Come rain or shine, a flock of sheep descends from a wooden mobile barn onto a sprawling city park every morning in Montreal’s east end.
Jupiter, KitKat, Thérèse, Sparkles and their urban colleagues have a job to do: they mow the lush grass during the warm summer months at Parc Maisonneuve.
Laurence Sauvageau-Fresco oversees more than 100 volunteers in her role at Biquette à Montreal, a non-profit organization devoted to bringing eco-grazing and urban agriculture to the city.
The sheep head out at 9 a.m. and freely roam and graze the green space. They are accompanied by rotating groups of at least three shepherds at a time until 7 p.m., when they head back inside for the evening, she said.
They not only keep the grass clean-cut, but they also keep the peace.
“They’re not compacting the ground like lawnmowers, they’re not scaring all the birds, all the wildlife around because they’re not as noisy,” Sauvageau-Fresco said.
But the 16 sheep that take over the park are much more than seasonal landscaping workers. They are friendly and curious and bring people joy.
The project has changed lives, she said. The group brings a bit of the country to Montreal and gives city dwellers a chance to get closer to nature.
“It’s not just using them, it’s living alongside them,” Sauvageau-Fresco said.
“And seeing what they can bring to us and what we can bring to them.”
Biquette, which is in its sixth year, has spent four summers at Parc Maisonneuve. Sauvageau-Fresco, who now lives in the Laurentians, said she has always had a strong love for animals and was instantly hooked when she volunteered for the first time in 2018.
Aside from co-ordinating volunteers, she describes herself as the “guardian of memories.” She knows each of the sheep by name as well as their personalities and backstories — like how Jupiter is the oldest member of the group at the ripe age of six and she has twins who are six months old. Then there is KitKat, who is all black, and her daughter, Thérèse, a completely white sheep.
“I’m like their godmother because I’m so close to them,” she said.
Sauvageau-Fresco also offers yoga classes so that participants can stretch out on their mats and hopefully get a glimpse of the sheep. The flock is drawn to the presence of calm park goers.
“If you sometimes sit on the ground and you’re calm, having a picnic or doing yoga there, there are more chances that they will come close,” she said. “Sometimes the shepherds help to bring them around when there’s a class.”
The eco-grazing initiative has quickly grown thanks to dedicated volunteer shepherds. Aside from yoga classes, Biquette also offers workshops on making wool and other urban agriculture classes to anyone who wants to learn more.
Sauvageau-Fresco said there is high demand for sheep in other parks in Montreal, but that it takes an army of volunteers to care for them. The non-profit group did a four-week stint in Rivière-des-Prairies and there are talks about expanding to other parts of the city in 2022.
“There’s a lot of neighbourhoods that are asking us but it needs a lot of organization,” she said.
The project requires people to accompany the sheep for the entire time they are out and about in the green space. Shepherds help guide them and ensure curious park goers know they can look, but that it isn’t a petting zoo. Biquette is currently holding an online fundraiser to build a bigger mobile barn, which quickly adds up in costs.
Montrealers who want to see the sheep are invited to visit Parc Maisonneuve every day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. until September.