The Development of Universal Water Supply in Montreal, Mid-19th Century

Special Report: Varia 2004
By Dany Fougères

In 1863, all Montrealers, rich and poor alike, have tap water at home. This paper relates the history of the development of the universal service of water supply in Montreal. First in the hands of a private company, water supply was taken over by the municipality in 1843-1845. But despite public ownership, the provision of the service remains based on commercial principles, and this hampers the expansion of the system considerably. In fact, due to this (legal) obligation and to the technological risk associated with water supply at the time, the change in ownership did not change anything as regards the water system’s development. In 1851, however, new legislation entitles the municipality of Montreal to compel each Montrealer to use the municipal water supply service. From then on, water supply is subject to what can be termed a public provision regime. Admittedly, this regime based on compulsory use was only established once the general interest of universal water supply had been acknowledged, but it also allows the set up of a new financing “scheme” for water supply that municipal leaders had been longing to implement for a certain time. The technical and financial interest of the service provider thus meets the general interest of the population of Montreal in this process that leads to the universalisation of water supply — an important (although admittedly forced) form of solidarity among the city’s population.

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