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Welcome to Construction Season

The pros and cons of sewer remediation in Montreal from an underground enthusiast’s perspective

Montreal sewer construction crew, 1954.

Welcome to Construction Season

The pros and cons of sewer remediation in Montreal from an underground enthusiast’s perspective

So  “construction season” started a few days ago here in Montreal, and with it came the City’s announcement that they’ll be spending a record $608 million this year on road and underground infrastructure projects. According to a CBC report, roughly half of that amount will be spent on sewers, but I’m guessing this will mostly involve replacing watermains.  Journalists have this habit of referring to any underground pipe as being a sewer regardless of its function.

Construction crews have been busy ripping up the asphalt of the streets for awhile now, replacing the century-old iron mains with what looks to be  PVC pipe. It’s for this reason that portions of Notre Dame and Maisonneuve are currently closed off to general traffic. I’m sure overhauling some of  the older brick sewers is next on the agenda. Any piece of infrastructure that’s approaching 150 years old is bound to make any civil works engineer nervous. While I insist the old brick sewers are still in reasonably good shape, maybe the people who get paid to inspect them for a living have a better idea as to what’s on the verge of collapsing and what isn’t. Or maybe it’s just a make-work thing. Who knows?

In terms of what I do, construction and rehabilitation has its advantages and disadvantages.  On the positive side, it can help make things become more accessible. For eg:  when streets get closed off to traffic, it makes it much easier to get down inside of things, like a manhole that’s situated in the middle of the road.  The drawback, at least for myself,  is that with all this construction can come loss.  I’m always afraid that some of my favourite underground things in the city might someday get replaced using modern materials thus diminishing some of their charms.

The brick old collector sewer that runs below Rue McGill is a good example of this. A few years ago a pre-fab concrete pipe was inserted through much of its length. As you’ll see from the before and after photos, the end result isn’t quite as appealing to the eye.  I’ll admit, the fear of losing these sorts of things is pretty selfish.  I know that if anything did happen to break down or collapse, it would likely cause substantial problems for a large number of people— things that would make my own complaints about lost photo-ops seem rather petty in comparison. Then again, given the number of people who will likely be complaining to no end about traffic delays over the next few months, I probably shouldn’t feel too bad about it, should I?

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  1. controleman

    For some reasons I feel like they should at least make a sewer museum by using the Craig pumping Station. I do not think that Pointe-à-Callière is good enough to cover it all.

    But that’s only the brick fan in me who is currently talking..

  2. Andrew.

    Yeah, I spoke with one of the historians working at Pointe-à-Callière recently and she mentioned that she’d love to see something done with the Craig station as well, but its location would make it difficult to pull off.

    Camille: link’s been fixed!

  3. Marc Dufour

    Some years ago, during an AMT presentation meeting about the Park Avenue streetcar line, a soon as the presentation was underway, a sewer engineer burst out in horror: “You can’t build a streetcar line there, there’s a brick sewer underneath!!!”…

    It didn’t occur to him that this would be a wonderful opportunity to replace that brick sewer…


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