Visit to Quebec, the social economy and community projects (I)

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For two weeks in May 2023, part of the femProcomuns team went to Quebec (Canada) to give some talks and workshops on the Commons Sustainability Model, to learn about experiences, community projects and the solidarity economy and also to participate in La Grande Transition. This trip was  possible thanks to the collaboration we’ve had for some time with Projet Collective, Cultiver les communs and the research collective Critic. Quebec has a strong solidarity economy and a growing interest in recognising, promoting and articulating the commons.


Montréal is the largest city in population in Quebec and the second in Canada, located on an island at the confluence of two rivers. Cooperativism, the solidarity economy and community projects stand out. Project Montréal governes the city since 2017, with similarities to the municipal government of Barcelona over the last two terms, both in the transformations that have been possible and those that have not been possible, in the principles and in the contradictions.

We arrived and it was unseasonably hot, over 25 degrees. After a few days it cooled down to zero, then it got hot again. In the neighborhood where we were staying, the houses are two-story buildings with external stairs leading to each apartment, with an open garden in front and access from the back to the “ruelle”, an alley where the electricity and internet cables run, where clothes dry on clothesline pulleys. The “ruelles” have been reclaimed as neighborhood and community spaces, there are murals on the walls and plants and flowers have been planted. Traffic has also been pacified and children play freely.

Temps Libre coworking at Mile-End

In the Mile-End neighborhood, a metal ramp with a mural painted on the railing, leads to the entrance to the co-working space «Temps Libre”, managed by a solidarity cooperative founded in 2015. Inside the space, a text in French and English announces that “Temps Libre is a neutral and non-commercial place that favors exchanges and meetings”. This has been one of the reference spaces on our visit to Montreal. We have held three meetings there, one with the Projet Collectif team, one with the CRITIC research collective and one with participants from the Solon project.

Projet Collectif is an OBNL (a legal formula for non-profit entity, in Quebec) with 350 members (half organisations and half individuals), representative of various sectors and regions of Quebec, who support the project. The objective of the meeting was to get to know the team and explain what femProcomuns is, how we work and what projects we develop at the cooperative.

Project Collectif is developing, a digital space to strengthen collaboration between sectors and to connect knowledge and people. The platform unites two tools: Passarelles and Praxis. Passerelles facilitates the meeting between people according to themes and areas of interest; its development began within TIESS (Territories Innovative Social and Solidarity Economy) to create links and knowledge transfer and has continued with Projet Collectif. Praxis makes it easy to document knowledge, initiatives and resources in tabs that can be tagged and linked together. Behind Praxis there are purposes and concepts very close to those we work with

But this is not the only project they are working on. They also work with the Network of Digital Cultural Development Agents (ADN, Réseau des de développement culturel numérique), which have similar functions and activities to the digital literacy spaces that in Catalonia make up the ICT point and the Omnia Network. With the DNA facilitation team we held a session on the practical use of Model of Sustainability of the commons, so that they can assess its usefulness as a methodological tool. With the team at CRITIC (Commons Initiatives, Transformations and Institutions Research Collective or Collectif de Recherche sur las Initiatives, Transformations te Institutions des Communs) we also worked on the use of the Commons Sustainability Model for the analysis and monitoring of projects in Québec. The session, face-to-face and online, was attended by academics and doctoral students from various universities such as Laval University from of Québec City, HEC Montréal, Concordia (Montreal) or Saint-Paul University (Ottawa).

In the same space as Temps Libre we meet two of the 30 people who work for the non-profit organization Solon. They launched in 2015, as a result of their involvement in the transformation and revitalization of the “ruelles”. In 2019 they received an important grant, within the Smart City Challenge, with the aim of working on mobility for 5 years. Starting from this project and promoting the reduction of car dependency, other areas of work emerged: 15-minute cities, where you can meet your needs within a 15-minute walk radius, the promotion of the exchange of cars and bicycles, the promotion of local commerce, access to healthy food in neighborhoods that have become “food deserts”, etc.

They mainly work on the project LocoMotion, with activities to mobilise and raise public awareness around mobility, and in the so-called Atéliers de Transition and Espaces des Posibles. The latter are spaces for public use, dynamic and self-managed, to respond to the needs of the neighborhood. There are two spaces, one in the Petite Patrie neighborhood and the other in the Ahuntsic neighborhood, conceived as Tiers lieux (“third places“) as defined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg. They are spaces to facilitate informal social interaction and promote participation in self-management by the neighborhood that uses them.

