Sunday, 11 September 2011

Travel Back into time on the waters of the Lachine Canal


                                                            By Nancy Snipper

 I had the pleasure of enjoying a marvellous boat tour that charted the history both of the making of the canal and also the countless companies - some of whose structures still stand today. Thank to Parks Canada who actually took ownership of the canal in 1978, the tour is run by this outstanding government department. My guide Simon was animated and so informative that he made everything so interesting. The canal with its locks was built in 1821 with the merge of the North West Company and the Hudson Bay Company. Fur exporting dwindled to a mere 5% and so wheat and its ken replaced the fur trade. Through many different periods ranging from its beginning to the 1930; the Lachine Canal went through three transformations and four different kinds of boats including the Durham with its sail through to the Canaller and finally to its massive Laker that rode through its sluices in the 1930s. It was 10 times bigger than its predecessor and with it over 100 boats shipping a myriad of tons of cargo was able to travel, but only because a new much larger canal was built.

Our excursion brought history into focus as we passed the many historical structures including Five Roses Flour Factory, Glenora Flour, the Switch and Spring Company building and another one that made ladies’ stockings.  Ogilvy was an empire onto its own, and its many factories still stand today. The boat that went through lock 3 (5) in all, took us along a 6-kilometre historical waters of the 14 kilometres of the full canal We turned around at Peel Basin where its present-day calmness totally lies in opposition to the cacophony of noise that once traveled along the waves within the canal’s walls. Imagine 800 companies were busy manufacturing and shipping out their goods.  We could almost hear the sounds of the past as the boat slowly traveled along 6 kilometres of the canal’s14 kilometres. This watery landmark runs from Lachine to the Old Port of Montreal. In 1920, over 15,000 boats per year made their way within the 5 locks. Now, there are only a few pleasure crafts that make their way in these age-old waters and of course the Park Canada boat. In 1970, that new canal built back in the 30s was closed up and by the year 2000, the canal was deemed for pleasure use only. I can’t give all the juicy details and recreate the tough times that the Irish went through when the canal was first built (they built it – pic and axe in hand) nor can I give you the descriptions that Simon so vividly did when he spoke about the horses having to pull the Durham in mud since some of the bridges were immoveable. Simon engaged us thoroughly in the history of the canal bringing man water and building together in surely one of Canada’s most brilliant creations – the Lachine Canal.

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