The city will follow the court order to cut off the polluted river, the last remaining exposed stretch of one of the few rivers on the island of Montreal.

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Montreal will soon begin work to clear a 200-meter stretch of the St-Pierre River, a waterway that has figured in the city’s history since before European settlement.


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Residents who live near the Meadowbrook Golf Course recently received notices that construction would begin this week to divert the creek into an underground sewer.

“The work stems from a decision by the Quebec Court of Appeals to cut off the flow of contaminated water into the creek,” the notice says.

Running through July 14, 2022, the project will include cutting down trees, building a 250-meter dike and storm sewer, and carrying out concrete work on a culvert, he said.

For local environmental organizations, the start of construction marks the bitter end of decades of efforts to save a surviving remnant of the free-flowing rivers that once traversed the island.

“We lost,” said Louise Legault, director of Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook.


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“There is no other way to say it. And we all lost, because we are losing the last remaining visible section of a historic river, ”he said.

The River St-Pierre once descended the slopes of Mount Royal to present-day Côte-St-Luc, before dropping down the escarpment south of St-Jacques St. W. to a lake near the present-day Turcot interchange and continuing to the St. Lawrence River at Verdun. Sulpician priests diverted it to Old Montreal in the 1690s to feed a mill, said Justin Bur, a researcher who has studied early waterways.

In 1832, part of the river was incorporated into Montreal’s first sewer collector, which can be seen in the basement of the Pointe-à-Callière archeology museum.


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At the Pointe à Callière museum, the 1838 stonework encloses the St-Pierre river with a mural of its apparent appearance in 1642.
At the Pointe à Callière museum, the 1838 stonework encloses the St-Pierre river with a mural of its apparent appearance in 1642. Photo by Gordon Beck /Montreal Gazette Archives

In January, the Quebec Court of Appeals ordered Montreal to cut off the water flowing into the surviving section of Meadowbrook Creek, which is fed by a storm sewer carrying contaminated sewage from neighboring Côte-St-Luc and Montreal West.

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Developer Meadowbrook Groupe Pacific Inc., which owns the golf course, said it had been complaining about the polluted stream since 2012.

The source of the contamination is decades-long cross connections in Côte St-Luc and Montreal West, where plumbers incorrectly connected some household sewer pipes to a storm sewer instead of a sanitary sewer. Montreal blamed those municipalities, saying it was their job to fix the problem. However, the court ruled that it was Montreal’s responsibility to remove the contaminated water from the open stream.


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He also ordered the city to clean up the banks removing all traces of fecal coliforms and other contaminants, complete all work within 18 months, cover all legal costs, and pay Groupe Pacific another $ 27,135.26.

The result will be an empty ditch whose future is uncertain, said environmentalist Daniel Green.

The environment is the big loser in the legal saga, he said.

“(The judges) may have applied the law, but this is not justice,” he said.

“There was no one talking by the river during these trials,” Green charged.

“The unfair parties here are the two cities and the city of Montreal. But punishing them by destroying a river is not the punishment that fits the crime, ”he said.

Green, who used staining tests to identify the precise directions causing the pollution, said municipalities should have solved the problem rather than condemning the river.


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“It is a testament to the complete incompetence of the bureaucracy to fix anything,” he said.

“We are losing the last remaining visible section of a historic river,” says Louise Legault, director of Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Meadowbrook Groupe Pacific bought the land in 2006 for $ 3 million and submitted plans for a 1,600-unit housing complex called Petite Rivière.

However, Montreal blocked the project in 2015 by zoning its part of the site as green space for recreational use, marking a victory for conservationists who had fought for a quarter of a century to protect the land from development.

Legault said his organization tried to negotiate an 11-hour deal with the developer over the summer to save the river, but a broker told him a deal was not possible unless he was allowed to build 650 housing units on the site. Groupe Pacific declined to comment Thursday.


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Calls to the city to find a solution were to no avail, he said. On April 22, which was Earth Day, Mayor Valérie Plante responded to a letter from Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook saying that the city intended to comply with the court’s ruling. The “city of Montreal has no choice,” he wrote.

Plante’s office also declined to comment Thursday.

Green said the city’s inability to save the stream raises the question of whether it is competent to protect the St. Lawrence River, where Montreal releases high concentrations of the E. coli bacteria. A wastewater disinfection project with ozone has been in the works for years.

John Wilson, an urban lost rivers expert with the Toronto Lost Rivers Project, said the river’s fate is the result of “a wide variety of bad decisions” made over decades.


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Today, the trend in many cities is to “light the day” on lost rivers, bring old waterways back to the surface, he noted.

“It’s really a shame every time we lose them and in many places we are trying to bring them back,” he said.

Rivers help prevent flooding because, unlike pipes, which can only carry a finite amount of water, they respond better to the ebb and flow of nature and are surrounded by plants and porous surfaces that absorb water, Wilson said.

“As long as there is a live stream, it has many connected benefits for the community as a whole. Plants, birds and other living things gravitate towards the water, ”he said.

The loss of a river cuts people’s connection with nature and also with its history, he added.

“It’s a connection to all those things that make our life more than just a daily job: the nature around us and a connection to everyone who has been here in the past,” said Wilson.

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