A few days after the meeting we went to the Espace des Posibles at Ahuntsic , located on one of the two “bike highways” that run through the entire city, and which is one of the most significant policies of the government of Projet Montréal. It makes sense that it contains a bicycle repair space. The projects in the Espace des Posibles arise from the neighbourhood’s needs. They are facilitated by Solon and seek to involve people with the perspective of becoming self-managed. The workshop has open and free activities where people are trained, both in bycicle use, maintenance and repair. The facilitator of the workshop is also responsible for a feminist mechanics project. The day we vistited, there was a barbecue open to the neighborhood, a situation that favored the debate on food. In a circle, a ball of the globe was passed around and the person who received it explained how their diet had changed since the pandemic. Many stores and the only supermarket have closed in the neighborhood, now to be able to buy certain products they need to use the car. The round was completed with the presentation of a few community projects and the solidarity economy in the field of food. The space is set in a rented house, similar to other houses in the neighborhood, with a large living room and a kitchen. They have also rented the house next door with the idea that the two combine free open activities with activities that generate an income to support the project as a whole.

The Upop at Les Oubliettes

Two Thursday afternoons we were at Café Las Oubliettes, where for 5 weeks the course “Taking care, sharing and deciding together. Little guide to the commons» («Prendre soin, partager et décider ensemble. Petit guide des communs») from the Upop (the People’s University of Montreal).

We had missed the first introductory session by Jonathan Durand Folco on May 4th. We were able to attend the second session held by Marie-Soleil L’Allier on May 11 on “Commons practices in Québec: typology, challenges and levers”, with the results of an empirical study on commons practices (“commoning”) that have emerged in the territory of Quebec since the financial crisis of 2007-2008. These are 70 urban and rural complexes, covering nearly 20 areas of activity, studied with the aim of producing a typology of commons practices. We participated in the third session, on May 18, given by Marie-Anne Perreault, entitled “Unlinking internal tensions: the governance of the commons in practice” (“Dénouer internal tensions: la gouvernance des communs en pratique” ). They talked about how creation, collaboration or joint activity imply the use of self-management principles, the presumption of equal intelligence and collective intelligence. Tools were explored to facilitate decision-making, the sharing of ideas, conflict resolution and the creation of a security framework for exchanges to facilitate a viable and collective management of the commons. We also presented the Commons Sustainability Model as a tool for analysis and construction of commons projects, we talked about the game of the economy of the commons and of the texts that we have already translated into French.

Transition en commun

On May 24, it was heavily raining in Montreal. We watched the rain fall on the Mont Real hill on one side and the Milton-Park neighborhood on the other from the windows of Cité-des-Hospitalièrs. An old religious building today “in transition” to incubate projects by the Montreal city council. Marie-Soleil L’Allier and Mònica Garriga facilitated part of a session of the group Transition en commun. They analised their project with the pillars of the Commons Sustainability Model. Transition en commun is an alliance between some fifty entities, citizens, actors and civil society organizations, the city of Montréal and other institutions, to mobilise the city around a shared vision of socio-ecological transition. They have received a grant from the Fundation Lucie et André Chagnon to implement this transition in the neighborhoods. His priority is to work to reduce the use of cars in the city, housing and participatory democracy.

Ottawa and Gatineau

Ottawa, with close to a million inhabitants, is the capital of Canada and is located in the province of Ontario, next to the Ottawa River that delimits the border between this province and Quebec. Ottawa looks like an administrative city, where a large part of the state civil service works. The stone parliament buildings contrast with the large office buildings. Across the river and within the same conurbation, but in another province, there is Gatineau, the third largest city in Quebec with almost three hundred thousand inhabitants.

School of Social Innovation Élisabeth-Bruyère

With Jonathan Durand Folco we visited the École de innovation sociale Élisabeth-Bruyère which he promoted, together with other professors, at the Université St Paul, in Ottawa. There we  presented the Commons Sustainability Model and the tools we have developed to strengthen key projects and sectors. Since 2017, there has been a Department of Social Innovation, created with the purpose of changing the way in which work is done in the promotion of entrepreneurship, not focusing it on the creation of a private company with a social orientation, but to be innovation from the Social Economy, for the transformation ecology and the commons. Now they offer a pre-university course, a degree in development of social organisations and a postgraduate course. The School of Social Innovation has the CRITS (Center for Research on Innovations and social transformations) to do research on emancipation, social action, democratic management, entrepreneurship in horizontal organizations, or pedagogy in research. CRITS is found within the Atelier de innovation sociale Mauril-Bélange.

