Frédéric-Back Park

Montréal, Québec 

Photo Credit: Lemay



Research by: Samantha Miller

Edited by: Nicole Brekelmans 

Case study compiled in 2019


Project: Frédéric-Back Park

Type of Urban Strategy: Ecological Infrastructure, Industrial Landscapes

Type of ProjectLand Remediation / Public Park

LocationMontréal, Québec

Construction Completed:  2017

Designer: Lemay 


Named after Québécois artist, director, and tree planter, Frédéric-Back, this project is now one of Montréal’s largest parks and green spaces. Frédéric-Back dedicated his career to the preservation of nature, so it was suitable that this land remediation and public park redevelopment project be named after him. The site of Frédéric-Back Park is on an area of land known as the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex, which used to include a calcium quarry and massive landfill. Although numerous plans to remediate the contaminated site have been attempted in the past, this is one of the most significant environmental rehabilitation projects Montréal has ever completed. The park, designed by Lemay, includes the engineering and design of 250 biogas-capturing wells, which transport biogas underground through pipes to a pumping station to be converted to energy. The biogas wells are housed in spheres, which allow them to move with the ground, and give off a luminous glow at night. The park features many programmable spaces, public art, lookouts, and urban furniture. The biogas wells are an attraction in themselves, as they glow amongst the landscape at night, and look otherworldly. This ecological infrastructure project highlights the ability to use smart engineering and design to create systems that help rehabilitate our environment, but also function aesthetically and add to the identity of a place.


On the site of a former calcium quarry and landfill, Frédéric-Back Park is now a vast green space and park with urban furniture and spheres that capture toxic gases. The park contains several picnic areas, public art, and lookouts, including one that provides a 360-degree view of Downtown, Mount Royal and the Olympic Stadium. The vast amount of spheres are an attraction in themselves, the biogas collection wells are covered by the spheres, and become phosphorescent at dusk. The park also features 30 stones that are engraved with images and words of residents (Library and Archives of Québec, n.d.). The concept of metamorphosis inspired the design and creation of the park, hoping to leave visitors with the ability to observe the changes in the landscape with each visit (Ville de Montréal, n.d.). The innermost part of the park won't be completed until 2025, but currently, a lake is being built, thousands of trees and shrubs are being planted, and the park is being transformed for biodiversity to thrive (Fadden, n.d.). The park opened in the summer of 2017 and is named after Frédéric-Back, a Québécois artist, director, and tree planter. Frédéric-Back dedicated his career to the preservation of nature, and became a Knight of the National Order of Québec and an officer of the Order of Canada, not to mention an Oscar-winner for two animated shorts; The Man Who Planted Trees and Crac (Fadden, n.d).


The park is located across parts of two areas in Montréal: The Boisé Est and the Parvis Papineau, known as the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex. It is situated off Highway 40 at the corner of Papineau Avenue, and Crémazie Est Boulevard, sitting on top of 40 million tons of garbage (CBC News, 2017). The site of the park has been in a state of constant change since it first was occupied. Callings from the past have left physical traces that are still present today, such as rocky cliffs, and the green valley that was formed from burying waste. The park occupies 153 of the 192 hectares of the environmental complex. The size is close to that of Mount Royal Park, making it one of the largest green spaces in Montréal. Currently, 48 hectares of the site is accessible to the public; however, the park’s development will continue until 2025. (Ville de Montréal, n.d.).


The site of the park has a long history of being agricultural land in the area of Montréal’s Saint-Michel neighbourhood. For many decades, the property was used as a calcium quarry and a landfill. The surrounding communities protested the use of the site because of the noise levels and accidents. After the protests, almost half the quarry was converted into a highly-used dump, until 1988 when the City took possession and built the Waste Treatment and Disposal Centre for recyclables (Fadden, n.d.). Around 40 tonnes of the remains are now camouflaged but still generate unhealthy fumes and ground instability. Projects have occurred since the mid-1990s in attempts to makeover the site, but this recent project provided a safe and fun solution (Lemay, n.d.).


The goal of the project was to turn the site of the former landfill and calcium quarry into the ‘Central Park of Montréal.’ As one of the most ambitious such urban projects in North America, this project set out to be a place where environmental sustainability meets arts and culture. This project is the most significant environmental rehabilitation project ever to be completed by the City of Montréal and is now one of the largest parks/green spaces in Montréal. The design aimed to create a place for year-round activities such as outdoor cinema, stargazing, workshops, events, and with paths for running, cycling and snowshoeing (Fadden, n.d.).


