On kids, a park in St. Lambert, and a small, pointless calamity

This is the sort of civic nonsense that makes you want to scream, tear your hair out, and run naked down the street bellowing that the world has gone utterly mad.

In St. Lambert – genteel, constantly complaining St. Lambert – there is a little park called Parc Mercille. It faces the St. Lambert Library on one side and St. Lambert Elementary (where my youngest son spent seven mostly painful years) on another.

The school with its endless petty rules was sheer madness much of the time (a detention for stepping on ONE fishy cracker comes to mind, and a subsequent conversation with school officials that was like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole) but the park itself was a solace, the site of some of my fondest memories of sunny afternoons when the freshly liberated children played while the adults dozed in the sun or chatted.

Along the St. Lambert side of the park were a number of flowers, plants, shrubs and one leaning tree-shrub which made a perfect seat for some kids while others played hide-and-seek underneath. Now and then some crotchety old soul would tear into the children for some egregious sin like climbing a tree, but for the most part, all was sweetness and light. There was a perpetual soccer game going on by the library, groups of certain parents that gathered in this area or that, and plenty of foliage to fall at this time of year, in piles large enough so that a favourite pastime for the little ones was to bury my rather large, muscular offspring in a huge pile of leaves and then jump on him.

When he wasn’t under the leaves, he was atop them – way up one particular tree, where he held court so often that when he had the male lead in the school production of The Sound of Music, a little boy behind me whispered to his mother: “It’s the boy from the tree!”

All wonderful, heartwarming, a source of comfort in an increasingly menacing world – especially for schoolchildren who had to miss months of school last spring and return to a different, rather frightening scene this fall, with new edicts spewing forth from Quebec City on an almost daily basis. If nothing else, the park was a still point in a turning world for those children, a comfort when so much else is utterly without comfort.

So on Monday, for no visible reason, the City of St. Lambert tore out all the shrubs, flowers on the Notre Dame side of the park, along with that tree-shrub that was a favourite of at least one generation of school children and likely many more before my time. A friend reasonably well-versed in horticulture insists that all the plants that were torn out were completely healthy, much as they had always been. This wasn’t like the cutting down of the tall ash tree with the peregrine falcon’s nest near the top that caused much chagrin among the children five or six years ago.

But the city ripped them all out, so that at least one child and probably many others leaving the school Monday afternoon burst into tears at the sight of their mutilated park. 

Tuesday, the city swooped in and planted new flowers, shrubs and plants to replace the perfectly good flowers, shrubs and plants they had ripped out the day before. But the kids didn’t want new plants. They wanted the old plants. They wanted their park as it was, and they use it far more than anyone else.

Why tear out one set of perfectly good plants and put it another, presumably at considerable expense? The city closes at 4:30, so no answer was forthcoming.

Just another stupid little municipal drama, brought on by elected officials or city bureaucrats with too much time on their hands and too little to do. At no point in the process, I’m sure, did it occur to them to wonder how children going to school at the toughest of times might take the municipal vandalizing of their park, or how taxpayers might feel about their money going for such an utterly pointless task.

It’s like the random scattering of one-way streets, or right turn on red rules at various intersections that seem to take no account of the realities of pedestrian and automobile traffic, or the positioning of obstacles like bus stops that block a driver’s view of a busy street. Municipal bureaucrats are paid a salary so they must be up to something, whether it’s useful or not.

Much of the time, as with the yanking of the plants from Mercille Park, we’d all be better off if they still had the old-fashioned three-martini lunch and spent the rest of the day asleep at their desks.

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