June 2010

Pointe-à-Callière presents 100 Years Underground

For immediate release

Montréal, June 28, 2010 - Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, presents a new exhibition, 100 Years Underground. The exhibition, running from June 29 to August 29, 2010, salutes a milestone in the history of electrification and telecommunications in Montréal: the 100th anniversary of the Commission des services électriques de Montréal (CSEM) and its underground network.

100 Years Underground, presented in the exhibition room at the Youville Pumping Station, Montréal's first electrically powered wastewater pumping station, invites visitors on a journey through space and time on different themes, focusing on the contribution of the CSEM. The Commission’s work, while invisible, is nonetheless essential. Although few Montrealers realize it, the Commission’s accomplishments have has transformed the urban landscape. The goal of this exhibition is to make everyone aware of the achievements of this organization, one of the few of its kind in North America.

More than 100 years ago…
At the turn of the 20th century, poles sprang up everywhere along city streets as electrification spread quickly and telegraph and telephone networks grew. These poles and wires cluttered the cityscape, however, and caused the fire department much concern. Finally, on June 27, 1910, the Quebec government authorized the city of Montréal to “construct, administer and maintain, with the right to regulate the use thereof, a system of underground conduits wherein shall be placed all […] wires,” and to appoint a Commission to be known as The Electric Service Commission of the City of Montreal.

This was a visionary initiative at the time, as shown by the fact that it still exists in the same form 100 years later. In fact, Montréal is the only city in Canada with an organization devoted to building, operating and maintaining the infrastructure necessary for underground cable networks. The CSEM’s operations are financed entirely by users of these underground conduits, as partners. At a time when much of Montréal’s infrastructure is showing its age, the hundred-year old CSEM model has guaranteed ongoing maintenance and expansion of its cable network infrastructure over the years.

Meeting the men and women who built the network
Visitors will come away with a better understanding of the CSEM’s work in its first 100 years. Its major achievements are also a reflection of the many changes that occurred in Montréal during the 20th century: the growth of the “Great White Way,” St. Catherine Street and its role as the city’s first commercial artery, the Lachine Canal, Lafontaine Park, the Metropolitan Boulevard across the north of the city, and more recently Expo 67 and the Olympic Games in 1976. The exhibition pays special tribute to the artisans of the CSEM, who built the network and developed expertise that has benefited all Montrealers.

Why go underground?
When the CSEM was created, burying the wires was primarily a question of safety. It had a number of other advantages, though, as it optimized urban development and contributed to neighbourhood renewal and, more recently, to heritage promotion. Municipal authorities have recognized that burying wires enhances residents’ quality of life and the city’s socioeconomic development. The technology lasts longer than overhead networks, and offers better protection from the elements. On the whole, it is an alternative with undeniable advantages, especially from a long-term perspective and in highly urbanized settings.

A sparkling collection of glass insulators
Part of the exhibition is devoted to a delightful installation of glass insulators used on high- and medium-voltage lines. These insulators gradually disappeared as poles came down and lines were buried, and are now collectors’ items. They come in different shapes and colours, depending on where and when they were used. The installation is presented as part of Montreal, City of Glass. A Tale of Innovation.

Pointe-à-Callière and the Commission des services électriques de Montréal
Pointe-à-Callière’s main mission is to bring visitors to know and appreciate the Montréal of yesterday and today through exhibitions, education, conservation and research activities revolving around our city’s archaeological and historical heritage. The CSEM’s work over the past century is an important part of Montréal’s past, and is highly deserving of the recognition it will receive thanks to this exhibition.

The CSEM, given its operations, is often called upon to play a crucial role in preserving the city’s heritage. For a number of years now, archaeological excavations have been carried out to identify any heritage elements before work begins on the network of underground conduits. Thanks to the co-operation and vigilance of the CSEM, many sites and artifacts testifying to Montréal’s past have been preserved.

100 Years Underground, running from June 29 to August 29, 2010, was produced by Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, with the Commission des services électriques de Montréal. The Museum thanks its partners: Hydro-Québec, Lécuyer innovation béton, TCI Transelec common, AXOR Experts-Conseil, Construction NRC, Dessau, Genivar, Groupe ABS, Groupe Séguin ingénerie, MTL Entrepreneurs généraux inc, Blain et Paquin arpenteurs-géomètres inc., Consultants AGIR Inc, Environnement Routier NRJ inc., Inspec-Sol inc., Leroux, Beaudoin, Hurens et associés inc., Morneau Sobeco, MTO Telecom inc., SNC Lavalin, Unibéton and Yves Germain Construction inc.

The Museum is subsidized by the city of Montréal.