Widened footpaths, wooden benches and lots of trees are all part of a $6.3-million makeover for Cabot Square in downtown Montreal.

The square at the corner of Atwater Ave. and Ste. Catherine St. has been off limits for just over a year due to renovations. The space reopened to the public Wednesday afternoon.

The square also boasts a refurbished vespasienne and a new concert space, as well as lots of seating, new lighting and free wifi.

Daily programming is planned, including music, dance, theatre – and aboriginal programming every Friday.

Cabot Square, so-named for the statue of explorer John Cabot at the centre of the space, has long been a popular meeting place for homeless aboriginal people in Montreal. And though some have been concerned about their health and well-being, at the same time their presence deterred others from going to the square.

“So often people see the negative, the drinking and that sort of thing happening, but it's also a community space where people can meet their friends and family when they're coming from the north so we wanted to make sure that is respected,” explained Aboriginal Network Cabot Square project manager Rachel Deutsch.

There was concern that those aboriginals and members of the homeless community would be pushed out by the renovation, but the city and the Native Friendship Centre have worked together to make sure the square is an inviting space for everyone, including the homeless population.

“We've been working very closely with the police, we've been working with other partners on restorative practice to make things in a good way when they come to the park, that they have the services here,” said Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter.

There is a community café on site that serves free coffee for aboriginals who gather there and two outreach workers and a summer student for the summer working there at all times. The idea is for them to cover as many hours as possible so that they can approach the homeless and at risk population that hangs out in the square and offer them help or point them in the direction of resources, such as an addiction counselling centre, that can help them.

“The more people that know that I'm going to be there the more I can do my job and work with these people because I've already built connections, links with them,” said Cabot Square community outreach worker David Crane.

Conversations can also take place in private in a new small but secure office behind the café, said Nakuset.

“We made sure that we put aboriginal pictures there. We're making it homey, we're offering them free coffee because they may not be able to afford it,” she said.

Mayor Denis Coderre said while there may be challenges, he hopes for the same success the city’s had with the also newly refurbished Emilie Gamelin Park.

“Usually each day we were picking up in Emilie Gamelin, before the revitalization process, 20 to 30 syringes per day,” he said. “In the overall month of June, we picked up 17. Okay? But it's not about pushing out people, it's about learning to live together.”