Montreal: The New Venice

A water main in the McTavish Reservoir ruptured at approximately 4:00pm on Monday, causing water to rush violently down McTavish Street. The water spread quickly through the campus, causing classes and events such as SSMUFest (Activities Night) and Work Your BA to be cancelled. “Overall it was just a mess,” finds SSMU President Josh Redel.

The flood trapped some students on campus, as McGill became an island, bounded by flooding on McTavish Street to the west, University Street to the east, Dr. Penfield Avenue to the north, and Sherbrooke Street to the south. “We should build an ark,” suggested one student on campus. “Let’s find two students from each major.”

Service Point was flooded, and power was lost in the Wong Engineering Building. The SSMU Building was not flooded, though its occupants were asked to evacuate because of its closeness to the rushing water. “We had a rather quick evacuation, but the only problem was where to send people, because we had to send them towards Peel,” explains Redel. “It is really unfortunate that we had to cancel SSMUFest, though unfortunately there was general confusion campuswide.” SSMUFest has been rescheduled to Tuesday night.

Fire trucks and clean up crews from the City of Montreal were sent to the scene to alleviate the situation. McGill Security Services was also present. “Campus security was doing a lot of things,” notes Doug Sweet, Director of Internal Communications at McGill’s Media Relations Office (MRO). “They were trying to get people to stay safe, making sure they didn’t get into dangerous situations with the rushing water. They were also in buildings, inspecting water damage and checking in on people.”

Throughout the crisis, the MRO issued a series of emails updating students about the flood and class cancellations, while cautioning them to be careful when walking in flooded areas. The MRO also advised that people, documents, and computers in affected buildings be moved to higher ground.

The Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to 500,000 Montrealers, has been under renovation since October. It appears that construction equipment broke the main’s seal and caused the rupture by Dr. Penfield Avenue. At around 7:30pm, the City turned off the water and the flood ended, with most of the water flowing into the St. Lawrence River. A smaller pipe is still leaking, but this water is being diverted into the sewer system and does not pose a threat to the McGill campus nor the city streets. McGill workers were seen cleaning up residual water on campus.

A smaller water main burst at the Reservoir back in September 2011, causing McTavish to flood, but this flooding was far less extensive. A similar incident in 2009 caused flooding and damage in a number of McGill buildings.

There is concern that the slippery roads will ice over, as temperatures are expected to be below zero overnight and for much of Tuesday. Sweet explained that McGill has plans to avoid the problem. “We are going to be putting salt everywhere – all over the place. But people will have to be careful, not just on campus but most of downtown.” Temperatures are expected to rise above zero on Tuesday evening, which could potentially undo some of the icing.

While the flooding has stopped, McGill will still have to assess the damage caused and begin repairs. Classes for Tuesday will continue as usual, though classes held in the Wong Building will be relocated. Water damage is extensive and elevators are disabled in many buildings. “It’s been a very busy day,” says Sweet. “And it’s not over yet.”

Update (January 29th): According to an email from the MRO, cleanup crews worked all night to remove the water on campus. Classes in the Birks Building and Wilson Hall have also been cancelled for today, and classes in the Wong Building will be moved to another location for the rest of the week. Other building closures include Service Point, the Welcome Centre, and James Administration. The area at Milton and University Street continues to be flooded, so students are advised to access campus through Roddick Gates.

Photos by Media Editor JD Moirez

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