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2005 12 15
Finding Lost Montreal
By David Hammonds

The first installment in a periodic adventure series for urban sleuths.

Part 1: A Lost River and an Island

Many of us are familiar with the elongated mound, Coteau Saint Louis, on which the settlers of New France built the original fortified town of Montreal in the 1600s. If you are not, then take a stroll down the southern end of Blvd Saint Laurent. When you cross the Ville Marie expressway you also cross the line of one of the courses of the “lost” Rivière St. Pierre. From rue St Antoine, the old Craig Street, ascend the marked north slope passing rue St. Jacques with the modern Place de la Justice on your left. At rue Notre Dame you reach the plateau or spine of the old town. You then descend on a gentler slope, past rue Royer and rue St. Paul to rue de la Commune, which was the quayside of the early harbours.

Except in summer, the Riviere St Pierre, which had to be traversed by small bridges or boardwalks was, at best, swampy ground. It was subject to serious flooding at the time of the spring break up, after ice “shoves” as well as periodic inundation in the fall, which effectively made old Montreal into an island.

Traversing the "Island"

Despite the arrival of the first cars, the late nineteenth century was still the era of the draught animal. Montreal people travelled on foot, in horse drawn cabs, coaches, sleighs or traps and, from 1861-1892, by horse drawn street cars. Freight was hauled to and from the harbour by horse drawn carts. But strong as those horse teams were, it was found that the steep grades of the roads which passed over the mound to reach the harbour were generally too arduous for them, and carters were forced to use more circuitous ramps or the perimeter roads to traverse the hump of the "island." The problem was addressed in the 1890s when the Berri Street Subway and the Brock Street Tunnel were built to pass on the level to Craig (St Antoine) street, so doubling the loads which could be carried by horse drawn carts.

David Hammonds has professional registrations in engineering and geology. A graduate of Imperial College he has over 40 years world-wide experience in the construction of large hydroelectric projects. He has an especial interest in the development of early canals and railways.

[email this story] Posted by Alexandra McIntosh on 12/15 at 07:00 AM

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