St. Pierre River tragedy- last open portion of the historic Montreal river is buried on the Meadowbrook golf course

    Les amis du parc Meadowbrook, released a press release on Feb. 24, 2022 with photos to document this tragic event. The photos were taken Feb. 19-20, 2022.

    Construction crews hired by the City of Montreal are currently burying the last open portion of the St. Pierre River on the Lachine side of Meadowbrook. See the press release for details.

    The storm sewer newly connected to the Toe Blake Park collector which was the source of the St. Pierre River. The riverbed, which can be seen in the bottom right of the picture, no longer has any flow as all the river water is now being bypassed through the storm sewer which will soon be completely buried.

    This is one of the few segments of the St. Pierre River storm sewer pipe that had not been buried yet on Feb. 13, 2022. It is right in the middle of the golf course as can be seen by the beautiful winter scene in the background. All that will remain of the river water will be manhole covers at intervals across this greenspace.

    This picture shows the small amount of frozen water remaining in the St. Pierre riverbed. A large pile of rocks and soil from the digging of the trench for the storm sewer looms over the river. Thankfully City workers assured us that the riverbed would not be filled in and that all soil not used to bury the sewer would be removed.

    Farewell to the St. Pierre River

    On October 23, 2021, Les amis and the members of 200 mètres–Gardiens de la rivière Saint-Pierre et de ses droits met at Toe Blake Park to pay homage to the St. Pierre River. Work will start in November to deviate the river into a new underground conduit, causing the river to be dry for a good part of the year.

    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.  Andrew Emond, an urban photographer, mapped the river’s approximate path in the 1800s, overlapping it with the current street map. This was after the river had been diverted from its original path which emptied into the St. Lawrence River, across from Nuns’ Island.

    (To view, click on the photo; to exit, click on top right box.)

     

     

    Participants celebrated the watercourse with poetry and music. Professor Kregg Hetherington began with a poem composed in 2010 by resident Mary Ellen (Molly) Baker, PhD, who was also at the event. She talks about her childhood memories in the 1940s living in Montreal West and the rich history of the river.


     

     

     

     

     

     

    The Little St-Pierre River

    Mary Ellen Baker

     

    One last stretch of the little river
    spills out from a culvert between the houses,
    flows along the floor of a gentle valley
    formed through eons of Spring flood.

    The brook still burbles across the golf course in April,
    attracts a hopeful pair of mallard ducks,
    before disappearing into darkness under the railroad.

    I remember when we were children
    we picnicked by the living stream
    when it still ran through green woods
    and trilliums reflected bright sunlight.

    Once, the seigneurs of Montreal, the Sulpicians,
    diverted the little river eastward,
    so it ran all the way to Old Montreal,
    flowing into the St Lawrence
    near where Governor Callière built his home.

    Once, Samuel de Champlain walked
    through the meadow at Pointe à Callière,
    looking to build an outpost for fur trade.
    “No place finer,” he said,
    “here one might sow grain and do gardening;
    level the ground and make it ready for building.”

    Once, First Peoples paddled their canoes
    into the little river’s quiet waters, camped in its meadows,
    on the trading route between the Lakes and the Sea.

    But now the little river runs underground in sewers,
    one small stretch still singing the song of the city’s birth.

    First written by Mary Ellen Baker in 2010, after a visit to Meadowbrook, inspired by “memories of picnicking by the brook over 60 years ago, when much of Cote St Luc was wooded. Then, I had to write a poem about the brook which is so beautiful but endangered.”

     

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    Next, a long-time member of Les amis, Al Hayek, read a poem by the American poet Robert Frost, A Brook in the City (1921). This poem lamenting the disappearance of a stream from the urban landscape is still relevant. It seems we have not heeded Frost’s warning.

     

    A Brook in the City

    Robert Frost – 1874-1963

     

    (To view, click on the photo; to exit, click on top right box.)

    The farmhouse lingers, though averse to square
    With the new city street it has to wear
    A number in. But what about the brook
    That held the house as in an elbow-crook?
    I ask as one who knew the brook, its strength
    And impulse, having dipped a finger length
    And made it leap my knuckle, having tossed
    A flower to try its currents where they crossed.
    The meadow grass could be cemented down
    From growing under pavements of a town;
    The apple trees be sent to hearth-stone flame.

     

    (To view, click on the photo; to exit, click on top right box.)

    Is water wood to serve a brook the same?
    How else dispose of an immortal force
    No longer needed? Staunch it at its source
    With cinder loads dumped down? The brook was thrown
    Deep in a sewer dungeon under stone
    In fetid darkness still to live and run—
    And all for nothing it had ever done
    Except forget to go in fear perhaps.
    No one would know except for ancient maps
    That such a brook ran water. But I wonder
    If from its being kept forever under
    The thoughts may not have risen that so keep
    This new-built city from both work and sleep.

     

     


    Guests were invited to share their thoughts on the river and the fight to save it. Louise Legault of the 200 mètres group read the Declaration of Legal Personhood for the St. Pierre River. You may read it here.

    Louise also unveiled a mock-up of a plaque (below) which will remind Montrealers of the existence of the St. Pierre River and encourage them to restore it when possible.

