VIEWPOINT

Commemorating its 400th anniversary, Quebec City is in full swing. With the recently renovated Palais Montcalm concert hall, several revitalized neighbourhoods and a number of upgraded promenades and public spaces adding life to the city, there is much to celebrate. As for the quatrocentennial celebrations themselves, the new Espace 400e building designed by Montreal architect Dan Hanganu is located near the old industrial port just below the Old City, and remains the focal point of the festival’s activities. But perhaps the greatest design statement relating to the auspicious celebration of Quebec City lies to the west of the festival pavilion where 11 thought-provoking temporary installations– known as the Ephemeral Gardens–are on display throughout the summer. But as this is Quebec– an exuberant political landscape par excellence– the Ephemeral Gardens contain aspects to their designs that have enabled them to become political landscapes unto themselves.

Organized through the efforts of Quebec Citybased architect Pierre Thibault and inspired by the International Garden Festival at the Reford Gardens, the Ephemeral Gardens project has brought together a range of designers from Quebec and around the world to create a series of contemporary gardens under the theme of “Meetings and Encounters,” an appropriate title given that it was the French colonizers who initially encountered the Algonquin First Nations in the 16th century, eventually taking over their land and establishing Quebec City in 1608.

Many of the gardens reference the agricultural origins of Quebec, drawing inspiration from such features as the seigniorial lots laid out perpendicular to the St. Lawrence River, a defining geographic feature of the Quebec landscape. For example, Toronto-based PLANT Architect Inc.’s Boustrophedon installation, so named for the alternating-strip pattern of oxen-tilled farmland, revisits the historical context of an agrarian/ riparian landscape through plantings overlaid with cloth that will be stretched and displaced as the greenery matures. The weaving of cloth and the farming of land comprise two basic components of the early Quebec settlers, les habitants.

Other approaches to the gardens include innovative ways to define social interactions between cultures. The Winnipeg firm known as spmb_projects–comprised of Eduardo Aquino and Karen Shanski–presents the idea of a beach as a public space constructed of painted wood strips assembled into an undulating platform, forming an extended bench and chaise longue upon which visitors can sprawl beneath the sun. To complement their Beach installation, a Prairie component offers a more introspective space that provides a vast horizon for contemplation.

No history of the founding of Quebec would be complete without an adequate discussion of the involvement of First Nations. While many of the gardens explore issues of environmental and cultural stewardship, only a few installations address the idea of cultural ownership with respect to First Nations. Wampum is one of them. Here, Domingo Cisnros and Sonia Robertson interpret the garden’s theme of “meetings and encounters” with issues common to many First Nations peoples: broken treaties, colonization, and the appropriation and exploitation of land–subjects that some people believe are still occurring today. For Cisnros and Robertson, even the idea of a garden seems contradictory to the nomadic customs of First Nations, so their design is one that symbolizes forced settlement or “reserves to which we have been exiled, the place where we are smothered, like ‘species,’ driven to extinction, and ‘weeds,’ ineradicable, always springing back up.”

Indeed, the limited dimensions and temporary nature of the Ephemeral Gardens make it challenging to fully explore or experience the ideas presented, but from the gardens on display, there is much to learn about our history and culture through experimental landscape architecture.

IAN CHODIKOFF ICHODIKOFF@CANADIANARCHITECT.COM

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