Saturday, 18 June 2011

Bois-de-Saraguay: History, Heritage and Ecology in Montreal’s ‘Forgotten Forest’

On the West Island, there is a dense and ecologically diverse forest situated in the middle of the suburbs. The Bois-de-Saraguay nature park has been described as a 'forgotten forest' (read the Montreal Gazette article here) since so few Montrealers know about it. Recently, however, the city has decided to make the site more publicly accessible through the addition of trails, observation areas, and educational signage.

The Bois-de-Saraguay is often described as a space of pristine nature. What is less acknowledged is that the site has been shaped by human history as well. The Mary Dorothy Molson House, located in the northern section of the woods, represents this history. The neo-Georgian estate is one of several summer houses built in the early twentieth century by Montreal’s wealthy anglophone elite, who sought large, open spaces for leisure activities such as hunting, polo and golf. The forest likely would have been cleared for further residential development if it hadn’t been for these exclusive uses of it. The Molsons, MacDougalls and Refords might deserve a certain amount of praise for the role they played in preserving the woods. Beyond that, however, we may also critique the power relations behind this landscape, and view it as a space in which several of Montreal’s most powerful families controlled the movements and activities of others for their own benefit.

I wanted my intervention to respond to the interrelated histories of culture and ecology that have shaped the Bois-de-Saraguay. I decided to make seed-bombs out of clay in the shape of Molson beer cans, which I used to mark particular sites, including a road that once led to the polo club, and the Mary Dorothy Molson House. I used zinnias, asters and sunflowers, which will attract birds, bees and butterflies, but which will also stand out as garden plants rather than ‘wild’ flowers. I saw this as a way of turning a common form of park litter into something that in its sculptural form, has cultural and historical meaning, but in its sprouted form, will create beauty and use value for non-human nature.

- Noni Brynjolson


  1. are you aware that you have planted your seed-bomb in a patch of poison ivy?

  2. Noni Brynjolson24 June 2011 at 18:59

    Umm, no, I had no idea!! That's really funny. I guess I need to improve my knowledge of botany.

  3. haha Noni did you get a rash?

  4. Noni Brynjolson25 June 2011 at 14:13

    Nope. I don't think I'm very sensitive to it, though. I've never had it, and I've been on many forest hikes...