Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) has a long and varied history of serving the Milton Parc and Golden Square Mile neighbourhoods since its establishment in 1893. The hospital has been a site of healing and harm, having housed both innovative research and the unethical government-funded MK Ultra experiments. While the space has not been used as a hospital since 2015 due to efforts to centralize healthcare in Montreal, the recent development of new plans for the site concerns community members, who fear for the future of the site and the communities it is meant to serve. The hospital was established with the intent that it must only be used for healing – as such, current and future development plans must consult and take seriously the needs of resident Montreal community members.
To centralize research and resources, RVH merged with four other Montreal hospitals to form the McGill University Health Center (MUHC) in 1997. In 2015, the hospital moved to the Glen site to be in geographic proximity with six other MUHC facilities – the Royal Vic at Mount Royal has since been decommissioned. As of June 2018, the 130,000 square metres of land is in the hands of the Société Québécoise des Infrastructures (SQI), who are developing a “master plan” for the site.
In order to manage the revamping of McGill’s portion of the site, Principal Suzanne Fortier created the “Principal’s Task Force on the Academic Vision and Mission of the RVH Site,” composed of senior administrators, academics, students, and staff, to decide how this land would be used. Notably, Milton Parc community members were excluded in the creation of this “vision.” The task force culminated in “The New Vic” – a Sustainability Sciences and Public Policy centre, notably marketed on the website through an amalgamation of academic buzzwords: the project is described as “a revolution in pedagogy” praised for its “intellectual vibrancy.” McGill University submitted the opportunity dossier detailing their plans for the RVH site in September 2020, and it was approved by Quebec government officials in May 2021. The New Vic was designed to contribute to McGill’s Strategic Academic Plan, which states that “no university can lead globally in the 21st century without putting sustainability at the centre of its operations.” According to the New Vic website, the project “aims to help heal the planet, by tackling the great challenges of sustainability that threaten it,” supposedly “in line with the RVH’s original vocation as a place of healing.” Despite these claims, McGill remains heavily invested in fossil fuels, which contradicts the plan’s supposed goal of sustainability, proving the university is more interested in “lead[ing] globally” than sustaining and supporting the community.
Milton Parc Citizen’s Committee (MPCC), a grassroots non-profit and non-partisan organization, gathered community groups under the Royal Vic for the Public Coalition, which aims to keep the RVH site publicly owned. RVH primarily served the Milton Parc neighbourhood, so the coalition’s research team, “Our Royal Vic,” focused on consulting the aforementioned neighbourhood’s members. These consultations were done through two virtual sessions and are continued through a questionnaire on what community members would like to see done with the space in order to fulfill their material and social needs. In addition to community consultations, MPCC has been leading actions against privatization over the past few years, such as marches and rallies.
Opposition to the privatization of the Master Plan site (which includes the New Vic), as outlined in the open letter, stems from resistance to further gentrification that would intensify the housing crisis. The gentrification of the Milton Parc community has been driven by the development of luxury condominiums and large influx of students into the neighbourhood. Privatization of the Royal Vic space would further displace low-income residents and the communities’ unhoused population, a population that is disproportionately Indigenous. During COVID-19, RVH was used as a shelter and place of quarantine for unhoused people who tested positive for the virus. The MPCC asks that the site continue to serve the local community through social housing, community spaces, education, and health resources. The open letter, currently signed by 62 local organizations including SSMU, notes “that the slopes of Mount Royal should not be reserved only for the elite, but should also be accessible to the general public.”
The Office de Consultation Publique de Montréal (OCPM) conducted a public consultation on use of the space on September 8, and an additional question and answer session will be held on September 23. If you are a student who lives in Milton Parc, you have a responsibility to advocate for the community in which you live. Submit a question for the session, fill out the Royal Vic for the Public questionnaire if you live in Milton Parc, and, if you are able, join the march against privatization that is set to take place on Sunday, September 26 in front of the site.