As a critical metabolic component of all life, water has vital and symbolic significance that constitutes and delimits the public realm. In Montreal we are surrounded by water, the city itself is delineated by the presence of the St. Lawrence and Rivière des Prairies, artificial waterways such as the Lachine Canal and Aqueduc have shaped the city and the ways we move through the city, every spring various neighbourhoods deal with floods, and culverted rivers run beneath the streets and sidewalks throughout the city. As something that is life-sustaining and life-threatening, an element and a flow, a means of transport and an obstruction, a nuisance and a resource, something to be regulated and circulated, something to be controlled, something to be feared or enjoyed, water is part of our everyday lives and the ways we relate to place.
The Montreal Waterways research projects offer inquiry into the heterogeneous relations of our shared waterways, our “hydrocommons” (Chen 2013, 279). Through an ethnographic engagement with a number of ‘water objects’, researchers examine Montreal’s historical and present relationship with water and place. Past projects include an examination of the “The Big Flush” (a political event surrounding the dumping of raw sewage into the St-Lawrence river in 2015) and the history of the St-Pierre River, which was buried and turned into sewage and drainage infrastructure over the past 150 years. Current projects are engaged with the Lachine canal: “Industrial waters” examines the changing social and material landscape of the canal through an engagement with the condo development, VillaNova, and “Hybridized waters” considers the presence of the more-than-human of the canal.
The Ghost River Project presents the interactive map of one of Montreal’s lost rivers. The project pieces together the pasts, presents, and possible futures of Saint Pierre, a major waterway that cut across the West of the island for much of its history. Canalized and buried underground throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, the river now exists as a ghost, haunting the city’s landscape, infrastructure, and historical imagination. You can get a first look at the map here: