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.”



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

Leave a Reply