04/30/2014 08:21 EDT | Updated 06/30/2014 05:59 EDT

Place du Canada to get a facelift

The City of Montreal says Place du Canada is an important green space in the heart of downtown, so it will spend $9 million to spruce up the park between Peel and Metcalfe streets, south of René-Lévesque Blvd.

“It's important to have urban forests. It's good for tourism, it's good for the quality of life,” said Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre.

Members of Héritage Montréal have been fighting for the revitalization of the square since the 1990s. Currently Place du Canada is filled with cracked asphalt and patches of dirt mixed with grass.

“There's been a great neglect of downtown, of the public space in particular. Probably there's less voters around here than in other places so it's raised a sense of urgency or latency for the square here,” said Dinu Bumbaru, spokesman for Héritage Montréal.

Place du Canada was created in 1872. In its plan, the city says it will revamp the park but ensure it still maintains a Victorian look.

The city’s plan includes planting 90 trees in the park, planting lawn and flowers, creating pedestrian paths, restoring the statues, installing new lighting and widening the sidewalks along the park on Peel and Metcalfe streets.

Bumbaru said Montrealers should be able to enjoy the spot’s rich history.

“The birthplace of great public squares started with Dominion Square in the 1870s. Before that you had Phillips Square ... but really this is the big one and this wonderful space was created to celebrate Montreal as the great metropolis.”

A former cemetery

Before the area became a public square, the plot of land housed the Saint-Antoine Cemetery since 1799.

City officials said it was crucial that the new plans honoured the city’s deceased still buried there.

“It's clearly important to respect our past and our identity and of course they will do what they have to do at that level,” Coderre said.

While most of the bodies will remain under the park, some will be moved to Mount Royal.

Construction starts in the coming weeks and is expected to be completed by November 2015.