What happened to the Montreal harbour ice shove?

They were surreal sights: mountains of ice, some as high as several storeys, pummeling Montreal's Old Port. For Montrealers in the 19th century, the ice shove was both a spectacle and a real and present danger.

Slow-moving mountains of ice once battered the Old Port

Huge shards of ice litter de la Commune Street after an ice shove plows through the Montreal harbour in the late 19th century. (Library and Archives Canada)

They were surreal sights: mountains of ice, some as high as several storeys, pummeling Montreal's Old Port.

For 19th-century Montrealers, the springtime threat of a wall of ice plowing down their livelihoods and paralyzing the port was an ever-present threat. And when an ice shove happened, it was unstoppable, taking out everything its path.

"If you were one of the port commissioners, or if you had infrastructure in the port, you were probably not very happy," said Tyler Wood, a guide at the Centre d'histoire de Montréal. 

"But if you were just a passerby and you were walking through, it was a spectacle. Before the internet, people probably came down here to check out the ice shoves."

Tyler Wood holds the work of one of the many artists who came to the port to capture the spectacle of the Montreal harbour ice shove. (CBC)

An ice slab was at once both terrifying and the Insta-worthy destination of choice for Victorian-era tourists. 

People stood atop the massive chunks of ice like mountaineers, snapping photographs. They sent postcards to their friends.

But just what caused the Montreal ice shoves, and why don't we see them today? Wood has the answers. 

What the Montreal: What was the Montreal ice shove?

4 years ago
Duration 3:29
Mountains of ice plowed through the port indiscriminately until modern engineering solved the destructive problem.


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