One of the oldest underground pipes in the metropolis burst on Friday evening, 153 years after resisting all bad weather: a real technical feat when you know the epic behind the construction of the water network in Montreal.
“The pipes installed at that time were really very solid. As proof, the conduct that broke [vendredi] evening rue Notre-Dame Ouest has been supplying citizens with water for over 150 years, whereas originally it was probably not intended to serve the current population, which is much larger than in the 19th century ”, commented the City of Montreal.
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The pipe in question, which cracked below rue Notre-Dame between boulevard Saint-Laurent and rue Saint-Sulpice, was installed in 1868, 12 years after the inauguration of the public water system.
However, when the work began, Montreal had only about 60,000 inhabitants, less than a city like Granby today.
“Before that, there were wells, there were also water vendors who carted through the streets. To stock up, they backed up their horse in the river and opened the trap door of their barrel. It gives a little idea of the quality of the water at that time! ” told historian Paul-André Linteau, a specialist in Montreal.
During the first half of the 19th century, the running water network was indeed a luxury, managed by a handful of private companies and accessible to only a few well-off.
Then, in 1848, the City of Montreal bought this system, which was based essentially on exterior wooden conduits connecting a pond on top of Mount Royal to the opulent residences.
The Great Fire of Montreal of 1852, which threw a sixth of the population into the streets, however thwarted the municipality’s plans to supply all city dwellers with water.
“Everything had to be rebuilt. It was following this event that the aqueduct system as we know it was born, with the Aqueduct canal, in the South-West – from which the water is pumped – to the reservoir. which is still there on the McGill University campus. The water then goes down into the houses through underground canals, ”Mr. Linteau popularized.
After the opening of the canal in 1856, it was only a matter of a few years before all Montrealers were connected to running water.
Living conditions change dramatically, especially since the water supply network is developing at the same time as that for the sewers.
Each house is then equipped with a tap. Baths and showers are gradually replacing the basins that people used to wash themselves.
“It was also around this time that toilets as we know them today arrived. At the start of the 20th century, however, there were still a few hummocks in Montreal, but we are going to launch a vast campaign to eliminate them, so that before the First World War, there are hardly any more ”, added Paul. -André Linteau.
However, if hygiene at the beginning of the 20th century no longer had anything to do with what it was 50 years earlier, sanitary conditions had not kept pace.
“You should know that the water that was pumped from the river was not treated. There were epidemics and a lot of infant mortality, ”explained the professor emeritus of the history department of UQAM.
The construction of the first filtration plant on Atwater Street and the addition of chlorine to the water drastically reduced infant mortality in the 1910s.
Subsequently, the aqueduct system continued to expand in order to respond to the population explosion of the metropolis.
Today, the City of Montreal indicates that it is not uncommon for the oldest pipes in the network to experience breakage, as was the case at the corner of Saint-Laurent and Notre-Dame on Friday.
The leak did not cause any damage. Notre-Dame Street West was closed to traffic in the area over the weekend and should be reopened for the return to work on Monday.