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Rivière St. Pierre, Part II – Double Ducker

Following the water of St Pierre River from its last remaining stretch aboveground down into the sewers

Heading through the now-buried Saint Pierre river.

Rivière St. Pierre, Part II – Double Ducker

Following the water of St Pierre River from its last remaining stretch aboveground down into the sewers

From a distance, the drain (which I’ve named Double Ducker) beginning at the edge of the Meadowbrook Country Club doesn’t really appear to be much. In fact, if it wasn’t for the old limestone construction of its inlet, then I wouldn’t have bothered looking at it more carefully in the first place. The two entry points are all of two feet high. Rarely does that sort of size suggest anything good lies beyond.

The twin inlet channels leading to Double Ducker.

It wasn’t until I got closer that I realized that the two channels are actually double this height. Over the years, sediment and other debris has more or less created a dam of sorts, but beyond this it soon dips down and opens up to reveal the full height.

Four feet isn’t all that comfortable a height to walk through, but it’s better than two feet. So I slipped on my chest waders, squeezed through the left side and crouched through 75 feet or so of what appeared to be hastily cut limestone blocks.

I was now passing underneath the original mainline of the Canadian Pacific Railway built in 1886. It smelled less like a man made drain and more like an old cave.

Looking back through to the entrance inside one of the limestone channels.

When CPR built a rail yard parallel to the main set of tracks in the late 1940s, more of the river required covering.

Detail of 1952 map showing Riviere St. Pierre (and its tributaries) passing under CPR’s rail yards.

 

By this time the construction material of choice wasn’t limestone, but concrete. So at this point, the two channels come to an end and a rather ruddy–looking concrete section in the shape of an arch begins; its floor looking as though it had been quickly slathered in place. At this point I could finally stand up. The smell of sanitary flow wafting in from up ahead gave a good indication as to where all this was heading.

At the end of the limestone section with a drill-hole in the ceiling bringing in a touch of natural light.


A few feet further and the concrete arch suddenly increases in size with enough room to stand up in and then some.

Standing inside the largest concrete arch section. (Note the imprints left from the wooden forms used during construction.)

Only to become slightly smaller again thirty feet later.

Looking through to the smaller stretch.

And then things get really small with the start of a section built using RCP less than four feet high. None of this really makes sense. Much like actual rivers, sewers have a tendency to get larger as you head downstream in order to accommodate the increasing amounts of water picked up along the way. This small > large > larger > small > smaller sequence is still a bit confusing.

Looking ahead (but not forward) to the upcoming stretch of small RCP.

So at this point, I had effectively crossed the width of the entire railway yard above me. The more refined looking section of pre-fabricated RCP that lay ahead was obviously added more recently. 1973 is the last map I have that shows the river flowing past this point. It was around this time when the city began to implement a more comprehensive wastewater management plan. This stretch was most buried as a part of that effort.

Shining my spotlight down the small pipe, I saw no end in sight, but could hear the rumble of water suggesting bigger (perhaps more interesting) things lay ahead.

I decided to keep going. Here, the concrete is smooth, almost polished. Combined with a fine layer of sanitary “scum” on its bottom and the slight downward slope, it was slippery enough for me to lose my footing a couple of times. After crouching through about 250 feet of this pipe, I eventually reached the source of the rumbling: a seven foot high slide.

Normally getting past something like this would be kid’s play. Even when civil engineers don’t thoughtfully add ladders or step-irons, you can often make your way down safely enough by keeping to the dryer edges. But here there’s no ladder, and given the slipperiness of things, I came to the conclusion that even if I could get down safely (and dryly), I might not be able to get back up so easily.

So I did what any prudent drainer would do: I decided to wait and come back another day, with a couple of friends, a bit of climbing gear and a length of rope.