A field of 10,000 sunflowers is coming to Montreal this summer

The SDC District Central hopes the sunflower field will give the neighbourhood a new look, moving away from its current industrialized feel.  (Submitted by SDC District Central - image credit)
The SDC District Central hopes the sunflower field will give the neighbourhood a new look, moving away from its current industrialized feel. (Submitted by SDC District Central - image credit)

A local business development group in north end Montreal is hoping planting thousands of sunflowers will draw people to the Ahuntsic–Cartierville borough this summer to explore walking paths and enjoy the outdoor space.

The field of 10,000 sunflowers at the intersection of de Louvain Street West and de l'Esplanade Avenue will be dubbed La Prairie Louvain.

It's part of a larger, five-year urban development plan unveiled Tuesday by the Société de développement commercial District Central to revitalize the area, which has long been characterized by its textile manufacturing sector, and make it more attractive to businesses and people across Montreal.

"The sunflower itself is tall, it's resilient, it's beautiful and it represents our neighbourhood. It celebrates the monumentality of the architecture of the area," Elena Di Stefano, a spokesperson for the SDC District Central, told Daybreak Montreal host Sean Henry.

The sunflower field will have a clearing with outdoor furniture where people can hang out and attend events hosted by businesses and community organizations.

Carmela Cucuzzella is the Research Chair in Integrated Design and Sustainability for the Built Environment at Concordia University, where she also teaches design. She said the SDC's plan has the potential to redefine how residents think and feel about their neighbourhood.

"Public spaces are one of the most important things to enable the socialization of citizens," said Cucuzella. "People that live in those areas without good quality public spaces [will] stay in their homes or go somewhere else and therefore [will] never become a community."

While she says she sees how the sunflowers can become a magnet for people — she warns of possible gentrification down the line.

"It's a tug of war between the renewal of the city and the respect of people that have been there for ages," she said.

Di Stefano hopes the sunflower field will help local residents by reducing heat islands in an industrial sector not known for its greenery.

Submitted by SDC District Central
Submitted by SDC District Central

Toward a circular economy

The sunflower seedlings will be grown in a greenhouse run by the Laboratoire d'Agriculture Urbaine, an organization focused on urban agriculture research and innovation, before being transplanted. The flowers are expected to bloom by mid-August and will be harvested and repurposed in the fall.

Di Stefano said the SDC is looking at different options — like making sunflower oil or using the stalks to build patio furniture. It's all part of a larger effort to create a circular economy in the district, she said.

"There's a lot of growth and kind of excitement," she said. She says that since the SDC began its work five years ago, the number of businesses in district has increased by seven per cent while the occupancy rate climbed to 84 per cent.

She said the area has a lot of untapped potential and hopes that a new look will help push that forward.

The city of Montreal has leased the plot of land where La Prairie Louvain will bloom to the SDC District Central for a period of 18 months, until Oct. 31, 2024.

Whether the sunflower field will return after that is still uncertain but the SDC is expecting to plant more sunflowers across the five sectors it represents, including parts of Chabanel Street and de l'Acadie Boulevard over the next five years.

Di Stefano hopes that will be enough to give the neighbourhood new life and make it top of mind for Montrealers.

"All that it takes [is] just one seed that can enrich an entire ecosystem," said Di Stefano.