Saving the St. Pierre River. A new approach: legal personhood

    In our effort to save what remains of the St. Pierre River on Meadowbrook (refer to the article below), one of the last above-ground sections of this historic river, we knew we needed something new. In February 2020, the Minganie MRC and the Ekuanitshit Innu Council announced a declaration of legal personhood, with nine rights, for the Magpie River on the North Shore. We hope that we can use the same legal means to save the 200-metre section of the river that flows in our city.

    We see an imminent danger for the St. Pierre River: the section that runs across the golf course is at risk of drying up completely, following the recent Appeal Court decision prohibiting the release of any water onto the property. This would mean the death of the river.

    On April 8, Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook’s steering committee unanimously adopted the declaration that you can read below. It states that the river shall possess nine rights: the right to exist, the right to flow, the right to freedom from pollution, respect for its natural cycles and development, the maintenance of its biodiversity, the right to perform its essential functions within its ecosystem, the maintenance of its integrity, the right to restoration and regeneration, and particularly to daylighting, and the right to defend its rights before the courts.

    The St. Pierre river in better days

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    Declaration

    We, the undersigned, declare that, like the Magpie River, which has been recognized by the regional county municipality of Minganie and the Ekuanitshit Innu Council as having legal personhood, the St. Pierre River that flows on the Meadowbrook golf course in Lachine (lot 1 292 249) and whose status has been established in the Supreme Court by the Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (Meadowbrook Groupe Pacific c. Ville de Montréal file no. 500-17-079150-135), must also be recognized as having legal personhood.

    This watercourse is one of the last visible sections of the St. Pierre River, which once flowed from Mount Royal to the St. Lawrence River opposite Nuns’ Island. The river played a role in Montreal’s early years and had a significant impact on the City’s history, through transport, agriculture, populating of the territory and industry. Urbanization and industrialization have taken their toll on the river, and it was largely buried in the sewer system.

    We therefore declare that the river shall possess the following rights:

      1. The right to exist
      2. The right to flow
      3. The right to freedom from pollution
      4. Respect for its natural cycles and development
      5. The maintenance of its biodiversity
      6. The right to perform its essential functions within its ecosystem
      7. The maintenance of its integrity
      8. The right to restoration and regeneration, and particularly to daylighting
      9. The right to defend its rights before the courts

    We declare that Montreal’s other waterways should also be granted this legal status and these rights. We also fully support the efforts of the International Observatory on the Rights of Nature to have similar status for the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries recognized by the National Assembly.

    We will act as guardians and representatives of the St. Pierre River to protect its rights.

    Signed on this 8th day of April 2021,

    Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook


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    The St. Pierre River is one of 36 streams that once flowed across the Island of Montreal but are now buried underground. The declaration states that the other remaining waterways on the Island of Montreal should also be granted legal status and rights. We have asked our partner organizations and our supporters to join us in signing the declaration. Many have already agreed.

    We invite you to become guardians of the river and its rights. Please contact us to add your name to the declaration: lesamidemeadowbrook@gmail.com

    Please write the mayor – We must save the St. Pierre River!

    Following a recent Quebec Court of Appeal decision concerning the St. Pierre River where it crosses the Meadowbrook golf course, Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook is concerned about the future of the river, and it has launched a letter-writing campaign to try to save it.

    The environmental group Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook has been working for over thirty years to preserve the green space on the Meadowbrook golf course as an urban nature heritage park, accessible to all. This 57-hectare tract of land, half of which lies in Lachine (Montreal) and half in the City of Côte Saint-Luc, is traversed by a two-hundred metre stretch of the St. Pierre River.

    Dec. 2020. Photo Nigel Dove

    The situation

    The storm sewer collector that feeds the river is contaminated by sanitary sewer cross-connections, so the court had ordered that all pollution of the river must be stopped. As of last summer, most of the water was able to be deviated from entering the golf course except during periods of heavy rain. This was already of considerable concern to us as it led to a drying up of the river through most of year, thus stressing the river ecosystem.

    A January 2021 Quebec Court of Appeal decision may seal the fate of the river. It forbids any water from the storm sewer collector, contaminated or not, from flowing on the golf course. This would in effect permanently kill the river.

