Following Riviere St-Pierre Underground

So one of the things I’ve been doing lately has been examining the now-covered sections of Riviere St-Pierre in Montreal Ouest and Cote St. Luc. If one wanted to, they could walk underground from this area all the way over to Place D’Youville in Old Montreal. While I’m not quite up to that task, I am going to try to document as much of it as I can over the course of several trips. Parts one, two and three of this series can be found on Under Montreal. Here’s part four:

We eventually managed to find a safer way past the big slide where Controleman ended up taking a bit of a spill. Another entrance point in a relatively discreet area nearby allowed us to climb back down back into the sewer and continue further upstream.


Standing below a bit of natural light coming in through the manhole shaft.

Judging by the pre-cast sections of reinforced concrete pipe (RCP), it looks as though this portion was constructed over the past thirty or so years. Sometime around the 1970s, perfectly round RCP seemed to have become the standard material for sewers and storm drains in Montreal. It can make for somewhat dull underground experiences, especially when long stretches of the stuff are involved. Fortunately, this particular stretch of the sewer ended up having a nice combination of other features to help break the monotony.

The visibility was fairly poor, which we’d later discover was the result of cold air blasting in through a little 6″ pipe. During the autumn and winter months, the air inside sewers stays a few degrees warmer relative to aboveground temperatures. When outside air finds a way in, it can can lead to somewhat unfavorable exploring conditions. In this case, a dense “fog” had filled the sewer. The lights of our headlamps only penetrated a few feet in front of us. Regardless, we began making our way northwards underneath Cote-St-Luc.

Sloshing our way through the shin-deep water, we eventually arrived at a nice wide junction chamber. Nothing too fancy or out of the ordinary, but at least at this point the fog had subsided enough to make it a bit more practical to be able to take a photograph or two.


Lighting up the first junction.

We chose to follow the slightly smaller pipe to the right out of which we could hear the rumbling of water; a sign that something a bit more interesting lay ahead.

Fifty feet or so in, we found ourselves inside a rusted corrugated metal pipe. I have no idea why the change occurs, but it’s there. Maybe it’s a culvert that existed beneath a roadway before the rest of the sewer was put in place. As the picture below can attest it was a bit on the dirty side. I’m always having problems convincing people that sewers aren’t as bad as they might imagine them to be. I’ll admit that a photo like the one below does little to support my claims. Fortunately, these places never smell as bad as they look. Honest.

Being careful not to get a dangling condom, piece of toilet paper or god-knows-what-else in the face, we pressed forward.

We eventually reached a lovely little chamber responsible for the noises we had started hearing from the previous junction.


Accidental modernism found forty feet below.

Sometimes it’s the little stuff that helps make things more interesting. In this case, a curtain of water falling over a diagonal ledge or reinforced concrete beams. As much as traveling through pipes is a part of underground exploration (which I’ll admit can sometimes get boring), it’s this sort of stuff that we look forward to discovering the most.

Since neither of the two pipes ahead of us were tall enough to stand up in and would likely only get smaller, we decided to head back.

After returning to the first junction, we started heading up the pipe that ran off to the left. It didn’t take long before we realized it would probably be some time before we came across anything other than RCP. A basic system map from the 1960s shows the main arm of the sewer continuing on to the northern boundary of Cote-St-Luc. Reaching that point would involve walking against the current for a good 3 kms from where we were standing. Not feeling up to that particular task, heading back downstream from our entry-point seemed like the more appealing option.

Roughly fifteen minutes later, this is what we arrived at this strange little room:

Here, two relatively dry metal pipes veer off to the left and the rest of the wastewater flows through the four foot high square section seen on the right. Shining my spotlight up through this part revealed no end in sight. I figured it was most likely going to be like this for the entire width of the railway yard sitting directly above us. Regardless, I started to crouch down through it. Soon afterwards, I found that the bottom of the floor dropped off abruptly to the point where I was now up to my waist in water. Realizing my backpack (and more) would probably get soaked if things got much deeper, we decided it would be best to turn around and call it a day.

Next up: Downstream towards Lachine.

16 comments

  1. This is stuff is great. Very much looking forward to the trip downstream.

  2. Crazy and interesting… I’ll definitely follow your blog as I would never do this myself.

  3. Thanks for this glimpse and well done for the fantastic photography (I love the eery “water curtain”)!!

  4. Merci Andrew. Les photos sont superbes. Cet ancien cours d’eau me fascine pour plusieurs raisons. D’abord parce que c’était le plus long de Montréal et qu’il s’élargissait au niveau du lac à la Loutre ! Mais aussi parce que source se situait dans le quartier Côte-des-Neiges et qu’aujourd’hui ce fait semble oublié. Là où se déversait cette rivière face à l’île des soeurs les amérindiens devaient y avoir établis des campements estivales un peu comme ceux de la pointe-à-callière. Il y avait là un axe permettant de penétrer sur l’île, mais c’était sûrement un lieu exceptionnel pour la pêche. Je suivrai tes articles au fil des semaines.

  5. Lovely Articles! Thank You!

    In the view below, Riviere St Pierre has overflowed the Montreal Tramways tracks on what is now Notre Dame approximately where present-day Monk intersects.

    http://i17.photobucket.com/albums/b61/SDR_North/TurcotEastMarch1913LookingWestGTDia.jpg

    Same location in 2007 looking West from Monk to Ville St Pierre.

    http://i17.photobucket.com/albums/b61/SDR_North/TurcotLookingWestJune2007.jpg

    Until the Sixties, Notre Dame ended just West of De Carrillon.

    After the streetcars were removed from the Lachine line in 1958!, the route remained unused for a year or two, then it was excavated and a large pipe installed.

    The Autobusses that replaced the Lachine streetcars, for a time, ran on their own private road on the North shore of the Lachine Canal.

    Notre Dame proper was pushed West thru to Ville St Pierre in the early Seventies mostly on the former Montreal Tramways right of way.

  6. Thanks, everyone.

    Charles: I’ve seen a couple of very old maps where they have it starting out towards Côte-des-Neiges, but I was never too sure just how accurate they were.

    Cdnlococo: Yup, the present-day collector sewer runs right through that second photo underneath Notre Dame. They diverted and covered that portion of the river during the early 1960s. There’s also a smaller sewer running under Monk that meets up with. If you follow that it will take you under the canal and over to Rue St. Patrick. The first time my friends and I went through it, I think we were all a bit pleased with ourselves that we could get over to the other side in such a way.

  7. Back in ’51 we moved from Snowdon Junction/Saranac and Decarie to NDG at West Broadway ( Alexandre Duranceau Ltee 1950 ) and proceeded to explore almost every inch of our new home.

    CPR had just completed their new-in-1950 St Luc Hump Yard which effectively surrounded NDG, Montreal West and Cote St Luc in a ring of steel.

    In basic terms, a Hump Yard uses gravity to coast freight cars into different tracks rather than a several engines and crews pushing and pulling them as in ‘Flat Yard Switching’.

    The Hump at St Luc has now been removed.

    In the Fifties Cote St Luc was mostly wilderness East from Westminster to the CPR Arrivals Yard over by Hampstead, Blue Bonnets and Pare. A portion of Riviere St Pierre was still visible and about 10 feet wide and 3-5 feet deep.

    This extended West from the CPR to the-then East end of Kildare just East Caldwell Ave where the ‘Monitor’, a West End newspaper, had just completed their new plant.

    The ‘River’ there entered a grated opening surrounded by slabs of reclaimed sidewalk and disappeared Westward along Kildare.

    In the spring we used to construct rafts and pole our way along the channel roughly where Kildare and Cavendish cross now..

    North of the end of Westminster where it entered the CPR Property there was another above ground creek which paralleled the South edge of the CPR property, then turned South and traveled behind the houses on Wentworth to Guelph where there was a sort of weir and a treatment plant?? of some sorts, where the water disappeared into a pipe once again.

    Open water once crossed beneath the Sortin Yard to the West of the stream you named the Double Ducker at the West corner of the-then CPR Wentworth Golf Course parking lot.

    CPR once had a Station here, ( for the golfers, as the golf course at that time was owned by CPR and named Wentworth ) on the line from Montreal West to Grovehill Lachine/Dorval. The large Railway Junction to the West end of CPR St Luc Yard is named Ballantyne Jct.

    CNR passes beneath to their Montreal Yard and St Laurent and Pointe Aux Trembles. The CN Montreal Yard replaced Turcot Yard c. 1959.

    The stream passing beneath Sortin where it’s East and West yards narrowed in an hourglass shape then wandered off in the general direction of the West parimeter of the c 1950 Northern Electric Cable Plant.

    Sortin Yard by then was used to store condemned rolling stock before getting dispatched to Angus Shops for scrapping.

    The concrete ‘tunnel’ was about 12 feet wide and maybe five feet tall, the water even in the Fifties passing beneath the tunnel floor in pipes.

    In 1958 CPR placed two old steam locomotive tenders to the West of this creek for use as cisterns for golf course irrigation.

    http://maps.live.com/default.aspx?v=2&FORM=LMLTCC&cp=rk7yry8vtqdt&style=b&lvl=1&tilt=-90&dir=0&alt=-1000&scene=28379986&phx=0&phy=0&phscl=1&where1=montreal%20&encType=1

    It was then mostly open land between CPR Sortin Yard and the 2-17 along Norman, ( which did NOT pass thru to Ville St Pierre until c. 1961 ), except for the NE Cable Plant. The R St Pierre then ran along in a channel the West border of the NE plant, then East right along side the 2-17. If a car headed for Dorval swerved off the road it would get very wet!

    Square concrete conduits approx 4 feet by 4 drained water from processing within NE into RSP.

    I suspect the channel then went diagonally underground beneath 2-17 and the CPR embankment on the line from South Jct to LaSalle/Highlands.

    The CPR Curve connecting to the West at North Jct was lifted c. 1958.

    Just East of the CPR on the South side of 2-17 was a concrete block plant and behind it the Century Metals scrap yard on the shore of the Lachine Canal from the CPR East to St Pierre and the c 1912 Bascule Bridge.

    Old canallers were moored at Century Metals and scrapped down to the water line. Then when the Lachine Canal was drained for it’s annual cleaning each spring, the rest of the vessel was cut up on the canal bottom and raised with a way cool ‘locomotive’ steam crane running on railway tracks.

    Steam Locomotives, passenger coaches and the above crane also met their end at Century Metals, as did the heavy bridge erecting cranes so-long-dormant in the weeds at adjacent Dominion Bridge up-canal.

    Riviere St Pierre became UGLY downstream from the CPR to LaSalle.

    A stagnant green-scummed oil-covered mess with residues from the block plant and the scrap yard, oozing between the two and behind the Montreal Tramways sub station, was visible in the ‘dip’ on St Pierre between 2-17, the CNR and Montreal Tramways/now Notre Dame West and the Bascule Bridge over the Lachine Canal.

    The second Bridge downstream from the Bascule Bridge was completed in 1959.

    By 1952 most of NDG had already been built upon from Girouard thru to Patricia and Sherbrooke to Cote St Luc.

    Behind the Cote St Luc shopping centre there was evidence of a one-time channel that angled Westish beneath the CPR over to Adalbert then beneath CSL in a ‘dip’ where Ashdale meets CSL.

    ( The East side of Robert Burns is in Montreal, and allowed the Robbie Burns Tavern to be located there. We consumed many a draft there watching the CPR, Napierville Jct and NYC trains grinding upgrade from South Jct. and Westminster.

    When the CSL underpass at Adalbert was built c. 1962, there was a temporary level crossing installed over the CPR from Robert Burns to Connaught.

    There used to be a sign at the old level crossing saying something like; ‘Four have died at this crossing, will you be next?’ after several pedestrians were struck by fast-moving and silent CPR ‘Dayliner’ Budd Cars

    Into the Sixties the land North of where Connaught is now was open and a CPR Spur ran thru it to access a small industry against the tracks and then down to H J Bridges Coal Company at the Westminster overpass.

    The Coal Company had a public scale that moving vans etc. used to weigh their loads.

    The CPR spur to the coal company was later shortened to develop the land and build what is now Connaught, then removed entirely. )

    The almost-dry stream then angled over, crossing Westminster in another ‘dip’ at Westover, Charles Duranceau Ltee 1959, then may well have continued over to the still-extant channel in the golf course before those houses were constructed??

    Back in the Sixties when we wanted to access Cote St Luc by bicycle or hiking we used to use Silverton Avenue which was just East of the CSL Shopping Centre, crossing the CPR where the parkette is on the corner and walking across the wedge shape piece of land to the second CPR tracks from Ballantyne Jct over near Sortin Yard to Cote St Luc Jct at the North end of Rosedale.

    The path there followed another dry channel which crossed beneath the second set of tracks in a concrete ‘tunnel’ with the year 1916 in it’s horizontal faces.

    The tunnel, if it still exists would be approximately where the house with the circular blue pool on the left is;

    http://maps.live.com/default.aspx?v=2&FORM=LMLTCC&cp=rkb5f38vvsss&style=b&lvl=1&tilt=-90&dir=0&alt=-1000&scene=28378604&phx=0&phy=0&phscl=1&where1=montreal%20&encType=1

    ( We can hope the sleezo developers can not develop the triangle behind the CSL Shopping Centre within the CPR, as is one of the last ‘natural’ pieces of land in the West End.)

    Further to the West/left towards Ballantyne Jct was a dead end spur that held about 10 freight cars at right angles to the North of the track to loading ramp at an abandoned industry.

    At the Switch to this spur was another one of these 1916 tunnels under the CPR towards Ballantyne Jct behind the houses North of Adalbert, this tunnel having been filled with concrete around a culvert pipe in 1954.

    Now, the reason why Parkhaven Avenue in Cote St Luc has a dog-leg in it at the North end. ( If any one gives a F. )

    In 1949-50 CPR elected to build a new Hump Yard in then-vacant land at the North end of Westminster and West of Namur/Jean Talon, Hampstead, and Pare.

    ( CPR St Luc made redundant CPR Outremont and CPR Sortin Yards, both, at one time, each having roundhouses. )

    The CPR St Luc Roundhouse and all it’s ancillaries was located at the top end of now what is Parkhaven.

    To service the Roundhouse, it’s boilers and electric lights, power lines and potable water mains were extended from Cote St Luc road to the Roundhouse in a dog leg route.

    ALSO paralleling the dog leg was a PRESSURIZED ‘Sewer’ pipe which had about 4 foot high square concrete pillars aboveground to CSL Rd on top of which were bolted-down man hole covers.

    We used to climb up on these and survey the surroundings.

    Anyway, some of the covers LEAKED, and when the pumps were turned on at the Roundhouse, water, solvents and heavy OIL from the Diesels would rainbow out and seep into the ground. We LOVED it!!!!

    In the Sixties Cote St Luc had enveloped the pi–ing Manholes with Parkhaven, but, they still protruded well above the asphalt, being marked at night with kerosene lanterns and switch lamps from the railway.

    They still LEAKED! and gushed forth their spoils similar to the Geysers in Yellowstone Park. Many a luxury car was soiled whilst passing.

    Eventually the man holes were levelled and calm prevailed once again in Cote St Luc.

    To the West of the CSL shopping centre once was a small brick Valve House where the CPR plumbing was to join CSL road.

    God!, we loved to watch the man holes spraying oil and water on Parkhaven in brand-new CSL.

    God help you if you got some on your shoes and brought it home onto the carpets.

    When they were building the area around Kildare and Cavendish, that underpass being installed c. 1964, they put in deep trunk sewers sort of along the alignment of those streets?

    We used to run along the tops of the concrete sewer pipes, poured well below ground level, with their man hole trunks up to the surface before the trunks were backfilled.

    The whole pipe down in the trench resembled a concrete submarine with conning towers protruding at regular intervals. The good vessle ‘Egout’ one might think?

    When the Westminster underpass was constructed near Guelph in 1960, Woseley Ave to the West was used as a road and a temporary level crossing over the CPR from Ballantyne Jct to St Luc Jct.

    Kids. Fun!, And I would do it all again!

    If I were young again I too would like to travel beneath the Lachine Canal at Avenue Monk.

    Amazing!!

  8. Great stuff. I think I might just go talk to you the next time I need to figure stuff out rather than dig around in the city archives!

    Just a couple of comments:

    “The concrete ‘tunnel’ was about 12 feet wide and maybe five feet tall, the water even in the Fifties passing beneath the tunnel floor in pipes.”

    I believe this is probably what’s shown in the last photo. The dimensions are about right and it’s where the sewer begins to go underneath the Sortin yard. It’s essentially right below where the creek used to be.

    “In 1958 CPR placed two old steam locomotive tenders to the West of this creek for use as cisterns for golf course irrigation.”

    And they’re still both there. You’d see them in the satellite maps but they’re hidden by the cluster of trees. We were wondering what they were.. now we know.

    “North of the end of Westminster where it entered the CPR Property there was another above ground creek which paralleled the South edge of the CPR property, then turned South and traveled behind the houses on Wentworth to Guelph where there was a sort of weir and a treatment plant?? of some sorts, where the water disappeared into a pipe once again.”

    Yup, it was actually a treatment plant and now there are tennis courts in its place. The second last photo in my post is actually very close to where it was located.

  9. Back in the Forties and Fifties children were encouraged to be outside, and the world did not end if you came home wet and dirty.

    Exploring railway property was a great way to ‘hide’ from adults, other than railway employees, and do all sorts of fun things like follow creeks a la RSP, experiment with cigarettes, use language that would receive a thrashing at home, and running on the flat cars awaiting scrapping at Sortin.

    When we were going home from Sortin via North Jct to Westminster, we would occasionally run along the tops of Box Cars as this was more daring.

    We would stand astride the catwalk and sway back and forth, and the car would rock on it’s springs, going Clack Creak as it oscillated.

    If the CPR cop came, we could see his dust, and we’d be off the car, running beneath other cars on other tracks and onto the Golf Course.

    About 8 years later I was ‘running the tops’ as an employee, on moving trains just for the hell of it, passing thru tunnels and over bridges, just before that semi-authorized activity was banned for all time.

    Somewhere we have grainy movie footage of ‘A day at Sortin’ showing various locomotives and such, culminating in a wedge shot of my friend in front of the bow of a condemned canaller at the scrap yard with the steam crane on the left.

    We were always looking into places we should not have been, and were chased out several times.

    Views of Turcot from St Jacques.

    Turcot Coal Tower from St Jacques looking East.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/striderv/2478589342/sizes/l/

    Dead steam engines visible to the left beyond coal tower.

    On day on a dare, we walked up the sloped trestle to the right into the coal tower, hoping all the while we would not be spotted and get caught.

    http://www.imagescn.technomuses.ca/structures/index_choice.cfm?id=79&photoid=-113216785

    Once inside it was almost dark from the coal dust and engine smoke and we had to walk down the dark interior to the East end, barely able to discern the openings between the rails into which the coal was dumped from hoppers and gondolas. Dumb, Scary, and FUN!

    At the East end was a scary wooden stairway which descended into a shed where the sand for traction was dried around large coal-fired ‘stoves’.

    On a locomotive bound for Turcot, 1961.

    http://i17.photobucket.com/albums/b61/SDR_North/CN3235CLC761SteRosalieJctPhotobyATH.jpg

    Looking South across Turcot Yard, LaSalle Coke and crane to right.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/striderv/2478587972/sizes/l/

    Turcot November 1949. Note the truly massive Canadian Car and Foundry Turcot Works South of Montreal Tramways, now Notre Dame, approx where Monk joins Notre Dame now.

    http://services.banq.qc.ca/sdx/cep/document.xsp?chpp=20&qid=sdx_q0&col=pai&app=ca.BAnQ.sdx.cep&dbrqp=query_notice&v=1949-01-01T00%3A00%3A00Z&id=0003343054&n=3&order=ascendant&sortfield=titre_trie&f=date_publication&db=notice&&epage=2&eview=CARTES_PLANS/3343054/3343054_44-68.tif

    In this view, the Bistro to the right at St Pierre and Notre Dame in VSP was once a Montreal Tramways Substation, once having the initials ‘MTCo’ in concrete above the North door facing Notre Dame.

    http://rogerkenner.ca/Bike/Lachine_Canal_lite/03_March_csp/Bk_csp_mar03_005.jpg

    The following site has some interesting images. Yes, at one time we were dumb enough to walk the whole LaSalle Loop Line, not knowing really how long it was!!! Got to see LaSalle Coke close up, and we were plenty scared that we would get caught.

    http://rogerkenner.ca/Bike/Lachine_Canal_lite/03_South_Branch_CSP_Visit.html

    Charles Duranceau Ltee was just to the East of the LaSalle Loop Line where it joined St Patrick at the Lachine Canal.

