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L'Acadie Fence (essay version)

A Multimedia Essay on the L'Acadie Boulevard Fence in Montreal
by

Taien Ng-Chan

on 1 March 2013

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Transcript of L'Acadie Fence (essay version)

L'Acadie Fence Frame 3: A Hole in the Fence Frame 1: The Hedge Frame 4: Signs Frame 6: Where the Sidewalk Ends Frame 5: Empty Frame 2: Gates a photocollage/essay by Taien Ng-Chan Because of the hedge, the Fence is not always immediately visible. The hedge grows on both sides of it, which, as historian Lucy Salmon suggests, helps to screen out dust and dirt flying up from the traffic on Acadie, and also hides the fence itself, which is made of wire. The hedge suggests the need to beautify what would otherwise be unsightly. If the fence needed to be hidden, why was a hedge on its own not enough? Why the need for the actual fence, when a hedge would serve the same purpose of protection and demarcation? One answer might be that a hedge cannot serve as a gate. Let’s take a closer look at the gates in the fence, the only points of access between the two neighbourhoods along Acadie Boulevard. The gates are located near Liege on its northern end and Jean-Talon at its southern end, at the major intersections of Jarry, St-Roch, and Olgivy, and one – seemingly randomly – in between Olgivy and St-Roch. There is no gate at the intersection of Ball and Acadie, which makes some sense since there are no stoplights or pedestrian crossing. It seems that more and more gates have been added since the Fence was first built. Initially, there was one pedestrian opening but no others. And the gate at Jarry is the only one that features a cage-like structure, making it more difficult for bicycles to pass through. All the gates are rusty and heavy, constructed from wire and steel posts, and they clang loudly when they swing shut. They are not what I would call friendly. In a city where jaywalking is a normal part of pedestrian culture, it seems natural that someone, wanting to cross at Ball rather than having to walk a whole block up to Jarry or down to St-Roch, would cut a hole in the fence. This hole at Ball is the only one that I can detect, the only challenge to the fence’s control of access. But the hole is patched up now, and so far, no further attempts have been made to open it (unlike the ongoing battles further south at the Mile End railway crossings, where the fence has been cut and patched innumerable times and in several different spots, an ongoing battle). The signs are on both sides of the gates. Going into TMR, the signs, in English and French, say “Welcome. This door has been installed to improve safety of pedestrians and children. Please make sure you close it after you. Town of Mont Royal.” On leaving TMR, the sign says the same thing, but instead of “Welcome,” it says simply, “Be Careful.” This posits the interior of TMR as a safe space, the exterior as filled with various dangers, the busy Boulevard de l'Acadie being only one of many. People have taken issue with this, attacking the signs themselves through graffiti and general defacement. During a year and a half of almost daily walks to and from TMR, never once have I seen children playing on the streets near the Fence. Indeed, the street closest to the fence in TMR functions as a cushion to block the sights and sounds of l’Acadie Boulevard on the other side. Nothing is located here. No houses actually face this street or the Fence. There are only back yards and side yards, each with its own fence or hedge. Sometimes I glimpse swimming pools through the back yard fences, though they seem rarely used. Sometimes I see mothers and strollers out for a walk, joggers, gangs of high school kids after school. Usually, however, the streets are empty. The street and sidewalk curve away here, but there is a dirt path worn in, visible even more in the snow. These are the footprints of people headed to or from Metro Acadie, just outside the TMR borders. These patterns of circulation show what is important to those who use the landscape, especially pedestrians and cyclists. Frame 7: Places for Padlocks Why would a fence such as this ever need to be locked? To lock, to lock out. On Hallowe’en, for instance. Rosalyn Deutsche, in her essay “Agoraphobia,” uses a singular example to illustrate the discourse around public parks and who has the right to such spaces: in 1991, the New York Times ran a story about a small public park in Greenwich Village, its rehabilitation from delapidation, and its subsequent padlocking at night to keep out the homeless. Jackson Park, the little plaza at the center of the story, becomes the focus of an upper-middle class neighbourhood group, “Friends of Jackson Park,” which is welcomed by the City Parks Department as “public” help in “protecting public space.” There are pertinent parallels between the padlocking of Jackson Square in the name of “protection” and the Acadie fence’s ability to be padlocked in the name of “safety,” especially given the controversial Hallowe’ens of the past when they were indeed locked in the name of safety. Though the Fence’s gates are no longer padlocked on Hallowe’en, or indeed, ever, the past lingers in the public’s memory and in these physical reminders of locks.
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