Far Out in the West Island of Montreal
A peek inside a western suburb’s less than inspiring 1970s era storm drain
The West Island of Montreal offers what are essentially the low-lying fruit for underground exploring. The primarily residential areas of Pointe-Claire, Dorval and Beaconsfield all make use of a separated sewer system with one set of pipes for sewage and another for stormwater. Storm drains discharge directly into the river (or Lac St-Louis) and if one knows where the larger outfalls are, one can simply put on a pair of rubber boots (or even flip-flops) and walk on in.
Most of the time this would be considered a good thing, but it seems as though the majority of storm drains in this part of the island were built during the 1970s or later using fairly simple prefab concrete components. Put another way: if you’ve been in more than a few, they’re kind of boring.
Still, they offer a respite from the stress that comes with exploring the combined sewers found elsewhere on the island. You don’t have to worry about manhole covers, e-coli poisoning, industrial contaminants, hydrogen sulfide, rats (if you’re afraid of them) or things getting swept away through three feet of fast-flowing grey water. Every so often it’s nice to not have deal with such challenges.
A comment left by Jean Naimard in one of my recent entries suggested I take a look at an outfall for a storm drain in Beaconsfield. It’s actually one that my friends and I had first eyeballed this past winter. It was never exactly a high priority, but when plans to go through the next stretch of Riviere St-Pierre with a friend were canceled, I decided to go and have a further look on my own.
The slightly vandalized outfall is found at the edge of Lac St-Louis near a quiet residential street. A box-shaped culvert divided in two carries the water of a small creek (Ruisseau St-James) underneath Blvd St. Charles. The creek soon re-appears on the other side of the street at the edge of someone’s side yard. Seeing this, one might be tricked into thinking there’s nothing more to it than that. However, if you wade through the channel on the left side, you’ll find a second drain that splits off to the north. Unfortunately, this is about as surprising as things get.
For the next kilometer it’s straight reinforced concrete pipe. It starts off six feet in diameter then gradually shrinks down to less than four at which point there’s little incentive to go any further.
The only thing to remove a bit of the monotony (and the back-aches) are seven manhole chambers, each marked with dayglo spraypaint by a group of kids who were bold enough to venture through this drain on February 26th, 1972. How do I know the date? Easy. They wrote it on the wall.
One chamber has a customary penis drawn on its walls (labeled “penis”, just in case there was any doubt), another “Far Out!”, while the 7th and final one simply says “7-UP.” I’m guessing even they were bored at that point.
Beyond the juvenile quirks, there isn’t much else that’s worth pointing out. The brain-like flowstone in the 7-UP chamber is a nice touch as are the different types of minnows to be found along the way. Most of the drain is filled with several inches of rock debris, giving things the look and feel of a natural creek bed. Seeing small fish swimming about only adds to this illusion.
Trips to other storm drains in Montreal, especially ones taken during the middle of summer, will often reveal an abundance of living creatures: various species of spiders and insects, crayfish, even raccoons. It’s not quite as exciting as coming across an alligator in the sewers, but given that this is the island of Montreal, you have to take what you can get.
I’ve probably done a poor job pitching things, but a storm drain like this is actually the perfect starting point for anyone interested in exploring the underground themselves. While not as exciting as some of the older sewers in Montreal, it would still give someone a good idea of what it’s like to be underground without any of the risks mentioned earlier. If there were enough interest, I’d like to take a small group of people on an interpretive walk of sorts through one of the storm drains in Pointe Claire. The one I have in mind has a few more things going for it. More on that later, though.