Posts Tagged ‘St. Pierre River’

Following the St. Pierre River of Yesteryear

What we have affectionately called the Vincent Eggen pool, the resurgence of an old marsh

As a part of the 2019 Jane’s Walks, Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook and Revitalisation Saint-Pierre teamed up to offer two walks pertaining to the historic St. Pierre River.

Our guide, environmental historian Laetitia Deudon, is studying the river as part of her doctoral thesis at Université de Montréal/Université de Valenciennes and has done research in Montreal, Ottawa, New York and Aix-en-Provence in France to follow the evolution of the river over the centuries.

Environmental history looks at the relationships between society and its environment and how one influences the other. It works mostly with old maps, written archives, archeological data and place names (street names, notably) as well as morphogens, landscape elements that preserve the memory of age-old environments.

With respect to place names, we learned that “St. Pierre,” the name  given to the river, the lake and the old town, as well as a street, pays tribute to Baron Pierre Chevrier de Fancamp, a noble from Picardie, France. He was a founding member of the Société de Notre-Dame which financed the colonization of Montreal. Another interesting place name in Saint-Pierre is the rue du Moulin. Streets usually named as such often refer to a windmill but here, the mills were much further away, at the entrance of Lachine and the exit of lac Saint-Pierre. In this case, the street is named after a watermill that used to be in the area. We even saw a morphogen of the St. Pierre River by observing how St. Joseph Boulevard in Lachine forms an elbow shape as it would have followed the path of the old St. Pierre River.

The St. Pierre River does not easily reveal its secrets. Some maps contain errors, while others do not show the river at all but then it reappears in later maps in altogether different areas. The first maps and references date back to the middle of the 17th century. They speak of fertile prairies and abundant fish and game along its river banks. Some sections of the river would have been up to 10 or 12 feet wide and fed by rainwater, it snaked along flat areas. Man had the first impact on the river by clearing the land in the area. Then, agricultural use during the French seigniorial regime and hydraulic work accentuated the tendency of the river to jump its banks and flood the Coteau Saint-Pierre area in the late 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century.

As early as the end of the 17th century, colonial authorities tried to harness the river by straightening it to make it more navigable for transport of goods and also to feed the growing number of mills of the Sulpicians. The French tried to build a canal around 1680-1700 but found the Montreal bedrock a formidable barrier for builders used to the softer clays of Europe.

From then on, the history of the St. Pierre River is closely linked to that of the Lachine Canal. What used to be an asset became a nuisance in the 19th century with the frequent floods and the increasingly unhealthy aspects  of the river; domestic, farming and industrial waste all found their way into the river. In 1821, work on the Lachine Canal got underway in earnest. A first collector, the William collector, a section of which can be seen at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, was built in 1832. A feat of Victorian engineering, this masonry conduit encased the river below ground at its eastern end. More work followed in 1897, in 1914-1915 and in 1932 – with the building of the Great St. Pierre collector, this time a concrete work further burying the river – and later in the 1960s.

Economic development and the sanitation movement, which especially targeted stagnant waters and marshes as sources of epidemics, finally won the day and the river, like many others in Montreal,  all but disappeared from view. Today, only 200 meters of this once important river remains to be seen on Meadowbrook.

For more info on Montreal’s sewer system, please consult

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Will Meadowbrook lose its brook?

Montreal, June 29, 2018–Following a decision by Judge Chantal Corriveau of the Quebec Superior Court (file 500-17-079150-135) of June 7, the court “ORDERED the City of Montreal to obtain from the ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement, et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques a certificate of authorization to undergo work to put a stop to the pollution of the Meadowbrook stream in a maximum of four months from the present decision. The City is to have completed said work in a maximum of 18 months and further proceed to decontaminate the banks of the said stream in a maximum of 24 months from this decision”. (Our translation)

The rehabilitation of a stream sounds like good news. The stream in question is in fact one of the few sections of the historic St. Pierre River still visible in Montreal.

The St. Pierre River likely took its source on the western slope of Mount Royal. It then flowed into St. Pierre Lake (dried up with the creation of the Lachine Canal) to finally reach the St. Laurence River in Verdun. It was diverted to the Little St. Pierre River (on which the French colonists settled at Pointe à Callières) in the 18th century to power some watermills. It was finally buried in the Montreal sewer system in the 19th century, being far too polluted.

Two centuries later, history repeats itself. While many cities around the world are daylighting lost rivers, Montreal might well be forced to cover what is left of the St. Pierre River because it is too polluted and time is of the essence to remedy the situation.

Just where does that pollution come from? Likely from a Montreal storm sewer that is being contaminated from cross-connections in some 200 buildings located for the most part in Montreal-West and Cote St. Luc according to the City of Montreal.

The case has been before the courts since 2013 when the owner of Meadowbrook, Meadowbrook Groupe Pacific, filed an injunction to “force Montreal to stop the contamination by capping the stream or by any other mean that would have a comparable result”. Montreal has tried to join Montreal-West and Cote St Luc to the suit but this was refused by the court. This last decision practically spells the demise of the river.

Groupe Pacific bought the 57 hectares of Meadowbrook in 2006 for $3 million, a sum reflecting the thwarted efforts of the preceding owners, Canadian Pacific Railway and its subsidiaries, to develop the land. With this latest decision, Groupe Pacific will have its land decontaminated at the expense of the taxpayers, which will increase its value and increase the area, the developer having gotten rid of the river that runs through it.

The MDDELCC should not allow the City of Montreal to bury the river. The whole land plays a pivotal role in absorbing spring runoff and rainfall and provides a welcome respite to migrating birds. With the reduction of the wetlands in the Technnoparc in St. Laurent and work on the Turcot exchange near the St. Jacques escarpment, here is another area on the migratory bird flight plan to be destroyed.

For more information:

Louise Legault, director, Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook