Canada's second largest city. Once upon a time, dozens of rivers flowed, namely the RIVIÈRE SAINT-PIERRE. Today, this river (like many others), is mysteriously out of sight and out of mind, with only a small portion of it still flowing above ground. But some are looking to retrace its history and bring it back in the public’s consciousness. People like quirky urban explorers Andrew Emond, whose magnificent photographs make us reflect on how these waterways have changed over the centuries, and Danielle Plamondon, an active member of a vast international network of underground 'drainers'.
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From its source in the cemetery on the top of Mont-Royal, the St-Martin River once drained the entire Plateau Montreal. Still gurgling above the surface today in parts of Outremont, this stream wound its way through Mile End and the Plateau towards Parc Lafontaine, where the ponds are vestiges of the former waterway. The St-Martin River flowed through what is now the neighbourhood of Ville Marie, then west along Montreal's fortification wall, where St. Antoine Street is today. It continued to a small lake at Chaboillez Square near the current location of the Dow Planetarium. Here it joined the Little St. Pierre River and continued through Old Montreal until it spilled into the St-Laurent River.
Little St-Pierre River
The Little St. Pierre River played a key role in the founding of Montreal, as Samuel de Champlain decided to land and settle on the point where it met the St-Lawrence River. The function of the Little St-Pierre was twofold; it served as a port for boats and canoes, and at the same time acted as a barrier protecting French settlers from incursions by the indigenous Iroquois population. It was the ongoing conflict with the Iroquois that eventually incited residents of Montreal's first settlement, Ville Marie, to follow the little river westwards. The valley of the Little St. Pierre River represents the first line of communication into the western part of the island.
The St. Pierre River is considered the most important of Montreal's lost rivers because of its size and course. It originates at the top of the mountain in what is now Côte-des-Neiges, continues its flow westwards through today's Nôtre-Dame-de-Grace, makes a sudden turn to the east at Côte-Saint-Luc, collects at the bottom of the Saint-Jacques cliff, winds its way through Saint Henri, and eventually turns south to rejoin the Saint Laurent River at L'île des Soeurs. For as long as time, this winding waterway acted as a drainage route to the entire western side of Montreal's Mountain.
Several Westmount streams converged into one at the Glen and tumbled down the hill. In St. Henri, a mill and tanneries clustered along the stream, which was joined by the St. Pierre River on the banks of Otter Lake.Westmount, formerly known as Côte St. Antoine, derives its present-day name from its location on the western side of Montreal's Mount Royal. The many streams and gullies that once crossed Côte St. Antoine were a result of thousands of years of erosion caused by rain and melting snow which flowed down the slopes of the western side of the Mountain and into Lac St. Pierre in the village of St. Henri des Tanneries. Many of these streams converged at the south end of what is now Westmount Park and formed a small river called the Glen. Rapid urban development in the early 20th century meant that the Glen as well as most of the smaller streams that flowed through the town of Côte St. Antoine were filled in or diverted underground. The fountains and waterways that we find in Westmount Park today are the last vestiges of these lost rivers.
A number of Montreal’s former rivers flowed through and fed the shallow and swampy lake that was once known as Lac à la Loutre. Also called Petit Lac St. Pierre because of its convergence with the St. Pierre River, it extended nearly seven kilometers from Ville St. Pierre in Montreal West across today’s neighborhoods of Nôtre-Dame-de-Grace and St. Henri, and continued on to Atwater Avenue. Lac à la Loutre was long and narrow reaching just over a kilometer at its widest point.