Outaouais Regional Development Cooperative

In Gatineau we met the Cooperative de développment régional (CDR) of the Outaouais region – Laurentians from Quebec. They explained Quebec had 15 CDRs,  similar to the ateneus cooperatius Catalans (femProcomuns are part of the Ateneu del Barcelonès Nord. But due to a change of government, they were centralized and now they are all part of a single body, except for this one, which did not want to integrate and has shown it can continue to do good work. It is an integral cooperative (in Quebec they say “solidarity”) with 14 workers and all entities accompanied as users. The CDR advises, trains and accompanies social and solidarity economy initiatives. It also has other linked devices. The Pole de Economie Social Outaouais (one of the 22 poles in Quebec) promotes social Social and Solidarity Economy and facilitates collaboration with other agents in the territory, in addition to collaborating with the Chantier del économie sociale del Quebec, which is the equivalent of the Solidarity Economy Network in Catalonia. Another device is the Outaouais Social Economy Incubator, an incubation program for collective projects that lasts between 12 and 16 months where the constitution of the cooperative is reached after a training, prototipatge and first sales phase. The incubator sets a calendar rhythm, whereas the normal activity of the CDR responds to the rhythm of the cooperatives it accompanies, the two approaches complement each other.

Le Rez-de-jardin

On the ground floor of an old furniture warehouse there is the project “Le Rez-de-jardin”. The building is privately owned, but it has been ceded for 5 years for community and solidarity economy projects. Three initiatives coexist in it. Rack à Bécik is a solidarity cooperative with an auto-repair workshop, training and sale of reused bikes. There are no workers, the users themselves are in charge of its operation, repairing the bikes and training other people so that they learn how to do it. Bibli’Outils, is another solidarity cooperative in the form of a library of objects, where creation, repair or revaluation projects can be carried out using the spaces and tools offered. Horti-cité is an OBNL (legal formula for non-profit organisations in Quebec) of urban agriculture with greening initiatives or the creation of urban forests, of “edible aménagement or foodscaping”, enabling green areas that produce food.

Saint Camille

Saint-Camille is a municipality of just over five hundred inhabitants in eastern Quebec. It has a history of community cohesion and shared struggles. Recently they have had to fight against mining. Extractionism in Canada is very explicit and aggressive (we have also visited Asbestos, currently Val-des-Sources, where there was, until 2011, one of the largest asbestos mines in the world). In Saint-Camille, surveys were carried out for a gold mine and the community mobilised to prevent it.

At the cultural center Le P’tit Bonheur we gave a talk and did a workshop with the Commons Sustainability Model. Marie-Soleil L’Allier and Mònica Garriga introduced the concepts of the commons and then they worked with the canvas of the sustainability model. About 20 people participated. We asked them what project they wanted to work on. There are several collective projects, such as the community use of the old church or the purpose of making a shared “cava” to preserve food in winter. But finally the chosen project to work on was the farm Le Clé des Champs . Initaly the project had been a cooperative, but it wasn’t successful and a young couple assumed its continuity. They sell everything they produce but work long hours and are at the limit of their sustainability. They also collaborate with the school by making educational visits. People are aware that the farm is a collective responsibility, since it provides them with healthy food. For this reason, each pillar of the Sustainability Model we worked on gave rise to debate: who is the community and to whom does it relate, what resources are mobilised (land, water, energy, machinery, money), who does the work (the family that takes charge, a volunteer, temporary workers), how is its governance (and how it should be, should it return to be a cooperative?…) and how knowledge and skills are shared (activities with the school, web, newsletter,).


La Grande Transition, back in Montreal

The headquarters of the Concordia University, in the neighborhood of the same name, hosted for three days and for the third time «La Grande transition». On the first floor there was the auditorium where the plenary sessions were held, on the ground floor there were the stalls of different leftist, libertarian and social movement magazines, mainly from Quebec, the rest of Canada and the United States. And on the third floor there were the classrooms where several parallel sessions were held. There were talks and round tables with different themes related to the social, economic and ecological transition.

Commons sustainability model

The Commons Sustainability Model is a tool for working on projects with a community dimension that fit into the commons socioeconomic model or hybrid models. It has been developed by femProcomuns from a first version by Free Knowledge Institute and with various contributions, among which we must highlight those by the LabCoop cooperative team. The model is organized into 5 pillars and 2 axes. The first pillar is the community that has a need or wants to solve a challenge. One axis is that of the resources to be mobilized by this community and the necessary workforce. Another axis is the knowledge and skills to be shared within and outside the community, so that the project can be reproduced, and the way in which the project is governed. To apply the model in a practical way, both to existing projects that want to be analyzed or rethought, as well as new projects, graphic materials have been created, as well as written content and a game. All these materials are available with a free copyleft license (CC-by-sa) and accessible to be consulted and/or downloaded. In collaboration with Cultiver les communs and the Commons Ecosystem Working Group, these materials have been translated into French and are available for download on the website.


We want to thank Projet Collectif, and especially Marie-Soleil L’Allier and Jonathan Durand-Folco, for having invited us, for facilitating talks and workshops, as well as visits to projects and organizations. We also want to thank Samuel Raymond and Viviane Caron (and Spiky) for welcoming us into their home in Montreal. And we are very grateful to all the people who have shared their projects with us, who have dedicated their time to us and who have answered our questions and our curiosity to understand the different dimensions of the sustainability of what they are doing.