A number of Montreal’s former rivers flowed through and fed the shallow and swampy lake that was once known as Lac à la Loutre. Also called Petit Lac St. Pierre because of its convergence with the St. Pierre River, it extended nearly seven kilometers from Ville St. Pierre in Montreal West across today’s neighborhoods of Nôtre-Dame-de-Grace and St. Henri, and continued on to Atwater Avenue. Lac à la Loutre was long and narrow reaching just over a kilometer at its widest point.
There are several theories about the origin of the lake’s name. “Loutre” translates from the French to “beaver” or “otter.” Some say the name comes from the fact that the lake was home to a large population of beavers in the 16th century. Another story suggests that the indigenous populations who cultivated the surrounding territories gave the lake its name in reference to its shape. Lac à la Loutre, it was said, was the baby beaver that rested in the belly of the mama beaver — that is, the Island of Montreal. The St. Pierre River, which flowed through lake, was thought of as the birth canal that led to the outlet in the St. Laurent River.