Below the Point
A quick and dirty romp through a 19th century sewer at the edge of Pointe St. Charles
Here’s a nice little find from the other night inside one of the older brick sewers running below Rue D’argenson in Point St. Charles. I had originally hoped to see something interesting where the sewer passes underneath the Lachine Canal and towards Rue St. Jacques. That ended up being a letdown with nothing but a dead-end chamber near the Canal’s edge not even worth photographing. Making our way in the opposite direction, we came across something uncommon for Montreal: a 150 meter section constructed using clay tile blocks.
It’s questionable as to why the transition occurs, but it’s possible that the brick sewer was initially laid during the late 1800s and the tile section later during the early 1900s when the streets south of rue Centre began to fill in a bit more. The sewer likely discharged into Riviere St-Pierre just ahead of the portion that had been converted into an open tailrace channel for the City’s Waterworks system. From that point everything would have been whisked away to Verdun and out to the St. Lawrence.
During the beginning of the 1900s these pre-cast tile blocks had started to become a fashionable building material in some cities. It required less time and labour to install than brick which would require the setting of multiple layers to ensure both strength and leak resistance. These tile blocks aren’t at all very common here in Montreal. In fact, I’ve only seen it used in one other sewer in Hochelaga which my friends and I decided to call Ceramique Superfantastique. I’m sure there’s more of it to be found elsewhere around the city, but my guess is that the abundance of limestone on the island pretty much put an end to its use before it had a chance to take off. With limestone came concrete and when construction practices and manufacturing technologies made it a feasible building material, I’m sure Montreal was more than willing to take advantage of it.
The rest of the sewer is fairly straightforward brickwork, but with a nice amount of calcite formations to give things a somewhat craggy, organic appearance. Beyond the tile blocks are a set of concrete beams, likely added later to help add reinforcement for the set of railway tracks above. Getting past this point would involve some serious crawling. Since none of us felt like getting a face full of sewer water, that would be as far as we’d go.