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Metropolitan Natures

Environmental Histories of Montreal

Edited by Stéphane Castonguay and Michèle Dagenais

Publication Year: 2011

One of the oldest metropolitan areas in North America, Montreal has evolved from a remote fur-trading post in New France into an international center for services and technology. A city and an island located at the confluence of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers; it is uniquely situated to serve as an international port while also providing rail access to the Canadian interior. The historic capital of the Province of Canada, and once Canada’s foremost metropolis, Montreal has a multifaceted cultural heritage drawn from European and North American influences. Thanks to its rich past, the city offers an ideal setting for the study of an evolving urban environment. Metropolitan Natures presents original histories of the diverse environments that constitute Montreal and it region. It explores the agricultural and industrial transformation of the metropolitan area, the interaction of city and hinterland, and the interplay of humans and nature. The fourteen chapters cover a wide range of issues, from landscape representations during the colonial era to urban encroachments on the Kahnawake Mohawk reservation on the south shore of the island, from the 1918–1920 Spanish flu epidemic and its ensuing human environmental modifications to the urban sprawl characteristic of North America during the postwar period. Situations that politicize the environment are discussed as well, including the economic and class dynamics of flood relief, highways built to facilitate recreational access for the middle class, power-generating facilities that invade pristine rural areas, and the elitist environmental hegemony of fox hunting. Additional chapters examine human attempts to control the urban environment through street planning, waterway construction, water supply, and sewerage.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: History of the Urban Environment

Title Page

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Figures and Tables

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xiv

This book is based on a workshop held in Montreal on March 13, 2009, where the authors first presented their papers. We thank the participants for attending and providing critical comments on the papers presented during that one-day marathon. The Canada Research Chair in Environmental History...

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pp. 1-16

In its efforts to understand the city as an ecological setting, urban environmental history has revealed the naturalness of urban places. In that respect, the term “metropolitan natures” refers to the water that circulates within and throughout the city, animals that invade its territory and crowd its buildings, and trees that shade properties and public spaces, providing wealth and health...

Representations: Urban Cultures

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1. The Colonial Landscapes of the Early Town

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pp. 19-36

An urban form—in a Western culture where urbanity has historically been seen as the antithesis to nature—Montreal was one of the few exceptions to the more typical rural landscapes of the St. Lawrence Valley during the period of French and British colonization. It was a city, really a town for the period covered in this chapter, a fortified one where walls isolated the fairly dense human concentration within it from the sustaining natural forces that lay outside it: the farms that produced food...

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2. The Herons Are Still Here: History and Place

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pp. 37-50

In the early 1940s, Carl Sauer wrote that “the historical geographer must . . . be a regional specialist, for he must not only know the region as it appears today; he must know its lineaments so well that he can find in it traces of the past, and he must know its qualities so well that he can see it as it was under past situations...

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3. Corporeal Understandings of the Industrializing Environment

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pp. 51-67

In the small town of Saint-Germain, Quebec, basking in the late-summer breeze blowing in from the St. Lawrence, and in the delicious fragrance of freshly cut hay drifting from nearby fields, a group of young people sat on the porch of their friend Édouard Leblanc’s family home, enjoying their last moments of vacation before the next day’s train...

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4. Influenza and the UrbanEnvironment, 1918-1920

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pp. 68-82

The influenza pandemic of 1918–1920, long “forgotten” by historians, has recently captured the imagination of both scholars and the general public, in part because of fears, over the past few years, of a new, twenty-first-century pandemic.1 Montreal, Canada’s early-twentieth-century metropolis, was prey to two waves...


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5. Surface Water in theEarly Nineteenth Century

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pp. 85-100

At the turn of the nineteenth century, urban Montrealers’ choice of areas in which to live was partly determined by the area’s surface water, meaning the interior watercourses and runoff from rain and melting snow. For some Montrealers, proximity to watercourses was an advantage. This was particularly true for hat makers and tanners, who nevertheless, in 1817, were required to concentrate their activities...

