Montreal May Ban Wood-Fired Ovens. Is This the End of the Classic Montreal Bagel?

credit: St-Viateur bagel shop in Montreal/ Lloyd Alter

Wood smoke is a huge source of particulate pollution and really shouldn't be in residential neighbourhoods. But the flavour...

Many people are nuts over Montreal's famous bagels; when I last visited I had to bring a dozen from Fairmount back for my daughter's in-laws, who won't touch St. Viateur bagels, and then go around the corner to get the others for my son's in-laws, who won't eat Fairmount.

But this all may change, as the City of Montreal considers a ban on wood-fired ovens like the ones used for bagels and pizza. The city already has banned wood burning fireplaces. According to Michelle Lalonde of the Montreal Gazette, it is a big problem.

“Wood burning in urban areas is a public health issue,” said Dr. David Kaiser, physician-manager of the environmental health team with Montreal’s public health department. “If you want to go camping (and light a fire) you are exposing yourself and maybe contributing to poor air quality in the woods,” he said. “But in a city like Montreal it’s really contributing to a negative impact on everybody’s health when we have wood burning taking place in our neighbourhoods.”

The city has not yet banned the ovens, but is working with the bakeries to clean up their emissions, which exceed municipal standards. Although wood fired ovens are not the largest source of emissions (cars put out ten times as much), the bagel bakeries are concentrated in a residential area and surrounded by schools and day care centres. Neighbours want them gone.

“This industrial activity in a residential neighbourhood is harmful, toxic and outdated,” said François Grenier, who lives in Mile-End near Fairmount Bagel. “That chimney has to come down or be relocated. The procrastination has to stop. The city and Fairmount Bagel both know it: our quality of life has been compromised for decades ... they have to stop poisoning us.”

If the wood-burning ovens are banned, it might change the taste of the bagels, although according to another Gazette article, "St-Viateur Bagel and Fairmount Bagel have both indicated in the past that wood-burning is not essential to their production and would not change the product." That's not what the owner of St-Viateur Bagel is saying now: “It would affect the flavour of our bagel, and our tradition, our story."

And as a resident notes,

I think maybe businesses want to ask themselves which side they want to be on on this. Public awareness is growing. Montreal Public Health has said this is a serious public health concern. The times are changing. It’s like smoking on airplanes or in a restaurant. Do you want to be a dinosaur or do you want to be forward thinking?
©. K Martinko -- A basket of fresh-baked bagels

© K Martinko -- A basket of fresh-baked bagels

I suspect that the wood fire really does add to the flavour. I spend the summer eating bagels made by TreeHugger Katherine's sister Sarah Jane in her wood-fired pizza oven. You can really taste the difference. But at least if they change in Montreal, I won't have to do all that shopping for the in-laws when I am in town.