the city. And I had to declare that Calgary was the Queen of the cow town.
I had an objection. But if I say that, and another city doesn’t agree with that, they can sue me! But all that was made with humour with laughter.
It is a very special project and it’s very exciting. I don’t know much yet about it. This morning, I just received the libretto, the text of the story.
But I told him that I didn’t want to get too involved you know because I want to keep a certain freshness if it’s a word around that story and I don’t want to turn it upside down. No. It’s there and it’s amazing to learn that.
Now it’s many years ago, over 35 years ago, when a publisher wanting to do a book and Sheldon Cohen, the artist would make the drawings and he was asking me a lot of question and I was very impressed by the way this at the time unilingual English speaking man would talk to my unilingual French-speaking mother. I was there with them and I could not talk to them. They were involved in something. I think they were discussing the curtains in my childhood room or something like that. It was a good encounter with Shelton.
And at the end what we were talking about the book and the drawings and I had two young daughters and they were playing a lot in the swimming pool and using another diving board. And so I said to Sheldon, this story is your diving board. And that’s what he did. And it’s just wonderful, inventive, fresh, a lot of action and a lot of humour.
So I decided to give the same advice and have the same attitude for Emil Sher’s project. I told Emil, I don’t want to be involved. I might give you information if you want, but I don’t want to be involved in the writing. Use it as your diving board.
So they can bring their own creativity to it.
I guess you would never have so many versions of The Hockey Sweater if you had tried to keep control over everything.
Yes exactly. Exactly. But again it wasn’t a strategy it was just what I was thinking at the moment I made a decision.
So it was just a happy strategy without knowing it, an unintentional strategy.
So you obviously enjoy working in new ways to present it.
In St. Justine, Quebec, the small village I come from, they decided—it is a very small village, there is 1,800 population but there is a lot of dynamism there. (Roch recorded his memories of his small town in an NFB film.)
There is a lot of creativity and a group of students and citizens got together and made a theatrical adaptation for the theatre of one of my books. In French, it is called Les Enfants de Bonhomme dans la lune.
It was translated in English as The Hockey Sweater and other stories. They will have a premiere, an opening Saturday. This Saturday. So I’m going to my small village and there will be this opening. There will be 12 actors on the stage. Oh my God, I think they have music all day. It’s supported by the Caisse Populaire and a big company called Rotobec. They do some mechanical arms. You know. Like an arm that could go to the forest clean the branches off the trees and put the tree in the back of the truck. So they are producing that. It’s an invention of a gentleman in the village you know. He started in his small garage, he was building cars and suddenly we have engineers there. We have designers.
I think it will be wonderful.
I’m very very very curious to see them. You know, they make things happen. They are not waiting for somebody else to save them. They do the job.
Oh my God, that’s wonderful. And have you been back there very often?
Yes. Most of the time, I go once a year. Now I must say that most of the people I grew up with disappeared. I think I’m one of the last ones that are surviving so there is less on people that I know. But I still have some family, a sister, a brother. So I go at least once a year.
How old are you?
I will be 80 in two months in May. OK. Well, I think it doesn’t matter.[00:18:22] Oh that’s good to know. It’s nice to be talking to somebody who is comfortable with their age and still have so many adventures. Almost like a new world. Now that leads back to the city. You’ve been living in Montreal for many years now?
Can you tell me a little bit about how you feel about the city and how it’s changed and how those changes have influenced you?
That’s a good question. Yes, the city changed.
My wife and I are big walkers, you know. Both of us, when we do our walking in the morning, sometimes we explore the city. It’s quite interesting to walk on Sherbrooke towards the east and we have to say that most of the buildings that we see now were not there when both of us arrived in Montreal. That’s quite something. You have new areas that are developed.
And there’s St. Henri. It’s an area that I know very well because sometimes I was working with a theatre company and we had our offices in St. Henri. So for three years, I was with that company in St. Henri so I know the place quite well and it’s amazing now to go back to the same streets and to see what happened…the changes that happened in terms of building, in terms of population. That’s really amazing.[00:20:21] And can you tell me how that affected you? Has it affected the projects you take on? What do you think about Montreal these days?
