Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The urbanization of Montreal in the 19th and 20th centuries was accomplished by disconnecting citizens from urban rivers and lakes and instead connecting them to a vast, largely unseen, hydraulic infrastructure. Yet in the early 21st century, Montreal’s waters are everywhere re-emerging in new and less predictable forms. Projects to reclaim the banks of the St-Laurence and to “daylight” long-buried rivers have emerged alongside waste-water overflows and new public interest in subterranean currents. As water re-emerges it reorients the city’s historical imaginaries and perspectives on the city’s future. Sudden pluvial floods awaken fears of future climate change, infrastructural breakdowns make people re-think long-forgotten engineering decisions, and river reclamation projects attempt to reconstruct fragments of past ecologies in the service of speculative futures. What is perhaps most surprising about this is that while the waters of the Anthropocene are emerging in many parts of the world, in Montreal they are doing so despite the fact that the “problems” posed by Montreal's waters are comparatively benign: the city is so hydraulically well-endowed that engineers complain they have no way to convince citizens or bureaucrats to save it, and while occasional floods threaten a handful of low-lying neighbourhoods, the city continues to be easily-drained. Montreal’s waters do not therefore emerge out of crisis, nor out of a sense of the impending end of the world, but instead speak of other, slower changes in urban modernity.