    Another story that has gotten way too long.

  10. will there be a walking tour of cote st luc? i would enjoy that.

  11. Great article, amazing pic’s always loved the idea of poking around the hidden underground history of our cities.Cheers

  12. Thank you Cdnlococo. You have filled in many blanks…

    “When the CSL underpass at Adalbert was built c. 1962, there was a temporary level crossing installed over the CPR from Robert Burns to Connaught.”

    The CSL Underpass was built in the early 1970s:
    ca. 1971.

    “Back in the Sixties when we wanted to access Cote St Luc by bicycle or hiking we used to use Silverton, [Silverson], Avenue which was just East of the CSL Shopping Centre, crossing the CPR where the parkette is on the corner and walking across the wedge shape piece of land to the second CPR tracks from Ballantyne Jct over near Sortin Yard to Cote St Luc Jct at the North end of Rosedale.

    The path there followed another dry channel which crossed beneath the second set of tracks in a concrete ‘tunnel’ with the year 1916 in it’s horizontal faces.

    The tunnel, if it still exists would be approximately where the house with the circular blue pool on the left is;

    http://maps.live.com/default.aspx?v=2&FORM=LMLTCC&cp=rkb5f38vvsss&style=b&lvl=1&tilt=-90&dir=0&alt=-1000&scene=28378604&phx=0&phy=0&phscl=1&where1=montreal%20&encType=1

    ( We can hope the sleezo developers can not develop the triangle behind the CSL Shopping Centre within the CPR, as is one of the last ‘natural’ pieces of land in the West End.)”

    Older CSL maps from the early 1960s project Baily Road and Parkhaven over that triangular shaped land. In 1996 with the restoration of the North Junction Lead and AMT commuter rail service, CPR razed the local gardens on that land and ruined part of the topographical features with fill. Several years later Hydro removed the older of the two power lines and also did damage to the land. The triangular ‘natural space’ albeit polluted with the ‘oozing diesel’ is safe unless the tracks were to disappear. There was talk of a pedestrian link
    from Parkhaven to CSL Rd. and a now dropped plan of a
    commuter rail station along the Blainville line.

    Parkhaven was supposed to be an extension of West Broadway. The Hamilton House apartment building on Ashdale got in the way and Cavendish was extended instead.

    The ‘1916’ culvert still exists. There is room
    for another track. The St. Luc Branch Subdivision must have been double tracked at one time behind the
    CSL Shopping Centre. The Shopping Centre had replaced horse stables. There is also a culvert under the Adirondack Subdivision at the western end
    of the CSL Shopping Centre near the Parkhaven dog leg. This is where the main Southern Branch of the Little Saint Pierre R. flowed. There was also a smaller water course, (tributary), that flowed from
    Adalbert west mainly along the south side of the St. Luc Branch/Farnham Connector Subdivisions towards Wentworth/Meadowbrook Golf Course until the early 1960s.

    The Northern Branch which you refer to flowed underneath the CP main, (Winchester Subdivision/later renamed the Vaudreuil Subdivision line leading to Montreal West Station), near the tenders. This culvert was later referred to as the “Love Tunnel” in local Montreal West/Western CSL lore. Young couples would make out there.

    “…Adalbert then beneath CSL in a ‘dip’ where Ashdale meets CSL.” People used to swim in that ‘dip’.

    BW,

    A D Shtern
    St Luc Junction, (Old St. Luc)

  13. In regards to your Riviere Pierre map, an archives director at SMT informed me the Ville-Marie expressway was built over the little River St. Pierre(?) I wonder if the 96″ diameter brick sewer collector, 1877, which runs East underneath Saint-Antoine was built over a branch from River St.Pierre? Do you have any ideas?

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