It’s a very pretty city. People are open-minded. There is a lot happening. We have a lot of freedom. I like Montreal.
We have to decide what we want to do. Even though there is a lot of dynamism, there is a feeling of what do we want to do? What do we want to do in ten years from now? And how do we want to reach that? For me, it’s missing.[00:21:31] It’s sort of an ad hoc place of many orange cones.
And when I see what’s happening today in Montreal, and in Quebec, I feel that there is something like that. It’s not a way of having substance.[00:22:39] Yes. We need a vision. [00:22:42] But having said that, Montreal and all of Quebec is enjoyable. We have our kids and they have access to affordable education. When I think that in the U.S. to go to university would cost $60,000 and more. To see the conditions, I think we should be happy and then say, I love those conditions and I’m saying we have to work. [00:24:03] Well you seem to be doing your part.
It was Duplessis time and during the election time, they were building roads.
Like they are now.
So I had my blue jeans. I had brown working boots. I had blisters on my hand. That was painful. I remember one of the workers was not really good to me because I missed my turn throwing my shovel of gravel in the truck. And he asked me what are you doing? Are you a man? Are you made of a mans’ dung? Yeah. So I was 14 years old and had blisters and dirty and all that.
And the boss of that they took that guy and told him that he was a huge big fat nothing with swearing and that.
And then the boss came to me and he said, look you’re working. Your job is to put gravel in the truck. If you can’t put the gravel in the truck, the gravel will not jump in the truck.
Since then, I’ve studied at university. I studied Latin and I studied Greek. But the principle that drove my life came from this one man. “If you don’t put the gravel in the truck, the gravel will not jump in the truck.”
I told that story last June. I received a doctor’s degree from the University of Vancouver and I was speaking to something like 200 students graduating with BA’s and sciences and doctors of sciences. And I told them that story and I got letters and e-mails saying thank you for this. And while many of those students were from Japan or China now you know and I was really amazed, because I was just saying an anecdote but it touched them.[00:27:49] Yeah but the principle of your life. You’re able to accomplish things because you always keep moving forward.
You were saying you were publishing a new book. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yes. It’s done. It’s in French. It’s not yet translated, but I think it will be. It’s called Demain matin, j’écris un roman. [Tomorrow, I write a novel.]
It’s about me that after having spent more than 30 years writing history, doing research, and checking documentation, checking history books. So I’ve finished with that and I’m going back to fiction. About what happens in the head, in the brain of a writer who’s going back to fiction and he’s enjoying so much his freedom.
And everything happens and a lot doesn’t happen too. And when something is not happening is happening you know it’s wonderful.
An urban design competition brought volunteers together for the entire last weekend of February. Together, they imagined how a five-hectare former industrial space in Verdun can be redeveloped for housing, small business and community use.
We want to increase and consolidate our knowledge of the territory,” said Verdun Mayor Jean-François Parenteau, who also sits on the executive committee. “By defining a vision with all stakeholders, we will promote innovation and encourage the best practices in planning and sustainable development.”
The industrial space in question sits east of the aquaduct, and west of Duquette Park between Hickson and Dupuis. It’s also next to the municipal works building and the junctions of highways 15 and 20. It used to house glass, tire, auto repair, and used car companies.
Volunteers included people from four architectural firms along with their interns. Local residents and non-profit leaders like Billy Walsh from SDC Wellington and Tania Gonzalez, from CRE-Montreal (Montreal’s regional environment council) also participated.
They spent Friday discussing the site in question. The teams walked around the territory considering what might be needed to make the noisy, busy space inhabitable.
Then the four teams began creating plans for the site. They aimed to present to the public on Sunday afternoon.
All four teams identified the need to use the site as a link between the aqueduct and the St. Lawrence waterfront to the south. They also included a daycare, grocery store and cafés in the future neighbourhood, which currently sits in a food dessert.
All four teams included different types of resident space, retail businesses, community centres, green space and bicycle lanes in their plans.
Each team identified the former Stewart Limited brick buildings as historic buildings to be saved.