The design of the spherical wells came after trying to figure out a way to capture the gases as safely as possible. The spherical shape allows them to adapt and respond to the soil movements. The shell is made of a phosphorescent glass fibre membrane, which absorbs sunlight and radiates a soft, surreal glow in the evening. The evening lighting of the spheres provides an otherworldly experience for visitors of the landscape. There are a total of 250 biogas-capturing wells on-site, covered in protective casings (Lemay, n.d.). The designers implemented a multi-use trail that makes the park 100% accessible to all visitors. The TOHU, the park’s home pavilion, was designed to be a model of accessibility and universal adaptation. The TOHU offers free access to guides and tourist information, including activities adapted for people with disabilities or limitations (Ville de Montréal, n.d.). “According to St. Pierre, the team created a series of spherical objects that would read across the new park landscape as “stars in the sky” and a fantastical, magical world—to evoke a “dream-like image” that would contrast the ideas of light (sky) and dark (earth) and stir public wonder and a curiosity to investigate further the processes and realities of urban waste and sustainability. The team’s ideas harmonized the technical requirements of gas collection with the time-based processes of a rotting site; of ongoing leachate flows, microbial activity, and gas build-up. While it is standard for many cities to prevent greenhouse gases from landfills from reaching the atmosphere, few have the vision to encourage such an artistic interpretation” (Taylor, n.d.).
The environmental and sustainable features of the site include a biodiversity corridor, wildlife management, surface runoff management, native plantation and phytotechnology, LED lighting, equipment that adapts to basement movement, and more (Ville de Montréal, n.d.). The spheres are spread out throughout the space and collect biogas which is then carried through a 17 km network of underground pipes. The pipes transport the gas to a pumping station where it is burned to create electricity and sold to Hydro-Québec (CBC News, 2017). 85% of the materials used for the park have either been recycled or upgraded, such as ash wood being harvested for furniture, the gravel for the trails comes from chipping cliffs, and more (Chevalier, 2017).


Canada, Montréal, Library and Archives of Québec. (n.d.). Bilan Des Legs. Retrieved August 14, 2019, from Chevalier, A. (2017, September 15). Le parc Frédéric-Back, ou la reconquête écologique d’un dépotoir. LeDevoir. Retrieved August 14, 2019, from Fadden, R. (n.d.). GO BIG AND GO GREEN AT FRÉDÉRIC-BACK PARK. Retrieved August 14, 2019, from From trash to trees: Saint-Michel landfill to be converted into public park. (2017, August 26). CBC News. Retrieved August 14, 2019, fromédéric-back-park-montreal-st-michel-1.4263979 Lemay | Frédéric-Back Park. (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2019, from Taylor, V. (n.d.). Design by Detail: Gas Up - OALA: The Ontario Association of Landscape Architects. Retrieved August 14, 2019, from
Ville de Montréal | Parc Frédéric-Back. (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2019, from,94551572&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&id=86&sc=2


This project received the Grand Prize in the Urban Furniture category in the Grand Prix du Design in 2018. This is one of the most ambitious projects of this nature in all of North America (Lemay, n.d.). The project's initiative includes the transplant of 78 mature trees, and the planting of 2,100 new trees, and 8,200 shrubs, making it a green destination for all of Montréal (CBC News, 2017).


The main challenge of this project was finding a way to safely capture the gases emitted by the former landfill, while allowing safe access for visitors. After collaborating with Morelli Designers, an answer to the problem arose, and the final design was conceived (Lemay, n.d.).


This project started after years of remediation attempts, but the final design was in response to trying to complete it in time for the City of Montréal’s 375’th anniversary (Lemay, n.d.). The development of the park was based on a master plan, which was first adopted in 1997. It has been since updated many times but has kept the same primary goals. Long term development goals include the presence of a lake for activities, a wooded area, an agora for shows, a hilly plain, and terraces for recreational activities (Ville de Montréal, n.d.).


Some of the points of interest in the park include: -A track surrounds the park, known as the Loop, which is used by walkers, runners and cyclists, and now hosts events and programs -The Visitor Reception Pavilion at TOHU (one of the first LEED-OR certified buildings in Canada). -Public artwork called Anamnesis 1+1: created by artist Alain-Martin Richard, located in the Boisé Est sector. The artwork represents the result of cultural mediation of two years with the citizens of the district bearing on their memories of the place. -The Papineau shelter: a welcome area to the park. The space functions as an event space, with a picnic area nearby. -The Crown: a 5.5 km multifunctional trail that runs along the peripheral of the park. The Crown ensures there is a good transition between the city and the heart of the park. The trail offers panoramic views of the immensity of the park. -Le Boisé: an open space area in the centre of the park, built directly on the landfill site. The spheres, a belvedere, Anamnesis 1+1, all of the diverse native plants, insects and butterflies are all found here. -Nearby is the Cirque du Soleil headquarters, the National Circus School, and TOHU. Also, there is a recovery centre for all Montréal’s recyclables, the Biomont power plant (converts the collected biogas into electricity), the composting area for Montréal, the TAZ (a recreational facility), the Montréal soccer stadium, and Champdoré Park. (Ville de Montréal, n.d.).


The City of Montréal funded the Frédéric-Back Park project. According to the Mayor of Montréal, the project came in under budget, at $27.2 million. The project is funded entirely by the city, as one of the infrastructure projects for the 375th anniversary of Montréal (CBC News, 2017).


Lemay was commissioned to provide landscape architecture services, as well as branding, furniture design, signage and lighting strategies, interpretation program, plans and specifications, and site supervision (Lemay, n.d.). The firm was commissioned by Diane Martin, the landscape architect for the City of Montréal (Taylor, n.d.).


The vegetation chosen for the site is largely indigenous, making it more drought tolerant and reduces the amount of maintenance and watering needed (Chevalier, 2017).