Tuesday morning I scrambled my life together, yet again, in my Yankees duffel bag and my North Face backpack. I didn’t know how much I’d come to appreciate the few belongings within these carry-on’s in the next couple days.
I jumped in my Ford Explorer and headed to campus from Spinner Place, jamming out to “Don’t Get Me Wrong” by the Pretenders. I then strolled on over to the Center for Service office in Skiff Hall to meet up with the staff leaders of the Montreal Service Summer Launch Trip.
Summer launch is a pre-orientation gathering of a few incoming first-year students at Champlain that utilizes common interests to form friendships that often last throughout college. Students chose this trip to see Champlain’s Montreal Campus and do community service in a city that is modern while striving to maintain its cultural history.
After meeting the eight students who would join the two student leaders and three staff members on the trip, we played the warm wind blows and had a lunch in the Champlain dinging hall before packing up the Champlain vans for our trip to Montreal.
We stayed in a vacant home near Plamondon that is owned by a local church and usually serves as the rectory. Once we arrived and had quickly settled, we got ready for our outing and dinner and took the bus and Metro out to Champlain’s Montreal Campus for a quick tour with the campus director, Genevieve Lord. The campus building was modern and resembled the feel of the Lakeside building at Champlain in Burlington. Genevieve was very welcoming and let us know that Champlain Montreal accommodated all of our majors, ranging from Sustainability to Professional Writing, Marketing to Game Design. She directed us to have dinner at Wienstein & Gavino’s on Crescent Street. So we walked there and I enjoyed a great salad and vegetable stuffed calzone.
We got back to the house around 11:00 p.m. and I fell asleep shortly after. Most of the students stayed up talking through the night and claimed to hear a ghost say, “That happened to me too,” while they were discussing bad high school guidance counselors. After bonding over that haunting experience, the students fell asleep around 3 a.m. and dragged the next day as we volunteered at various organizations in Montreal.
We began Wednesday at the Welcome Hall Mission, where we sorted donations and put together 400 backpacks full of donated supplies for children of the 1,000+ families the Mission serves. After our service shift from 9 a.m. until lunch-time, we received a tour and learned of their thrift store, as well as their rehab and dentistry services (collaboration with McGill University), all free of charge for those who qualify. It was a touching experience, and we marveled at their organization and their gratitude for our help (which included cookies!).
We then moved on to find lunch that was quick and cheap… after a few failed attempts we ended up at McDonald’s (how American of us). I sucked down a strawberry banana smoothie and daintily ate a small fry, trying not to think about the fact that I was at McDonald’s (although I was excited to have their Sweet & Sour sauce with my fries like when I was a kid). The entire street (St. Catherine Street East) was adorned with pink ornaments, hopscotch, live music, and graffiti. I was snapping pictures like a mad-woman.
At this time we were late, late, for a very important date - so we rushed down the 120+ stairs to the Metro and finally made it to Concordia’s campus to find the Sustainable Concordia office. When we arrived, we were given a short presentation of their efforts in a small conference room with lovely student-made art before being whisked away by Jackie to see their urban gardens on the street level.
We then entered one of their buildings and went up to the thirteenth floor to their greenhouse. The Concordia greenhouse was built as part of the original building in the 1950s and restored just six years ago after Sustainable Concordia fought to keep it open. It has five rooms of different purposes, including seedlings and sprouts, in-house vermin and heat composting, aquaculture (fish farming), and other plants. We were in the first room, and our service was to help make “seed bombs”.
Funny story: While stopped at customs at the USA/Canadian border to accommodate our large group, the customs worker asked to see our itinerary. Under Sustainable Concordia, the itinerary read “Make seed bombs.” We were then left to explain what a seed bomb was. That brings me back to…
A seed bomb is a ball made out of compost, seeds and clay that can be thrown onto the ground and has everything it needs (except water) to produce a plant and make the city a more beautiful place. The seed bombs will be distributed to first-year Concordia students during their orientation in August.
By now the 3 a.m.-ers were getting tired, cranky, and in their defense the greenhouse was 90+ degrees. At this point, my co-facilitator Adam decided to lounge in the area where Concordia students can come and enjoy home-made tea during the school year.
We left around 4 p.m. to travel to Santropol Roulant, a Meals on Wheels in Montreal. The building was magnificent and welcoming. The organization not only delivers food to their home-bound clients, but welcomes in many volunteers, holds events in their roof-top garden, and has a bicycle shop in back where people can learn to repair and do maintenance on their own bikes rather than pay someone else to do it.
The sustainable cycle at Santropol Roulant is like this: they grow their own vegetables both on site and at McGill University, cook with it in their kitchen, use their scraps as compost in their basement (which helps their gardens), deliver food by foot, bike, and public transportation to their clients, and fix the bikes they use for these deliveries in-house. Unfortunately, we did not get to serve by helping them prepare a meal, but I learned a lot about the gardens and their services and look forward to returning in the future. (more pictures at https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150922293482136&set=a.10150922288072136.405242.615342135&type=3&permPage=1#!/media/set/?set=a.10150922288072136.405242.615342135&type=3)
After the tour we walked to Montreal’s Old Port and had dinner at Les 3 Brasseurs, and as Vermonters do, went to Ben & Jerry’s for dessert. We walked along the port before heading back to the Metro, to then get on the bus and go home. We didn’t stay up as late on Wednesday evening, due to fatigue from the busy day, but there were no more ghost encounters to be had.
The next morning, Kyle (Director of the Center for Service) surprised the group with much needed coffee before we packed up and were on the road home. This time there were no questions to be asked about seed bombs, but we weren’t so eager to get back in the country either (except to use the restroom).
We learned a lot about sustainability in the city, which wasn’t expected but was still interesting. We also learned a lot about ourselves through service, engagement, and discussion. It was a great trip that had undoubtedly produced great friendships and memories that none of us, students nor staff, will forget. I miss the students already; it is strange to think that they are my little sister’s age - they were so mature and I can’t wait to see them again when I am an Orientation Leader for the class of 2016 in August.