    The City of Montreal recognizes the importance of rivers and streams on the Island of Montreal. In fact, in 2014, it gave nine reasons (Resolution CM14 1141) why rivers and streams should be protected, ranging from ecosystem protection to reduction in flooding, and thenunanimously adopted a motionto protect and manage existing urban rivers and create or recreate new ones.

    We believe there are solutions to the contamination of the St. Pierre River flowing through the golf course other than a permanent deviation and we are asking Montreal to find a solution.

     

    The environmental issues

    • Streams increase the capacity and available surface area to evacuate runoff water, particularly during intense storms or during thaw periods, and reduce the risk of flooding and overflows.*
    • Streams and their vegetated banks are islands of natural coolness and play an important role in the health and well-being of Montrealers.*
    • Streams are important elements of an ecosystem since they are habitats and refuges for several species, and their presence contributes to the richness of biodiversity.*
    • The water quality of the St. Lawrence and Rivière des Prairies depends on the quality of their tributaries; *
    • The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of access to nature: Meadowbrook shows tremendous potential as an urban nature heritage park accessible to all.

    *an unofficial translation from the 2014 Resolution CM14 1141 referred to above

     

    The heritage significance

    Some thirty-six rivers and streams used to flow across the island of Montreal. Urbanization and industrialization caused their complete or partial disappearance.

    • The St. Pierre River had its source at the foot of Mount Royal and originally emptied into the St. Lawrence River in Verdun. At the foot of the Falaise Saint-Jacques, it formed a shallow lake, Lac Saint-Pierre or Otter Lake, where the Turcot Interchange now sits.
    • In Montreal’s early days, the river was a route across the island that avoided the Lachine Rapids; it provided water for people, crops and livestock.
    • In order to provide water power to the Sulpicians’ mills, in 1697, water from the St. Pierre River was diverted into the Petite Rivière which flowed into the St. Lawrence at Pointe à Callière. In the 19th century, the Petite Rivière was buried in the William Collector.
    • There have been several failed attempts to daylight the St. Pierre River in recent years.

     

    To learn more, please seean article on the St. Pierre Riveron our website.  Also, here isour group’s presentation about the riverprepared by Louise Legault at an international conference on daylighting rivers held in Florence, Italy, in 2020.

     

    Stand up for the river     –     Please write the mayor!

    Please write to the City of Montreal asking them to preserve the St. Pierre River in line with the sentiments expressed in the 2014 Resolution.

    We have prepared a form letter inFrenchandEnglishfor your convenience. Please rewrite or modify as you like.

    And, feel free to pass along this note to anyone you think would be interested in the issue.

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    To:    Madame Valérie Plante, Mayor of Montreal valerie.plante@montreal.ca

    Copy:

    • robert.beaudry@montreal.ca Responsible for housing, real estate strategy, large parks and parc Jean-Drapeau
    • sylvain.ouellet@montreal.ca  Responsible for water/waterworks, infrastructures, and the Commission des services électriques
    • lesamisdemeadowbrook@gmail.com for our files

    Why Build a Bat Box?

    Bats have been around more than 50 million years and there are more than 1400 species.  Yet most of us know little about them.  We may know about their scary appearances alongside witches and vampires in the dark of night in ghost stories and fairy tales.  But we may not know about the actual superhero work they do in pest control, plant pollination and seed dispersal.

    In the current era of climate change, environmental destruction and the global pandemic, bats increasingly are also being recognized as an important “indicator species” (https://www.bats.org.uk):  they give us signals of loss of biodiversity and they remind us of the risks and damages created by human encroachment on animal habitats.  In the era of Coronavirus 19 we are seeing how human interference and environmental destruction have created new pathways for viruses to jump ship and move over from the host animals with whom they have long peacefully cohabited to human populations where the same virus may wreak pandemic havoc.  Reclaiming and creating habitats for bats not only enables bats to continue to do essential work for the planet but will also help keep intact habitats for the viruses that live with them.

    Since 2006, millions of bats including the Quebec Northern long-eared bat have died from White Nose Syndrome WNS ( https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/static-page/what-is-white-nose-syndrome ).  WNS is caused by the Pd fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans).  The fungus wakes up hibernating bats causing them to deplete their winter fat stores too early and to die of starvation.  Bats with WNS may also leave their winter roosts too early flying out into freezing temperatures and dying of hypothermia.  Although humans are not affected by WNS, they are thought to be responsible for importing the Pd fungus spores to North America on shoes and clothing.  This is further evidence of the web that binds animal welfare to human activity and reason for humans to work to create and rehabilitate habitats for bats including building bat boxes, renaturalizing urban green spaces and yards and practising pesticide–free farming.

