Sophie Mankowski loves to walk, watch, listen… and share her love for the urban and natural environment surrounding us. As cofounder of the organization Portrait sonore, this producer/director took on the challenge of raising awareness of the urban forest in Mount Royal Park―and the importance of its tens of thousands of trees―by creating a sound walk entitled À la racine de l’arbre.

As part of the City of Montréal’s program to showcase local heritage, and with the collaboration of the Bureau du Mont-Royal and Les amis de la montagne, this audioguide provides a new way to discover and experience nature in the city using one’s eyes and ears.

We recently talked with Sophie about her inspiration and her affection for the mountain, which adds a touch of colour to the city.

What inspired you to do this project on the trees of Mount Royal?
The French naturalist Jacques Tassin said it best when he expressed that the greatest extinction is that of our relationship with the living world.

I used to live in a rural area where conscientious locals helped me understand the intelligent relationship that plants have with the world and the importance of being their allies. Thanks to them, I now look at trees very differently. In other words, I no longer see them as merely part of the Montréal backdrop. Mount Royal, with its urban forest towering over the city, reminds me every day that its trees deserve to be recognized as our collective heritage. The organization that I co-founded in 2013 has a mission of promoting heritage. It was time to give more importance to this natural wealth, which is part and parcel of our daily life in the city.

What is your background or experience?
Basically, I’m a jack of all trades! I have a master's degree in psychology and I was an architect and curator with Docomomo Quebec for 15 years. Since founding Portrait Sonore, my goal has been to raise awareness and educate Montrealers about their heritage and history in an immersive and dynamic manner. My knowledge for this project in particular was gained in the field, by reading and through numerous meetings on the subject.

What is the mountain’s special appeal in your eyes?
In the city, our lives are disconnected from the river and the sky. What is left is the mountain, with its forest visible from everywhere. It is our green lung, our oasis. The mountain can be a place of meditation, of connection and even of wisdom... It must be looked after and protected.

Let’s be trees, once said the science historian Michel Serres. They are self-reliant, productive, resilient and generous. We have so much to learn from them!  

Does one have to know a lot about trees to fully appreciate this sound walk?
Not at all. This guided sound walk is more about opening up and slowing down because we are trying to enter into the time of trees, which is not ours: we are used to seeing according to our own particular and trivial interests.

Can this walk be done in any season?
Yes, it is possible in all seasons, but sometimes it does focus on the leaves of the trees. The application shows them to us in photos however.

Come and meet the trees of Mount Royal Park and the people who know them best in À la racine de l’arbre

To learn more about the organization, visit Portrait Sonore.

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