135-year-old Montreal pumphouse to be restored, used as learning centre

Construction to restore the Craig Pumping Station is underway. The city of Montreal is hoping to preserve elements of it and turn it into a centre to educate the public, giving guided tours of the network of tunnels and sewers that live under the pumphouse. 

Heritage advocates fought for years to save Craig Pumping Station

The Craig Pumping Station, along with its sister station on Riverside Street, was built in 1887 to counter rising waters and protect the city of Montreal from flooding. (Submitted by the City of Montreal)

It's been 70 years since Montreal's Craig Pumping Station managed the city's water system, but heritage advocates are hoping a restoration project planned for the historic building will highlight the impact it had on the city we know today. 

"It saved Montreal from flooding," said Danielle Plamondon, co-founder of the heritage group Les AmiEs de la Craig, who has fought to preserve the site for years. 

The pumphouse — one of the oldest in North America — sits abandoned and dilapidated under the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. But in 1887, it was one of Montreal's newest, built to prevent future floods after after the city's financial district was completely submerged in the spring.

Now 135 years old and useless after the construction of the seaway in 1959, I-beams bolted to the sides of the pumphouse keep the stone walls from buckling. 

"It's our baby and for me, when I saw those beams, I said, 'Oh my God, she's crumbling and we need to take care of her,'" said Plamondon. 

The city of Montreal plans to dismantle the historic building and restore it, turning it into a centre to educate people about Montreal's water works and industrial heritage. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

In 2020, the city of Montreal said the pumping station — which houses four centrifugal pumps and the four coal-powered steam engines required to run them — was in danger of collapse and would need to be completely demolished. 

After a series of public consultations and pushback from heritage groups, the borough of Ville-Marie now plans to dismantle the building and rebuild it. The pumphouse will be turned into a centre to educate the public, with guided tours of the network of tunnels and sewers that exist beneath the building. 

Respecting heritage

Coun. Robert Beaudry, the executive committee member in charge of urban planning, citizen participation and democracy, said the project will focus on rebuilding the station while respecting the historical integrity of it, starting by protecting as many components of the pumphouse as possible. 

"We want to preserve the Craig station, rebuild the Craig station, and to have an opportunity to use it for community use," he said.

He said most of the dismantling will affect the building's above-ground structure, but its original facade will be maintained. Its underground steam pumps and sewer tunnels made of brick will be preserved. 

In early 2020, the historic chimney had to be partially deconstructed due to the risk of it collapsing onto the adjacent thoroughfares.

The spring floods of 1886 turned the streets of Montreal's financial district into waterways. (George Charles Arless/McCord Museum )

Beaudry said the restoration project began this week and the pumphouse will be accessible to citizens beginning next September. 

"It's really a delicate project because there's heritage but there's also public safety and there's also mobility issues ... so it's not simple but we still work on it, we believe in it," he said. 

'Not just sending the bulldozer in'

According to a city release, the project aims to educate people about the water management in Montreal throughout history. 

"Ultimately, it is intended that the station will have a cultural and community vocation reflecting its importance in Montreal's heritage," the release reads. 

Dinu Bumbaru, the policy director for Heritage Montreal, said although the city neglected the building for decades, he welcomes the way the project is moving forward. 

"It's proceeding in a way that is methodical, not just sending the bulldozer in," he said, adding he's looking forward to the heritage building's renaissance.

The city has not confirmed its timeline for the completion of the restoration process. 

Based on reporting by Rowan Kennedy


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