That’s it: the 10,000 sunflowers are in bloom in the Central District, an area of Montreal formerly known as Chabanel, which is undergoing a real metamorphosis. “We can’t believe how it grows!” exclaims Hélène Veilleux, general manager of the Société de développement commercial (SDC) District central, as cyclists ride one of the two paths that allow you to ride through the tall flowery plants.
Cyclists in recreational tourism mode in Chabanel, the former heart of the textile industry? It was rather unlikely before the land at 50-150, rue de Louvain Ouest – which was still vacant last September – became the Prairie Louvain, where we also find the esplanade of the same name and where there are 5 at 7 and yoga classes.
The land has belonged to the City since 2012. The building that was demolished there was long occupied by the Montreal Works factory, which manufactured… ammunition for machine guns!
The thousands of sunflowers that grow there today over an area of 1625 square meters play a more unifying and attractive role. “The community asked us to add green, in particular to attract labor,” says Hélène Veilleux, of the SDC, which has 25,000 workers and is the fourth largest employment center in Montreal. .
It was a consortium of Zaraté Lavigne Architectes, Humà Design et Architecture and En temps et lieu that came up with the idea for the field of sunflowers. “We were dazzled by the project and seduced by its audacity, but it was a challenge for a small organization like ours, if only to have the authorizations”, underlines Ms. Veilleux.
A challenge also for the Urban Agriculture Laboratory (AU/LAB), which had the mandate to grow 10,000 sunflowers of five varieties. It was first necessary to build an urban greenhouse in order to grow the seedlings. “This project is really different from what we usually do,” says Noémie Roy, AU/LAB agricultural production manager.
She bursts out laughing when asked if it was “stressful”. “So much: the birds, the pests, the winds…”, she lists.
But what a gratification four months later. “It’s beautiful to see how many pollinators and biodiversity there are. And it’s not just pretty: there’s a lot you can do with it,” says the urban farmer.
The sunflowers are part of the Métamorphose project, which wants to make the Prairie Louvain a gathering place where events are held bringing together businesses, artisans and residents of the neighborhood. This is also part of the Central District’s greening plan, which has an intervention plan until 2028.
Sunflowers play a greening and social linking role, but the SDC also wants to find another function for them, hence a workshop that took place last Wednesday, in which we participated.
About 20 organizations were brought together – people from design, fashion, public art, urban agriculture, Tourism Montreal and even Public Health – to think about the use of tall plants and flowers in a circular economy perspective. “Today the goal is very simple. How to process sunflowers? said Geneviève Dufour in the introduction.
Participants came up with different uses: oil, ornamental bouquets, compost, dye, medicine, fiber, tea, flour and, of course, seeds for snacking. There has even been talk of designing musical instruments with the rods. Or street furniture that could be used in the winter… Why not a maze?
The abundance of ideas and possibilities was impressive. At our table, a participant, Alycia Turgeon from the artist-run center Eastern Bloc, said, for example, that she had contacts at Atelier Retailles. Who knows, maybe we could turn the sunflower residue into textiles or even vegetable leather?
Hosting school groups? Offer pick-your-own activities?
While waiting for the harvest and knowing what will happen to the sunflowers this fall, the SDC invites the public to a big parade in the aisles of the field on September 19, during Montreal Fashion Week. People will be able to see the creations and collections of companies based in Chabanel, including Buffalo David Bitton, CAT, Agence JLG, Julei, Ookpik, Créations Gama, Proud Diamond and Kid’s Stuff.
To say that these flowers of the sun grow where weapons ammunition was manufactured. Undoubtedly a sign of hope for the ideas of grandeur of the Central District.