August 2nd 2018 UPDATE: The Court has ruled in favour of burying the St. Pierre River. To read Marion Scott’s report, click here.

by Hélène Montpetit

Montreal environmental group Les Amis du parc Meadowbrook recently called attention to a Quebec Superior Court decision ordering the city to clean up a small stream in the west end.

In and of itself, this does not sound like anything that should make headlines, but the stream is one of the few remaining visible sections of the historic St. Pierre River and its fate could set a precedent of some importance, since filling it in is what the developer that currently owns the site suggests should be done.

A bit of history

St.PierreRiver
Lac St. Pierre and the St. Pierre River on an early map of the island of Montreal (about 1700).

Before Europeans stamped their massive footprint on the Island of Montreal, the St. Pierre River flowed from the top of Mount Royal into a lake at the bottom of what is now known as the Falaise St. Jacques. From there, its tributary trickled all the way down to the St. Lawrence.

Diverted in order to power watermills in the 18th century, the St. Pierre River became so polluted that the city buried it in the sewer system, a popular 19th century solution to befouled waterways.

Since then, we have become much more aware of how important every part is to the whole  ecosystem. Accordingly, local groups often step in to try and right what we now realize were industrial-sized mistakes.

Little stream, big issues

At the end of June, Les Amis de Meadowbrook put out a press release in which they state that “The MDDELCC should not allow the City of Montreal to bury the river. The whole land plays a pivotal role in absorbing spring runoff and rainfall and provides a welcome respite to migrating birds.”

Shortly after, the Montreal Gazette published an article by Marian Scott and republished her earlier piece on the topic of buried waterways in which issues such as water conservation, climate change and extreme weather events are raised (see Our Island’s Lost Rivers). The St. Pierre River may now be reduced to practically nothing, but the issues around its conservation are quite significant.

Moving toward sustainability

Most of us know by now that all living organisms on this planet are interdependent and that restoration and conservation are good survival strategies for humanity. Sustainability is really no longer optional.

To promote sustainable lifestyles in urban environments and do their part to mitigate the effects of climate change, cities must take a holistic approach. Some of the options open to them include:

  • preserving and making use of agricultural land;
  • decontaminating old industrial areas and restoring soils;
  • adapting bylaws, rules and regulations to support local food producers;
  • designing neighbourhoods to make services available within walking distance of homes;
  • nurturing local and social businesses and cooperatives and limiting big box stores and franchises;
  • making use of old buildings through re-purposing, renovation and restoration.

Redefining progress

All over the world there are initiatives that can inspire us and help us move away from the “More! Bigger! Better!” mindset. The measures implemented in the Vauban quarter in Freiburg (Germany), the careful planning carried out in Curitiba in southern Brazil, the technological innovations seen in Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates are all examples of what can be achieved when creativity meets responsible husbandry.

The Transition movement and other organizations featured here are all working to change our definition of progress. Take a few minutes to think about the kind of world your actions are creating for future generations. Do you need to change how you define it?

The “Ask”

Yes, there is an “ask” attached to this post.

My resolve to include it was strengthened when I read Survival of the Richest, an article by Douglas Rushkoff I came across while I was writing this. Several of my friends who read it focused on the bunkers and end-of-the-world preparations the super wealthy are apparently obsessed with. Not me.

The article made me realize that they (the super rich) are even more completely out of touch with reality than I had thought. This means that their power is as outmoded as the ideas they live by. In fact, true power resides with people who can think critically, speak truth, envision a different world and work with others to create it every day. Here is one passage of Rushkoff’s article that particularly resonated with me:

“…those of us without the funding to consider disowning our own humanity have much better options available to us. (…) we can remember that the truly evolved human doesn’t go it alone.

Being human is not about individual survival or escape. It’s a team sport. Whatever future humans have, it will be together.”

If you think you could do better for yourself and your fellow passengers on this small blue planet, consider joining the people in your community who are working toward a 21st century that puts life ahead of profit. Write a letter, sign a petition, call your government representative, support local business, change a habit or two.

Whatever you decide to do, please start taking things like a small stream in a little corner of a tiny island more seriously.

That is where your locus of power lies. That is where ordinary people like us can face the challenge and start doing something useful about it.

Thank you for reading.

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Things you might want to look into:

Will Meadowbrook Lose Its Brook, Les Amis de Meadowbrook, July 1, 2018.

A river runs through it: the global movement to ‘daylight’ urban waterways, David Cox, The Guardian International Edition, August 29, 2017.

Wikipedia, Lachine Canal.