Built within an exceptional watershed, the city of Montreal is intertwined with the waterways that ring its island and flow beneath it in underground networks. Even as the city has pushed its suburbs deeper into the interior of the island and onto the mainland, the daily lives and leisure activities of its inhabitants have remained closely bound to water.
Montreal, City of Water focuses on water not only as a physical element of the urban landscape – both shaping and shaped by its development – but also as a sociocultural component of the life of the city. This unique study considers the role of water in the production and transformation of urban space over the last two hundred years, telling the story of Montreal through its connections to the natural elements on which it depends.
To explore how Montrealers have conceived of and experienced their relationship to water, Montreal, City of Water looks to both past and present. It traces the decisive role of water in the historical process of urbanization. And it shines a light on current concerns about water pollution, river rehabilitation, and renewed public access to the riverfront – and the power relations involved in addressing those concerns.
Montreal, City of Water will interest scholars and students of urban environmental history, urbanization, and urban planning, particularly those with a focus on water history and urban rivers. Historians of Montreal and the St. Lawrence River region will also find this study invaluable.
The past was never paradise. Michèle Dagenais’s Montreal, City of Water: An Environmental History takes on the myth that Montrealers once enjoyed an idyllic relationship with the city’s streams and the St. Lawrence River; a relationship supposedly lost during the nineteenth century only to await recovery after the 1970s. Instead, Dagenais shows that there was never a break between people and the environment…
A fascinating work of rare erudition enriched with evocative illustrations.
Offering an insightful interpretation of the development of Canada’s second city, Montreal, City of Water skilfully extends our knowledge of the ways in which this and other metropolitan areas took shape, while realizing the great promise of environmental history: to understand the world from a new point of view.
Michèle Dagenais is a professor of history at the Université de Montréal. She specializes in urban and environmental history and is the author of Faire et fuir la ville: espaces publics de loisirs et de culture à Montréal et Toronto aux XIXe et XXe siècles (2006) and Des pouvoirs et des hommes: l’administration municipale de Montréal, 1900–1950 (2000). She is also co-editor of Municipal Services and Employees in the Modern City: New Historic Approaches (2003) and Metropolitan Natures: Environmental Histories of Montreal (2011). Peter Feldstein is the translator of eight books, including Paul-Émile Borduas: A Critical Biography, for which he won a Governor General’s Literary Award in 2014. He lives in Montreal.
Foreword: Water-Ville / Graeme Wynn
1 Montreal: One City, One Island
2 Sources of a New Definition of the City
3 The St. Lawrence: “A Superb Instrument to be Developed and Moulded”
4 From City to Island: The Extension of Water Systems and the Structuring of the Urban Fabric
5 In Search of the Lost River, or, the Urbanization of the Rivière des Prairies
6 The Weight of the Island: Connecting the City to the Continent
7 One City, One Archipelago: A Utopia?
Conclusion: In the Heart of the City
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