Montreal Diary: Group trying to save Park Ex footbridge
Structure referred to as ‘cardiac crossing’ slated for demolition by the city this year
MONTREAL – Towering high into the sky above the CP railway in Park Extension, an abandoned footbridge is causing a rift between a local historical society and city hall.
Audrey Wells, a 25-year-old Montreal graphic designer, began an art project to re-imagine and save the Park Ex landmark, since the borough of Villeray-Parc Extension-St-Michel slated it for demolition this year.
“There was something about this monumental structure that inspired me,” she said. “I started a group called Aimons la passerelle, or Love the Footbridge committee, and held a mini-festival last April to educate people about its importance to the area.”
Working with the Park Extension Historical Society, Wells compiled drawings, photographs and a few memories from residents who often used the footbridge before its stairwell was amputated by the city in 2007 because of security concerns of the William Hingston elementary school next door.
“I looked at ways to reuse it instead of destroying it. I tried to show the city what could be done with the footbridge, how it could be reintegrated into whatever plans they have for land underneath. Right now all that’s there is an empty office building and warehouse,” Wells said.
According to Park Ex city councillor Mary Deros, the borough would like to see the land developed and the footbridge gone. She cites complaints by residents of the 30-unit condo building across the street, who call it an eyesore.
Deros agrees and asked city hall to pay for the demolition. She grew up in Park Ex, raising her three children, and never once used the footbridge.
“There were 75 steps to make it to the top. For people with mobility issues, it wasn’t an option,” she said. “People coming into the neighbourhood have no attachment to it. They don’t want a structure that’s unsafe and inaccessible.”
John Marshall, 67, immigrated to Montreal from Ireland with his family when he was a young boy. He remembers quite fondly walking with his mother and sister over the footbridge for Sunday picnics in Jarry Park.
“As a boy, I would stand up there and look west to see the mountain and I could also see the outfield of the Expos stadium,” he said. “A few of us Park Ex boys stood there to listen to the baseball games.”
Park Extension Historical Society president Mary McCutcheon jokingly refers to the footbridge as “cardiac crossing,” which was what sports reporters called it because of its dizzying height.
“Everything about this footbridge ties it to the history of Park Ex. It has significant heritage value dating back to 1966 when it was first constructed,” McCutcheon said.
For Wells, since hearing the footbridge will be coming down soon, she regrets not spending more time trying to convince local councillors of how it could be an attraction to a neighbourhood with so few sites of interest.
“Perhaps they can preserve a pillar, or some piece of this footbridge and create a plaque that will commemorate it,” Wells said.
Deros and borough mayor Anie Samson are considering this idea after it was brought up at a recent council meeting by McCutcheon.
The Park Extension Historical Society made its last plea to save the footbridge by submitting a portfolio to the Montreal Executive Committee, of which Deros is a member, outlining 17 reasons why it shouldn’t be demolished.
The society’s website is at www.histoireparcextension.org
A Facebook page to protect the footbridge has also been created. Search “Aimons-la-passerelle”.