Chambly Canal National Historic Site of Canada

The Towman

"The towman plods wearily behind his horses. The towpath is lit up by the full moon, as the barge laden with coal glides along the water, 100 m behind him. The July night is hot and sultry.

The day has gone well: even if the horses seem a trifle edgy, there have been no accidents, broken harnesses, falls in the water, or collisions. Everything has gone smoothly but the towman is dead tired. He has been up since before daybreak, at work since 4 o'clock this morning and it is now nearly 10 at night.

A carter with his three horses pulling a barge on the Chambly Canal tow path. Scene of the Chambly Canal at the beginning of the 20th century.
© McCord Museum of Canadian History / Notman

In a few minutes, he will reach the locks and be nearly home. But he still has to take his barge through the locks, water and feed his horses and clean any sores from their rubbing bridles before bedding down for a few hours of well-earned rest.

In no time it will be tomorrow, with more barges at the quay waiting to be towed toward Saint-Jean. Since the siren sounded signalling the arrival of the first boats in mid-May, things have been busy and the weather gloomy. But however exhausting the work, there is no question of taking time off: the barges must be brought up at once, and the Chambly Canal towmen are the people who have to do it."

Adapted from a text by Bernadette Laflamme,
President, Chambly Seigneury Historical Society