When the city is green, and even when covered in white powder, our Mountain, so rich in flora and fauna, has always been an oasis, a source of joy and beauty.
Celebrating its glory in print has sparked the interest of many a photographer and writer, and prominent among them is MacKay L. Smith, the Montreal businessman who retired some 25 years ago, never having written anything but memos.
From his modest abode in the McGill ghetto, the former resident of Upper Westmount tackled, as his first “retirement project”, his well-researched and informative The Jews of Montreal and their Judaisms: a Voyage of Discovery. It sold a remarkable 2,000 copies, an achievement for a writer who lacks the usual credentials for this kind of project.
Propelled by its success, he followed that with a visit to Israel, on invitation, and wrote his second book, A Christian in Israel.
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All his books were self-published as part of InfiniteBooks, which he founded. After a book on golf, and two on his world travels, with photos, Smith turned his attention to the city he loves, researching, writing, and taking photos and collecting others for four coffee-table format books on the architectural and natural highlights that surround us, from Sherbrooke St., McGill University, and the Golden Square Mile to the 49 historic communities along the island’s shores. All of them sold out.
His latest work, fifth in a series, continues in the standard he has set of sterling scholarship with carefully selected and meaningful research, historic photographs from various collections, and his photography, in colour and black and white.
It’s called On and Around Montreal’s Three Mountains: The Green Heart of the City (InfiniteBooks, 120 pages, $46.95) and contains a goldmine of fascinating information and insights into the three summits that we call The Mountain.
The main summit we know as Mount Royal Park, which attracted 4 million visitors in 2017. It also is a haven for 180 types of birds and 22 species of mammals.
It was designated a park in 1869 after the provincial legislature authorized the city to borrow $350,000, later increased to $1 million, to expropriate all the land of Mount Royal from 16 owners.
The city then hired Frederick Law Olmsted, who had designed New York City’s Central Park, to design the park here. Olmsted, Smith writes, “felt that all citification of the site should be resisted to retain the site’s inherent ‘dignity, serenity, and strength’.”
Olmsted’s vision was “to keep the site as primitive as possible, allowing dirt roads and paths to accommodate visitors” — clearly not a vision that would allow through traffic by cars, which reflects the thinking in the current restriction, part of a pilot project. Mount Royal Park was inaugurated on May 24, 1876, Queen Victoria’s birthday.
The Westmount Summit Woods and Belvedere Park came about when Sir William Macdonald was concerned that the mixture of farms, estates and vacant land was about to be developed, and bought it all from six owners, then sold the land to
McGill University, which later used it as the site for its Survey School. In 1940
McGill sold the land to Westmount for $300,000, the deed of sale specifying that it was to remain “a park and playground in perpetuity.”
In Outremont, the summit and its belvedere is owned by Outremont and the Université de Montréal. It is now leased to Montreal and former Mayor Denis Coderre gave it a Mohawk name, Park Tiohtià:ke Otsira’kéhne — Place of the Big Fire.
Smith’s geological research indicated that the three summits are the highest points of three intrusions of igneous rock called plutons. They formed under the extreme heat of volcanic material and the resulting pressure crystallized.
The three summits are part of a chain of plutons, including Mont St. Bruno, Mont St. Hilaire, and the various other Montérégian Hill plutons at Rougemont, Yamaska, Johnson, Shefford, Brome, and Mégantic.
It’s all part of an information-packed read, laced with maps, charts, photographs, and lists that gives historical perspective to our city’s central feature and highlights iconic buildings and sites connected to our city’s greatest natural treasure.