The Climate Cafe: Westmount Green

On the evening of March 17, when the rest of the city was enjoying  pints of Guinness or green beer, a group of about 30 people – engineers, educators, ecologists, psychologists, writers, social activists and clergy – gathered at the Climate Café in Westmount Park United Church, 4695 de Maisonneuve Boulevard West, for coffee, chili, and a workshop on “Climate Justice.”

Appropriate timing, perhaps, considering that St Patrick himself is credited with these lines invoking the powers of nature in all their beauty and terror

I bind onto myself today…

The light of the sun, the brightness of the moon,

The splendour of fire, the flashing of lightning,

The swiftness of wind, the depth of sea,

The stability of earth, the compactness of rocks…

St. Patrick saw these forces as sources of protection and inspiration.  But at the Climate Café, we saw them in another mood: forests ablaze, fields and rail lines submerged, bitumen oozing from the earth, poisoning everything in its path.  Happily, presenters Darya Marchenlova of Climate Justice Montreal, and Jen Gobby, a doctoral science student at McGill University, did not dwell on the terror or the gloom.  Their workshop focused on practical ways we can change course politically and economically.  A good deal of the evening was spent talking about the root causes of inertia in government, and the ways people can come together to make their voices heard.

Elizabeth May and the Green Coalition

Just a week earlier, in the same venue, the Green Coalition of Montreal had raised the same question.  Present on that occasion were Elizabeth May and Daniel Green, the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Canada.  In her introductory remarks, Elizabeth May praised the work of our local Green Coalition in protecting the few remaining wild spaces on Montreal Island.

After her own reflections,  May introduced her Deputy Leader, Daniel Green.  A Quebecer and environmental activist, and one of the first responders in the Lac Mégantic crisis, who ran this week in the by-election in Ville Saint-Laurent.


The Reverend Neil Whitehouse, minister of Westmount Park United Church and founder of the Climate Café with Green Party leader Elizabeth May

La falaise Saint-Jacques

The second half of the evening was dedicated to a presentation about local environmental initiatives sponsored by the Green Coalition of Montreal.  This presentation also presented us with some distressing images: wetlands being bulldozed, bird sanctuaries being razed, wild spaces being paved over, right now, on Montreal Island.  Of direct concern to Westmount is the fate of the Saint-Jacques Escarpment (La falaise Saint-Jacques), a wild space and “greenway” important to the migration patterns of many birds, and the only remaining wilderness area in the southern part of our city.  More on this in a coming issue of Around Westmount.

In the meantime, a take-home message of both evenings was the importance of sharing our concerns with our friends (which can be very discouraging) and the equal importance of finding friends who share our concerns (which can be very empowering.)  At the Climate Café, for example, I fell into conversation with a delightful, articulate woman, a retired teacher, who happened, like me, to be named Brenda.  She also happened to be in a wheelchair, with a discreet oxygen tube in her nose.  She had come out despite the icy sidewalks and the monumental snow banks, to support her daughter Jen, the lead presenter from Climate Justice Montreal  She was clearly finding the evening hopeful and inspiring.  And she was justly proud.


At the end of the evening, Reverend Neil Whitehouse, founder of the Climate Café, invited all present to take part in an April 14 birding expedition to the Technoparc in Saint-Laurent, to witness the arrival of spring, the richness of the Technoparc wild space, and sadly, the devastation currently under way there in the name of “green technology.”  The outing, like the Climate Café, is nonreligious.  But at the end of the morning, the Westmount contingent (and all friends) have been invited to a Good Friday service in Ville Saint-Laurent.


photo courtesy of Christina McCallum

Brenda Linn


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