--July 13, 2011.
Often when one talks of Montreal’s English-speaking community, our image is of the western side of the island of Montreal. However, just beyond those now-crumbling bridges to and from the South Shore, you will find the officially bilingual community of Greenfield Park.
This summer marked Greenfield Park’s 100th anniversary, the official centennial celebrations running through the first week of July. As former residents returned for the centennial events they had discovered, there has been much transformation in “the Park” over those years.
The community was founded in 1911 as a collection of makeshift cottages settled by mostly British residents who wanted to escape the grimy factory districts along the Lachine Canal where they worked. The best of both worlds had opened up for these early suburban pioneers when the Southern County Railway Trolley Line began in 1909 to take people across the Victoria Bridge into the pristine countryside, pristine enough to warrant the apt town name of Greenfield Park. Within a few years a small town grew among the dirt roads and country streams that defined the Park. Fast forward to the end of Second World War returning veterans looking for the dream of a life in provoked a construction boom. Developers began to fill the green fields of the Park with rows of new homes, and shopping malls replaced tiny corner stores.
Yet despite the growth, the Park remained a close-knit community where life was centered around its churches, its sports fields and hanging out with friends. For those growing up during these wonder years, there was no better place then the Park.
It was while Greenfield Park was struggling with the aftermath of the anglo exodus in the 1980s that I took up residence. As I cycled through its neighbourhoods, what first attracted me to the Park were its mature tree-lined streets and mix-and-match housing. I eventually bought a house on Murray Ave. Because so many anglos had left the province, there was a call for new people and I became involved with nearby St. Paul’s Anglican Church’s annual summer day camp program. This led me to get to know people who were still trying to keep the Park a special place — people like Bob Gentleman and Marty Richardson. They made sure being from the Park meant caring for the people who lived in the Park. Sadly, as these local heroes passed away themselves, there were fewer and fewer to replace them.
In 1994, I was elected to the town council at a time when tough decisions had to be made. We sensed time might be running out for Greenfield Park. The close call of the 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty brought a new outcrop of For Sale signs on people’s lawns, and the once English-speaking majority slipped to below 40 per cent of the population.
In 2001, the forced municipal mergers put an end to Greenfield Park’s independent municipal status and brought it under the Longueuil banner. While there was some protest from residents, the demerger vote in 2005 wasn’t high enough to in terms overall voter turnout for the Park to regain its municipal status. Since then, most people appear to have accepted the old town is gone. But on long holiday weekends, the high number of out-of-province licence plates shows that people the spirit of the Park lives on.
As we celebrate our centennial, I wonder what the early settlers would think if they could see what their town has become over the past century. The green fields that characterized the Park now are mostly confined to sports fields. Renovated, or replaced, are the small wooden cottages that lined the streets. When a house resold for over half a million dollars this spring, longtime Parkers joked how you could have bought the whole town for that price once.
As current and former residents gather celebrate the anniversary, they can take pleasure knowing the families that call Greenfield Park home today do so because they like the relaxed environment and good neighbours. As I walk my dog Jj in the evening, folks on the streets offer an hello-bonjour. Volunteers still prepare church luncheons, deliver Meals on Wheels, and throw fundraising teas. Down at Pierre Laporte Park, another generation of young football players takes to the field, led by dedicated coaches, as old-timers recount past glories from the sidelines.
True, Greenfield Park has changed a lot over the years. However, its friendly neighbourhood spirit remains.
**Kevin Erskine-Henry was a town councillor in Greenfield Park form 1994 to 2001. He also served as Chair of the South Shore Community Partners Network, an Anglophone service organization. Over the Centennial celebrations the SSCPN hosted an Oral History project which interview past and current Greenfield Park residents about their memoires of the Park.