Despite those commonalities, their plans for the space looked very different.
Two teams divided the space into distinct units, one with a common green space up the middle.
Another covered the space in modern residential towers with unusual designs, using street space, green roofs and alleys for greenery.
One team recommended slow grass roots development and emphasized specific elements to link the territory in a single design.
Competition viewers got to see how different themes drastically change potential site designs.
Thank you for your participation,” said Mayor Parenteau at the end of the contest. “Every team provided us with solid contributions to our planning process.”
The project appears on the cities “making Montreal” platform. For more information, visit the website. Be sure to look on the French version of the site for information about all 48 projects listed.
Hundreds of people spent Sunday afternoon on February 24 talking about the 50- hectare plus Lachine East Development at the Maison du Brasseur.
“Finally we have the developers, government and citizens all in the same room,” said Lachine Mayor Maja Vodanovic. “Now we can create the neighbourhood of our dreams together.”
Montreal’s public consultation office (OCPM) organized the open house and information session as the first part in a process that will continue through April 7. This is the first time that a borough and the city have asked for a public consultation prior to a private development plan submission.
Three commissioners will be in charge of a report due out next summer. Marie Leahey, a coordinator from the Régime de retraite des groupes communautaires et de femmes, leads the commission. She is joined by cultural manager Danielle Sauvage and Les Tourelles Milton Park cofounder Joshua Wolfe.
Hopes remain high for what might be built on the former industrial land over the next twenty years. Several of the organizations that want to be involved in the project staffed tables during the open house.
One of them contained people from a new non-profit association called Imagine Lachine-Est, which wants to ensure that the new Lachine East development becomes an eco-district. More than a hundred citizens have joined so far. UQAM urbanism professor Jean-Francois Lefebvre serves as their president.
“I started working with the group as part of an internship, but I’ve been volunteering with them ever since because I really believe in this project,” said Imagine Lachine-Est coordinator Charles Grenier. “Eco-districts are the hope for the future.”
Grenier handed out pamphlets inviting visitors to the group’s Lachine-East summit. Organizers have added a series of talks in English to make sure that everyone who wants to learn about eco-districts can do so. The summit takes place on Saturday March 9, from 9:15 until 5 at the Guy-Descary culturel complexe, 2901 boul. Saint-Joseph. For more information, visit their website.
At another table were Inass El Adnany and Vincent Eggen from Revitalisation Saint-Pierre. They asked visitors to complete a survey about their vision for a bicycle path to link Lachine and Saint-Pierre through the former industrial area.
Yves Comeau from Villa Nova stood in front of his table to talk to everyone passing by. He said that the company looks forward to continuing to develop its land, despite the clean-up costs, which turned out to be much higher than they once anticipated.
We carted truckloads of contaminated soil from the property,” said Comeau. “There’s going to be a lot of clean-up necessary on the rest of the land as well.”
Tensions between the government and Villa Nova have eased since tests discovered that the land had not been properly decontaminated despite receiving certification from the Quebec Environment Ministry. The borough itself tested the land after Vodanovic raised concerns. City, borough and company discussions got so heated that the company went into bankruptcy protection while the clean-up took place.
During that same period, co-owner Paulo Catania faced fraud charges. They were dropped last May. A month later, Catania made more positive headlines with his announcement that half of the Villa Nova units on the Jenkins property sold within six hours of coming onto the market.
Comeau said the company remains confident they’ll be able to duplicate that success on the rest of their property.
During the information session that followed the open house, residents expressed concern and hope. One resident asked how the borough could protect local heritage if they couldn’t stop the recent Dominion Bridge demolition. How does the city justify building 4,000 units in a sector that has few transportation options? How much community and social housing will be built? What about schools, day cares and grocery stores?
The next sessions during the OCPM consultation may answer some of those questions. Anyone interested can sign up for small group design workshops at two different libraries.
You can also present a written or verbal submission to the commission. Written submissions are due in March. Hearings will take place during the first week of April. To register, go to the website.
Note: This article appeared on pages 1 and 11 of the February 27 issue of the West Island Edition of the Suburban.