    Where Do Bats Live in Quebec?

    Bats live in roosts.  Two species — Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) and Northern Long-eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis) — are common to Quebec.  Both are non-migratory and hibernate in Quebec.

    Bats move around to different roosts at different times of year.  In summer, females gather in colonies in tight crevices to form a warm, safe maternity roost to have and nurse their young.  They may roost in tree hollows or under bark.  Or they may use the built environment and roost in barns or churches, under shingles or behind shutters, or in attics and roof spaces.  In winter, Quebec bats hibernate for 8-9 months in colonies in roosts that keep a stable, low temperature often underground in caves, mines, cellars and service tunnels where they will not be disturbed by light, noise or predators.

    The Work Bats Do

    Bats are mammals.  Like humans, they carry and nurse their young with milk.  But bats are also the only mammals that can fly and they like to hang upside down.   Unlike other mammals, bats are nocturnal:  they work and feed at night.

    Night is when bats do their important work: pest control.  Bats eat beetles, moths, mosquitoes, crickets and other insects.  The nocturnal work bats do eating insects saves North American farmers billions of dollars in crop damage by insects.  A healthy bat populations reduces the need for pesticide sprays.  Yet industrial agriculture relies on pesticides that destroy habitats for bats.  Large-scale commercial agriculture has also eliminated hedgerows and woods between fields that offered roosting sites for bats.

    Bats are also essential workers as pollinators.  Over 500 plant species rely on bats for pollination (https://www.batcon.org).  And some bats play a critical role in spreading the seeds of trees and other plants and can play an important role in reforestation after logging, fire and urban development projects.

    Loss of Bat Habitats

    Despite the essential work bats do for humans as pest exterminators, plant pollinators and seed spreaders, humans are the main cause of the startlingly rapid decline in bat populations worldwide.  Urban expansion destroys natural woodland habitats.  Bats have adapted by making roosts in buildings but chemicals and plastics now used in construction make new buildings uninhabitable for bats. Human use of pesticides and intensive farming practices kill insect populations that are bats’ only source of food.  Highways create open spaces that bats have difficulty crossing: bats like to fly close to trees for protection from weather and predators or they fly close to the ground which puts them in the path of traffic.  As nocturnal animals, bats are disturbed by night pollution — excess lighting from streetlights, for example.  So bats delay leaving their roosts after dusk reducing the time they can forage for insects.  This puts the survival and growth of their young at risk.

    For bat populations to recover and survive, we need to create new habitats and enhance the habitats that remain.  More people are starting to protect bats by building bat houses and by keeping their gardens chemical-free.  Their rewards are:  natural insect control, no bats in their cellars or attics and lots of fun bat-watching.

    Building a Bat Box

    Bat houses should be made of exterior plywood or rough cedar and be at least 24” tall and 14” wide and 2”-3” deep so bats can move around.

    For bats to hang easily, the inside should have grooves every ¼” or be lined with 1/8” plastic mesh stapled to lie flat.

    To protect the bats from blue jays, racoons, snakes or other predators, entrance slots should be no deeper than ¾” – 1”.

    The house should have a landing that extends 4”-6” below the entrance to allow bats easy access in and out.

    An angled roof will allow rain to run off.

    A ventilation slot about one-third of the way from the bottom will give the bats warmer and cooler areas to move between.

    Caulked joints will help bats keep warm and dry.

    Galvanized screws will prolong the life of the house.

    Choosing a site for your bat house:

    To take flight, bats usually need to free-fall several feet when leaving the house to feed at night.  Mount bat house at least 12 feet off the ground, the higher the better to be safe from predators.

    Bats need an open area around the entrance to give them room to swoop in and out of the house.  Make sure there is at least 15-20 feet clearance in front of the house.

    Bats like a warm place to raise their young.  Face your bat house south or southeast to take advantage of direct sunlight.  Paint the exterior of the house with a non-toxic black paint to absorb the sun’s heat.

    For bat house designs, check out:  www.batconservation.org.  See also “Putting up a Bat House” at: https://cwf-fcf.org/en/explore/bats/bat-house.html