Verdun Beach is the only place near the city’s centre where Montrealers can cool off in the River. Despite being surrounded by water, there is a significant lack of waterfront access on the island.
“We have the Saint Lawrence river and most of the people don’t swim in it when we could,” said Fondation Rivières spokesperson Roy Dupuis.
Dupuis says the problem also exists in other parts of Quebec. That’s why Fondation Rivières has organized La semaine du Grand Splash. The event is to raise awareness about water quality and the importance of public access to Quebec lakes and rivers.
“A lot of privatization has been done,” said Dupuis. “Most of the time it’s ports that don’t want the people to have access to the river.”
The Grand Splash invites Quebecers to jump into bodies of water in nine different locations across the province. In Montreal, one version will take place at the former Lachine Marina. Citizen groups recently backed the city’s plans to transform the site into a waterfront park.
“I think it’s a shame that the citizens who maybe live in apartment buildings or in the city cannot have access to what is actually in their backyards, so to me and to us it doesn’t make sense that we cannot have proper access to water,” said spokesperson Vicki Grondin on behalf of citizen group Reclame Ta Rive.
Lachine borough mayor Maja Vodanović told Global News that residents won’t be able to swim in that part of the river for at least five years. She says the docks need to be reconfigured and the shoreline is not safe. In the meantime, they will be able to gather in the park’s open air-dining space to enjoy live musical acts and local cuisine.
“We want the community to meet to chat to discover our local restaurants in a different location and we want people to see how amazing it will be next year and the year after as we continue to re-green this area, and to make it even more accessible so that eventually here we will be able to swim in a safe and wonderful way,” she said.
Grand Splash organizers hope the event puts pressure on governments to increase waterfront access. The awareness campaign runs from June 26 to July 4.