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Montreal Is Considering a Ban on Wood and Charcoal-Fired Cooking in Restaurants [Updated]

One borough is already putting a ban in place

Rotisserie chicken at Romados on the Plateau
Randall Brodeur/Eater Montreal

The City of Montreal is considering restricting the use of wood-fired ovens and cooking with charcoal (on grills or otherwise) in restaurants, according to Metro.

New rules could be devised as soon as in 2019 — but calm down, as it seems the city won’t be swooping in harshly to stop all bagel bakeries, pizza-makers and Portuguese chicken roasters in their tracks.

The reason for a ban on wood-burning stoves and ovens is that they release fine, polluting particles into the air, which contribute to smog — the effects of wood-burning are more noticeable in densely-populated areas, such as Montreal, where residents breathe in those particles. This is a well-established public health issue.

Update (October 19): According to the Gazette, Montreal’s public health department and McGill University have already started a study on air quality around wood-burning restaurants and bakeries. Samples have already been collected, and are currently being analyzed. The Gazette also reveals that any kind of total ban on wood-burning might be a last resort — businesses like bagel bakeries and rotisseries will be able to keep burning if they can keep their particle emissions below a certain level (with the help of filters and such).

A ban on wood-burning in homes took effect this month, with exceptions for more modern heating systems that emit relatively low amounts of this pollution. A similar ban has been considered in Vancouver, and the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency has banned most wood-burning heating systems for sale in that country (except for low-polluting options).

As for charcoal burning, Metro reports that the issue is more about cooking smells, rather than particle pollution.

Jean-François Parenteau, the environmental spokesperson on Montreal’s executive committee, told Metro that there won’t be any kind of sudden ban — if it happens, there will be a transition period.

There’s also the option of allowing existing businesses to keep on burning, and just banning newcomers. For example, a ban on charcoal and wood-burning is already about to be adopted by the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough due to complaints about smell and smoke. But the handful of businesses that already use wood and charcoal in Ahuntsic-Cartierville will have a grandfathered-in right to keep using their equipment.

The Plateau is also looking to Ahuntsic, and considering a ban before the main city council devises one.

A number of food institutions in the city burn wood or charcoal for their cooking: for example, both St-Viateur and Fairmount bagel stores use wood-fired ovens and have drawn complaints before. St-Viateur has taken substantial steps to reduce its pollution, including switching to part-wood, part-gas ovens in one of its bakeries; it’s unclear if Fairmount has made changes. Portuguese chicken favourites like Ma Poule Mouillée and Romados burn charcoal — Poule Mouillée owner Tony Alves told Métro that he has also taken steps to filter the emissions from his Rachel Street restaurant. A minority of pizzerias in the city use wood-fired ovens.

If a ban goes ahead, restaurants would be most likely to switch to gas-burning grills, ovens, and stoves — however, Joe Moreno of St-Viateur Bagel has previously said that this is something he would want to avoid, given that it could change the flavour of his product.