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6. At the Source of a New Urbanity: Water Networks and Power Relations in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 101-114

According to journalist Guillaume-Alphonse Nantel, in his treatise on urban planning published at the beginning of the twentieth century, floods of water constituted one of Montreal’s great riches...

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7. Hidden Water in the Landscape: The Covered Reservoirs of Mount Royal

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pp. 115-132

Located on an island within a major river, with a small mountain near its center, Montreal occupies an exceptional site. The ample supply of water from the St. Lawrence River and Mount Royal’s height of more than 230 meters (760 feet) offered a unique opportunity for the development of the city’s water supply system. It was also a setting in which engineering concepts

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8. The Political Ecology of Floodsin the Late Nineteenth Century

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pp. 133-147

“The ice is piled up in an immense heap in the center of the channel, blocking it completely,” remarked a New York Times correspondent reporting from Montreal in the spring of 1885.1 It was not the first or last time that floods in Montreal made international news. Because the Island of Montreal is situated on a north-flowing river in a cold climate...

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9. City Streets as Environmental Grid: The Challenge of Private Uses and Municipal Stewardship

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pp. 148-167

What part of the earth’s resources is a human being entitled to appropriate? In a treatise on political economy, the earliest in North America (1820), Daniel Raymond, a Baltimore lawyer, challenged Adam Smith and developed an argument for stewardship of the earth, a horizon of sustainability, and, as a prerequisite, a greater degree of equality in the distribution...

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10. A City on the Move: The Surprising Consequences of Highways

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pp. 168-184

In the second half of the twentieth century, highways—defined here as limited-access roads where vehicles can safely be driven at high speeds—had many environmental repercussions in peri-urban and rural areas, but they primarily affected ecosystems and agricultural and forest landscapes. In densely developed urban centers, the environmental issues associated...


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11. Agriculture on theMontreal Plain, 1850–1950: Urban Market and Metropolitan Hinterland

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pp. 187-210

Before the city was the forest, and then the field. Montreal, both the island and the city with its suburbs, saw a succession of agricultural environments and technical-economic networks—agrosystems—that spurts of urbanization first reshaped, then eroded in the nineteenth and twentieth...

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12. Horses, Hedges, and Hegemony: Foxhunting in the Countryside

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pp. 211-227

In January 1897, the Quebec government passed legislation under the province’s fish and game laws making it illegal “to hunt, kill, or take” foxes between April 1 and November 1. At first, no one seemed to notice that this legislation might pose problems for the Montreal Hunt, Canada’s most prominent foxhunting club and a bastion of that city’s Anglo Protestant elite...

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13. When Bridges Become Barriers: Montreal and Kahnawake Mohawk Territory

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pp. 228-244

During the height of the Oka Crisis in 1990, Kahnawake Mohawks demonstrated support for their beleaguered brothers and sisters at Kanesatake by blocking the Honor

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14. The Destruction of the Rural Hinterland: Industrialization of Landscapes in Beauharnois County

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pp. 245-264

The Beauharnois hydroelectric canal is so immense that words cannot adequately convey the sense of its size. Luckily for us, in the early twenty-first century, we have Google Maps. Before reading this chapter, go to the Google Maps Web site and select the “satellite” picture option. Then, type “canal near Beauharnois, QC” in the search box...

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Conclusion: The Historicity of Montreal’s Environment

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pp. 265-270

In the seventeenth century, the frontier town of Montreal began developing around the activities of fur trading and defending the colony against the Aboriginal populations on whose territory the urban core was established. Both a trade center and a military post from the outset, the city took shape while maintaining a dual-faceted relationship...


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pp. 271-312


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pp. 313-316


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pp. 317-321

E-ISBN-13: 9780822977711
E-ISBN-10: 0822977710
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822944027
Print-ISBN-10: 0822944022

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 44 b&w illustrations
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: History of the Urban Environment

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Urban ecology (Sociology) -- Québec (Province) -- Montréal.
  • Montréal (Québec) -- History.
  • Montréal (Québec) -- Environmental conditions.
  • Human ecology -- Québec (Province) -- Montréal.
  • Cities and towns -- Québec (Province) -- Montréal -- Growth.
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