2021 Year in Review: May

Eid ul-Fitr during lockdown 

As the month of May began, the surge of COVID-19 cases of April had now stabilized and many across the province began to feel truly hopeful for a near-normal summer. While the situation had improved, many health restrictions remained in place as the government remained cautious.

Consequently, Park Extensions’ Muslim community was forced to celebrate one of their most important religious holidays, Eid-ul Fitr, amid continued public health restrictions. Taking place on May 8, Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan when many Muslims fast during daylight hours and devote much time to prayer. 

While Eid is usually celebrated by sharing large feasts with family and friends, the occasion in 2021 was much more sober. Given continued capacity limits at places of worship, mosques in the neighbourhood could only accommodate 25 people at a time for prayers.

“Usually we go, women, men, all the kids all in different dress,” said Sadek Chowdhury, a long-time Park Extension resident, of their usual celebrations at the mosque. But that was not possible this year he said underlining that this was the first time in his life “that we are missing all these friends and family.”

Many religious leaders, including the administrative secretary at Madina Musallah Mohammad Ashraf, would have liked to see more accommodations for Muslims during one of their holiest months. Ashraf said the government could have offered a pass, similar to those given to late-night workers, to allow Muslims to attend mosque services after the 9:30 PM curfew. The curfew was subsequently lifted on May 28. 

Vaccination at mosques

Although Muslim religious celebrations were toned down due to the pandemic, it didn’t stop the community from stepping up to play a part in the local vaccination campaign. On May 5, the Assuna Annabawiyah Mosque opened it doors to the public, offering a pop-up vaccination clinic to Park Extension.

The first of its kind in Québec, the temporary clinic was a collaboration between the religious community and the local health authority to bolster inoculations rates among certain underserved segments of the population. “We thought it would be a good idea to go meet people close to their place of worship because there are a lot of religious people in this area,” said Francine Dupuis, associate CEO of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.

“It’s an important step to show that our doors are open for everyone, that they are all welcome to come, and that we will work together to improve our chances of quickly getting rid of [COVID-19],” stated Imam Salam Elmenyawi.

The clinic offered approximately 320 doses of the Pfizer vaccine over the course of two days, receiving a generally positive response among members of the community. The initiative at the mosque was designed specifically to target communities with less access to vaccination and to raise the general coverage in Park Extension, which was at only about 20 percent at the time. 

Ogilvy crossing closed

One of the most followed stories in Park Extension this year was that of the Ogilvy/de Castelnau crossing, which was closed by Parc train station operator Exo in mid-May. On May 13, residents were met by a newly erected fence at the crossing which connects Villeray to Park Extension via the platform. 

The crossing had been at the center of a longstanding legal battle between the city and Canadian Pacific, the owners of the tracks. The issue was ruled upon in 2019 by the Canadian Transport Agency in favour of the City of Montreal and the construction of a permanent crossing was ordered. 

Canadian Pacific and station operator Exo cited safety concerns as the reason behind the fence being put up this summer. Residents living on both sides protested that the passage would once again block Park Extension from the rest of the city and force people to take long and sometimes dangerous detours. 

“Park Extension is completely enclaved, it’s ridiculous,” said Liza Roy, a long-time Park Ex resident who had to turn around because of the fence. “Why do we need to take a dangerous detour, go under a dangerous viaduct where cars pass at high speeds, just to go to Jean-Talon market. It would take 10 minutes through here.”

Sun Youth’s 37th Annual Bike Distribution

On the first pleasantly warm weekend of the year, families gathered under bright yellow flags in Jarry Park to celebrate the exceptional stories and deeds of local youngsters and reward them with new bicycles and celebratory cupcakes.

Held on May 15, this was Sun Youth’s 37th Annual Bike Distribution event. It highlights and rewards children who had performed “good deeds or who have shown extraordinary courage when facing exceptional circumstances.”

“We had one child who saved his sister from drowning, so that was a heroic act,” said Anthony De Francesco, director of community services for Sun Youth and proud Park Ex resident. He added that they were also recognizing “a young 9-year-old girl who managed to get her whole school in Verdun waste-free.”

100 children were selected by the organization to receive new bicycles as a reward for important deeds in their communities or incredible stories of resilience in the face of adversity. De Francesco felt that given the pandemic, it was very important to recognize the selfless behaviour of the kids. “It’s always great to be able to reward the kids, it’s really awesome,” he added.