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Montreal non-profit transforms felled ash trees into classic toboggans

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Montreal organization uses felled ash trees to make toboggans
A non-profit organization in Montreal is using felled trees to create classic toboggans. Global's Brayden Jagger Haines reports – Mar 4, 2022

A Montreal non-profit group is transforming wood from Montreal’s cut-down ash trees into classic toboggans.

Volunteers at Les Jeunes Marins Urbains have taken their woodworking skills crafting sailboats to building traditional sleds.

“I thought this was going to be easier than making sailboats but I was wrong,” director Yves Plante said. “It’s completely different.”

Read more: Quebec doctors seeing ‘unprecedented’ sledding injuries; cities reconfiguring hills for safety

Since 2015, with the helping hands of volunteers and partners, Jeunes Marins Urbains, from its woodshop in Hochelaga, has transformed ash wood offered by the City of Montreal and Hydro-Quebec into recreational sailboats and oars.

Plante says he started making the first toboggans in December 2021 as a pandemic project. It has since picked up speed, with more than a dozen already made.

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The handcrafted toboggans vary in size from four feet to 10 feet.

Plante says when he takes his work out on the hills, people of all ages are fascinated by the old-fashioned sled.

“Kids love it. They try to pile on as many riders on the sled as possible to get the top speed,” Plante said.  “For many of the parents, it brings them back to when they were kids.”

Each wooden piece is cut and shaped using only material from felled Montreal ash trees.

Attacked by an invasive strain of beetle from Asia, the City of Montreal has been cutting down thousands of ash trees over the years.

The harmful emerald ash borer has killed tens of millions of trees since it was first detected in North America in 2002.

Plante says it takes, from start to finish, 30 hours to create one toboggan.

Plante and volunteers mill the raw logs of ash into planks of wood.

The thin ash pieces are then carefully selected and a portion is soaked in water for at least 24 hours.

The piece is then steamed for several hours. Once malleable, one end of the timber is manually bent and clamped in a mould to keep its iconic round shape.

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It takes six individual pieces to make one toboggan.

“The bigger the better,” Plante said. “We want to make them long so that more people can ride them. No one makes these anymore at this length.”

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Prices for the handmade sleds depend on size, starting at $250 for the shortest and going up to $650 for the longest.

Plante says he isn’t in it for the money; all the funds go back into the non-profit sailing group.

So far only a handful of the downhill speeders have been sold but Plante hopes to expand by getting the City of Montreal involved.

“We want to see these sleds on slopes where people can share them as a group,” Plante said.

Already the borough of Riviere-des-Prairies—Pointe-aux-Trembles has purchased three sleds for the public to use.

Plante says this first winter was a test run but he hopes to market toboggan kits next season, where families can build their own sled.

“This is a lost art that we are preserving,” volunteer Jean Coutaller said.

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“It’s a valuable experience making something with your own hands, especially among family members.”

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