Objets flottants

Maude Nepveu-Villeneuve

Shawn Cotton

We reclaimed the great river, cradle of life

This dual collection includes a novel by author Maude Nepveu-Villeneuve and poetic fragments by Shawn Cotton. These texts address, directly and indirectly, Montreal as a city on an island as well as the invisible, hostile, overflowing presence of the St. Lawrence River.



Montreal is rainy this spring – nothing but rain, dreariness, river and streams overflowing, and when poet Shawn Cotton takes to the small stage of the lodge in La Fontaine Park, he forgets to remove his blue hood, which resembles a wave flowing across his curly hair. He is followed by the storyteller Maude Nepveu-Villeneuve with her clear voice, her chestnut glow, her childish face both pale and inspired. They read excerpts from their work entitled Objets flottants, the texts combined in two hand-printed booklets by the Atelier Abricot using “risography and a printing press”.

They chose to write about the river, or rather the love/hate relationship between Montrealers and the St. Lawrence River; the former wishing more immediacy, while the latter continues to evade their desires, captive in its role as an industrial highway and a refuge for floating objects.

(....) In three days, it will have been two months since my brother’s boat sank to the bottom of the river after colliding with a container ship. The investigations did not yield much; we did not find Alexandre, only debris (…). The river swallows people and spits out objects.

(Objets flottants, Maude Nepveu-Villeneuve, ARCMTL, 2017.)

Maude’s father, a skilled navigator, told her how his kayak capsized when he collided with the construction site of the future Champlain Bridge. The tale inspired Maude to write a fluid, sensitive short story. In language that is both delicate and crude, she depicts the emotional hardships of a teenager whose brother is engulfed forever by the St. Lawrence River. The story is poignant and luminous. It is an appeal to connect people with the river, and also for shared use of the river.

When Shawn was 14 or15 years old, he spent his weekends as an amateur musician playing with his band in a rehearsal studio in Pointe aux Trembles near the water. Rather than writing about nights spent smoking on the small beach until it was too late to catch the last bus, he chose a metaphor. He is an island surrounded by water, an isolated young Montreal poet who avoids movement, noise and others.

(....) I am sitting inside
a narcoleptic world
the streets unload
their cabinets of snow
in our home;
no longer worried
by the tremendous noise
coming from outside –
and the rainy days
extend across the map
of the area.

(Objets flottants, Shawn Cotton, ARCMTL, 2017.)

They read as the rain falls, and the crowd listens, huddled. Later, between drinks and discussions, Atelier Abricot is on site to print posters of life vests and lifebuoys floating on the surface of the water. We leave with our hands held tightly around the words of Shawn and Maude, emotionally charged and eager to read them in their entirety.

The river won’t defeat me. It is I who will defeat the river. Tomorrow I will be leaving for Rimouski and when I return to Montreal, it will be as one who walks on conquered land, standing upright on the deck of a ship.

(Objets flottants, Maude Nepveu-Villeneuve, ARCMTL, 2017.)



In the Kanienke'ha (Mohawk) language, the majestic river that surrounds us is called Kaniatarowanénhne (place of the big river) or Kahrhionhwa'kó:wa (the great river); in Algonquin, Magtogoek (the walking path).

Before the Europeans arrived the river was the matrix, the road and the pantry for people who lived here.

Among those who wish to re-establish the river as a vector of life/a node/a centre of gravity is Chantal Rouleau, former executive committee member responsible for water and water infrastructure for the City of Montreal. She views the river as the “cradle of life” for European settlers and “a shared resource”. Chantal Rouleau is mayor of Rivière des Prairies / Pointe aux Trembles. She entered politics with the goal of establishing a beach for residents in her borough on the northeast part of the island.

The guys on a Zodiac boat follow us to the middle of the river where boats and container ships sail at full speed regardless of the smaller craft such as kayaks, barely visible on the surface of the water. They then go back to work and abandon us as though we know what we’re doing.

writes Maude Nepveu-Villeneuve in her story “Objets flottants”. Shortly after, the kayak in her story turns back, lost on the seaway, which is just as deafening as a highway. Death looms in the distance.Yet the young hero, desperate to avenge his drowned brother, will learn to overcome the menacing river.

Mastering the river, reclaiming it from container ships, from roads and railways. Securing access, creating oases, remembering the first half of the 20th century which, although fully industrialized, abounded in beaches (up to 50 beaches, on both the South and North Shores, with at least a dozen on the periphery of the island. (


We want the river to become “the walking path” once more, a path for all, a shared resource. We want the frail skiffs of those who venture out on the river to feel safe.

We want beaches and oases to adorn the banks of the river like jewels on the neck of a dignified princess. After the upcoming Verdun beach and the new east-end beach, we shall continue to reclaim these shores!

We want Montreal’s underground rivers to spring forth like so many shimmering snakes. We dream of unearthing the small buried rivers flowing under the city. They would absorb runoff water before it is contaminated by the soil or obstructs the sewers. They would foster aquatic biodiversity. They would enchant young and old alike. (2)

We are Montreal.
We want to bring forth the future, today.
  1. « Montréal, un archipel coupé des eaux », Jean Décarie, Conseil régional de l’environnement, février 2005
  2. Voir l’initiative Bleue Montréal, à l’initiative du Fonds mondial pour la nature (WWF) 


Objets flottants and waterfronts access

Discover an excerpt from the double collection of poems by Maude Nepveu-Villeneuve and Shawn Cotton, edited and printed by Julien Boisseau and Catherine Ouellet-Cummings de Abricot.

ID card

Maude Nepveu-Villeneuve

Maude Nepveu-Villeneuve

Maude Nepveu-Villeneuve teaches literature and theater at the Cégep du Vieux Montréal and is part owner of Les Éditions de Ta Mère since 2011. Having studied drama and literature, she has explored various literary genres through her writing such as puppet theater, short stories, essays and novels. Her works have appeared in magazines as well as in the short story collections Le livre noir de ta mère (Éditions de Ta Mère, 2009), Maison des jeunes (Éditions de Ta Mère, 2013) and Ponts (Éditions de L’Aire, 2015), in which she co-authored a text with Noémi Schaub. She is the author of two novels, Partir de rien (Éditions de Ta Mère, 2011) and La remontée (Editions de Ta Mère, 2015).

Shawn Cotton

Shawn Cotton

Shawn Cotton is a writer and a musician dedicated to poetry, literature, bass guitar and performance. Apart from his artistic process, Cotton works at Port de Tête bookstore and edits for Le Cosmographe publishing house. He collaborated with numerous artists and directors as an interpreter, arranger, musician and author: Hanna Abd El Nour (Imagination du Monde, Volte21), Bernhari (Île-Jésus, Kryuchkova), Loui Mauffette (Dans les charbons), Skip Jensen (Spirit of the Ghost, Peine exemplaire pour ce tueur de chien), Mykalle Bielinski (Reverb) and Maxime Catellier (Nous avons marché dans la nuit de mai). He also published two poetry collections: Jonquière LSD (L’écrou, 2010), Les armes à penser (L’Oie de Cravan, on 2012) and 46 poems in magazines (Nouveau Projet, Estuaire, Liberté, Cousins de Personne, Ectropion et autres). He currently lives in Montreal where he is working on a new collection of poems. 


Co-production and co-diffusion

LA SERRE – arts vivants

Credits for the piece

Creation Maude Nepveu-Villeneuve and Shawn Cotton
with the participation of Julien Boisseau and Catherine Ouellet-Cummings


Director and Editor Joël Morin-Ben Abdallah; 
Camera Isabelle Stachtchenko, Charlie Marois, Joel Morin-Ben Abdallah;
Sound Sophie Bédard Marcotte, Joel Morin-Ben Abdallah;
Filming was made possible thanks to the equipment provided by ON EST 10, solidarity co-op


Event Vivien Gaumand
Portraits Manon Villeneuve © Maurice Vadeboncoeur, Shawn Cotton © Frédéric Chabot

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