Melvin Urofsky titled his seminal biography of Justice Louis Brandeis “A Mind of One Piece.” The same could be said of the West Island after this weekend’s communal resolve of neighbour helping neighbour fight the threat of flood waters. The West Island can truly be called a community of one piece.
We have written before how the West Island is a community that works. And how West Islanders are a people who care. How it — and they — should be an example for others. But this past week has been exceptional.
The juxtaposition of the emergency marshaling of the community came after one of the busiest parts of the West Island’s calendar. The beginning of April is the opening of the WI’s charity social calendar. The first few weeks saw major events for the benefit of West Island Citizen Advocacy, the West Island Association for the Intellectually Handicapped and the Alliance jeunesse de l’Ouest de l’Île just to name a few.
West Islanders are not united into groups or tribes by language or creed or ethnicity. They are united by a sincere desire to make their community thrive. Good neighbourliness is not just a slogan. In the WI it is the creed. It was never more in evidence than in the past week.
In the face of threatening rising water levels and the onset of flooding, the community leapt into action in a seemingly effortless choreography of selflessness. But of course it was not effortless. It was done with grit and determination led by political will and seamless organization by residents. Everybody was carrying some of the load. This was not going to be 2017.
Pierrefonds-Roxboro Mayor Jim Beis led the charge. The north shore of his borough was one of the hardest hit two years ago. This time he would have none of that. He has been everywhere for almost fifteen hours a day. Organizing concrete barriers, supervising distribution of hundreds of pallets of sandbags, overseeing the installations of rubberized air pump breakwaters. He was on the ground in every part of the operation.
Residents rallied through every municipality. Everybody did what they could. From hundreds of volunteers shoveling sand into bags for their neighbours at central depots from Île Bizard to Sainte-Anne, to mothers and grandmothers bringing food and necessities to everyone from city workers to shutins, to young people visiting seniors to assure them they were not alone to food banks and shelters staffed and ready. Everyone became a soldier at the frontlines.
Information flowed copiously. From blogs to community papers to social media. Vicky Jones’ Facebook page West Island Flood Volunteers was a clearing house for hundreds. And this truly grassroots self-reliance had an effect on elected authority. Quebec’s Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbeault called out the Canadian Forces pre-emptively to help residents. By last weekend hundreds of troops were helping residents fill and pile sandbags, check on people in out of the way buildings and even help with traffic on major flooded arteries. Premier Legault came and spent an afternoon at one sand depot with local volunteers as did Montreal’s Mayor Plante.
This is what community is all about. Not only in the sense of everyone helping their neighbours — but in setting an example for a society that if we as a people — if we as communities, decide to come together then no problem is beyond resolution. A community of one piece produces a heart of one piece. And that is a lesson we all need to learn.