Cemetery owner speaks out against pilot project on Mount Royal

This is the first time the management of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery has spoken out against the plan to close the mountain to through traffic. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

Notre-Dame parish, which owns Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, spoke out Wednesday against the plan to shut down through traffic on Mount Royal, asking the city to consider the additional burden it will place on bereaved families.

“Our concern is the hardship faced by bereaved families,” said Miguel Castellanos, the pastor of Notre-Dame Basilica in Old Montreal.

“You know, when you are going through that situation, you are very fragile and very vulnerable, and I don’t think we should be punishing those people,” he said.

The pilot project will close Camillien-Houde Way and Remembrance Rd. to through traffic from June 2 to Oct. 31.

While cars will still use those roads to visit the mountain, a 550-metre section between the parking lot at Smith House and the one at Beaver Lake will be closed. Emergency vehicles, city buses, school buses, tourist coaches and funeral cortèges will still be able to get through, but not private vehicles.

Castellanos said the closure would cause additional stress for people mourning a loved one because it will be more difficult to make graveside visits, particularly for people coming from east of the mountain.

He did not know how many cemetery visitors come from the east side, but said “it’s a lot of people.”

“Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery gets the most visitors of any cemetery in Canada. More than one million people are buried here,” he noted.

“There are always many people coming to visit a loved one here in the cemetery,” he added.

Castellanos said he hoped the city would revisit the plan, taking into account the needs of mourners.

“I think we could work together. We have to find solutions. My preoccupation is how to welcome families.

He said it was too early to say whether the parish would present a brief at upcoming public consultations on the road closure.

It was the first time the cemetery’s management had spoken out on the controversial pilot project, which has spurred an online petition of more than 28,000 signatures opposing it.

Mayor Valérie Plante defended the pilot project, saying the needs of people who visit the two cemeteries on the mountain have been taken into account.

“Let’s remember this is a pilot project,” she said.

“During the pilot, we will make sure that emergency vehicles, buses and funeral cortèges can access Camillien-Houde Way,” she said.

“I know the opposition is trying to spread disinformation, but it’s not true and we have assured the owners of the cemeteries of that,” she said.

Plante said the city has added two additional bus stops, including one at the entrance of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery, and that cars will still be able to access the cemetery from Côte-des-Neiges Rd.

Opposition leader Lionel Perez accused the city of acting on an anti-car bias rather than taking the time to devise a strategy that would really improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians.

In October, 18-year-old cyclist Clément Ouimet was killed on Camillien-Houde when a vehicle hit him.

But Perez said the pilot project would not prevent such an accident in future because cars will still be using the road, even though they will be forced to double back the way they came rather than being able to cross the mountain.

“There are an enormous number of question marks,” Perez said of the project.

Councillor Francesco Miele, the opposition Ensemble Montréal party’s critic on urban planning and large parks, said the city should have partnered with local universities and other experts like Les amis de la montagne to come up with a plan that addresses safety concerns effectively.

And he took a pot shot at Luc Ferrandez, the executive committee member responsible for the pilot project.

“Why not start off with consultations, to find out what Montrealers really want for Mount Royal?” Miele asked.

“Here we only have one vision, the one of Luc Ferrandez, amateur architect,” he said.

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