     

     

     

     

     

    In a land acknowledgement, Isabelle Sawyer of the Sierra Club indicated that Montreal is unceded land and it had been frequented by several Aboriginal groups.

     

     

    The organizers planned a special surprise to close the ceremony: a bagpipe rendition of Meeting of the Waters by piper Jérémy Tétrault-Farber.

     

     

    Plaque proposal, designed by Laura Cousineau (2021)

    (To view, click on the photo; to exit, click on top right box.)

     

    Requiem for a River: Burying the St. Pierre River

    View the video summary of the ceremonyPatrick Barnard’s Pimento Report

     

    Photo credits : Andy Dodge, Denise Avard, Nigel Dove

    Work has begun on Meadowbrook to divert St. Pierre River underground-  Fall 2021

     

    Preparation work in progress: capturing brown snakes, an endangered species. Photo: Andy Dodge

    The open stretch of the St. Pierre River that crosses the Meadowbrook golf course will soon be diverted into a drainage pipe system underground, but its story is not necessarily over. Members of Les amis and many others have fought hard to save it and they have not given up hope that it will be open to the daylight again someday.

    Following a court order, the Agglomeration Council of the City of Montreal has awarded a $1.5-million contract to carry out the work, which was scheduled to begin in November, after the golf season ends. Once completed, this project will decrease the river’s watershed by 96%.

    The project also involves the removal of a number of trees, and the contract specifies that 24 trees and numerous shrubs must be planted to replace them. We are concerned that some or all of the trees may be century-old trees and this will have a great impact on the environment as well.

    Les Amis, the Conseil régional de l’environnement de Montréal (CRE-Montreal) and the Mouvement Ceinture Verte recently wrote a joint letter to the provincial Minister of the Environment and Fight against Climate Change (MELCC) demanding that steps be taken to mitigate the environmental damage done by this work. We asked that the City of Montreal be required to build a temporary pipe structure that can be easily removed to allow the river to be re-instated once the pollution problem has been resolved, and that the city be required to construct a facility to capture rainwater and channel it back into the river bed in order to support local biodiversity. The reply was disappointing at best, the MELCC indicating it has no power to act in such a case where jurisdiction has been delegated to the municipal level.

    The St. Pierre River once flowed from the slopes of Mount Royal, through Côte Saint-Luc and into a lake at the bottom of the Saint-Jacques escarpment, entering the St. Lawrence River in Verdun. As city roads and houses were built, the river was diverted underground into the storm/rain water sewer system. The only large stretch of water remaining open to the sky is this stream, flowing from the Toe Blake storm/rain-water sewer collector on one side of the golf course and back into a sewer on the other side. Improperly attached sewer pipes from some buildings and houses in Montreal West and Côte Saint-Luc have allowed raw sewage and waste water to get into the storm/rain-water sewer system, polluting the stream for many years.

    Groupe Pacific, the company that owns the Meadowbrook property, took the issue to court. In January, 2021, the Quebec Court of Appeal ordered the City of Montreal to prevent all water, both polluted and clean, from flowing onto the golf course. City officials say their hands are tied by the ruling and they risk being charged with contempt of court if they do not follow it.

    At a virtual public meeting in mid-August, a Montreal city official, Chantal Morissette, director of the Water Department, explained that the contractor will dig across the golf course, along an existing servitude and install an underground pipe, extending from the Toe Blake collector to the far side of the property.

    Photo: Nigel Dove

    A number of groups and individuals have tried to find a way to prevent this outcome. Les Amis launched a campaign to write the mayor of Montreal about it, and 125 people, including eight environmental groups, have so far signed a declaration making themselves legal guardians of the river as part of the 200 mètres group that was formed. CRE-Montreal recently published an article in the online Bulletin Envîle Express. Arguing that the plan makes no sense, it noted that the source of the pollution is known and work was underway to resolve the problem. The article added that “the Court of Appeal did not deny that the creek is a watercourse within the meaning of the Act, a fact that had been previously established by the Superior Court,” and it suggested that the court-ordered solution results in more serious environmental consequences for this watercourse than the original problem.

    Streams and rivers increase the ability of green spaces to evacuate runoff water, particularly during intense storms or during thaw periods, thereby reducing the risk of flooding, and they help cool summer heat. They are also important as habitats for many species of plants, birds, aquatic animals and micro-organisms, and their presence contributes to the richness of biodiversity.

    Over the summer, the Eleanor London Côte Saint-Luc Public Library presented a talk on the river’s important role in the history of Montreal. A recording of this presentation is on the library’s YouTube channel.

    To making Meadowbrook an urban heritage nature park accessible for all, we now must add another wish: that the St. Pierre River flow once again on Meadowbrook, free from pollution, when the situation permits.

    The St. Pierre River in days past

    Ballad for an Urban River – more photos and song

     

    Thank you:

    Les amis du parc Meadowbrook would like to thank Fondation Rivières, GRAME, CRE-Montréal, Mouvement ceinture verte, the World Wildlife Federation, Les amis du parc Angrignon, the Sierra Club and urban history researcher Justin Bur for their support throughout this campaign.

    Special thanks also go to the cities of Côte Saint-Luc and Montreal, for their transparency.