I was 13 when I began crossing the St. Lawrence to go to downtown Montreal. I was starting high school at Collège Sainte-Marie, an institution run by the Jesuits, located at the corner of de Bleury and Dorchester (now René-Lévesque). We are in 1959, there was no metro and we had to take a bus across Victoria Bridge. On the South Shore side of the river the bus would take us around the Seaway locks. Once on the other side, our attention was taken up by the dozens of trucks dumping garbage in the river. I don’t remember being offended; the environment was far from a priority. I did not question the practice; that’s how it was done in those days.
The garbage dump was part of our daily life; it had been opened in 1860, more than one hundred and fifty years ago. That’s a lot of garbage and the bad news is that it’s still all there. The dump was closed in the sixties not so much because of the damage to the environment but to make way to a 25,000-place parking lot to receive the visitors to the 1967 World Fair. Time was of the essence; no time to clean up the mess. The simple solution was to cover everything with asphalt. The dump disappeared, or so they thought. For once, I would have hoped that the authorities act as an ostrich, which they often do, and bury their heads under the dandelions to see what was hiding below.
A garbage dump is a garbage dump. The asphalt did not stop the biogas from reaching the surface and the visitors using the Victoria Carpark, as it was called, were met with obnoxious odours that did not belong in a bucolic setting like the shores of the majestic St. Lawrence River. Not only did the biogas smell awful but they also damaged the paint on the cars of a number of visitors.
Following Expo 67, a brilliant bureaucrat in Ottawa, came up with the idea of building an airport on the site. Short takeoff planes would be used to establish a link between downtown Ottawa and Montreal. If at least it had established a link to downtown Toronto, but Ottawa? L’Adacport, that’s what it was called, was a failure just like the Mirabel International airport that was built during those same years. I still remember the sight of the abandoned landing strips buckling because of the malleable nature of the grounds where they had been built. After the airport, the city decided to develop a Technopark on the site. Another failure: who wants to build on a pile of garbage?
Still today the garbage dump is a problem; it produces garbage juices, a toxic mix of chemicals that escape into the river under the Bonaventure expressway. Authorities have installed barriers on the surface of the water to catch some of the pollution. They can be seen when crossing the Victoria Bridge but they are not effective. The city has announced that it will build a barrier wall to catch the garbage juices and a plant to treat them. According to the city, its construction will be finished in 2020 and will cost 50 million dollars. I crossed the Victoria Bridge last week and the only thing a saw was a bunch of orange construction cones on the Bonaventure Expressway. Nothing else.
The practice of using the St. Lawrence as a garbage dump is far from unique to Montreal. Garbage dumps exist all along the river and the potential damage they might cause to some of our most beautiful landmarks is unfathomable.
A few examples in my next blog.