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Fort Chambly National Historic Site

The Richelieu River, an Invasion and Escape Route

La rivière Richelieu, voie d’invasion et d’évasion
Richelieu River and Fort Chambly seen from above
© Parks Canada

Thousands of years ago, North America, a land of forests and mountains, was inhabited by Amerindians who subsisted on hunting, fishing and gathering. In this place without land routes, waterways were the true highways used by these early inhabitants to feed themselves, to trade, and to make war. The Richelieu River, stretching more than 100 kilometres from Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence River, was definitely among the navigable waterways that marked the history of the continent.

With the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, the Richelieu River was far from losing its importance. In the context of the wars between the French and the Iroquois, lasting for almost the entire 17th century, the Rivière des Iroquois, as it was then called, would be a route for the invasion of Montreal and areas controlled by the Iroquois. It was at the edge of this river that the soldiers of the Carignan-Salières regiment erected a string of forts to conduct war in Iroquois territory.

In the 18th century, the Richelieu Valley lay at the heart of the strategic considerations of the French and British colonial empires. To support their policy of territorial expansion and to control the fur trade, both powers erected a number of fortified positions in the area. Fort Chambly and several other forts still standing south of the border recall this period when the Richelieu River was central to strategic matters.

At the time of the American Revolution and again in the War of 1812, the Americans attacked their northern neighbours by way of the Richelieu. In the second half of the 19th century, this river ceased to be a route for war, and its use in trade grew in importance, especially with the completion of the Chambly Canal in 1843.

Today, the Richelieu River is no longer the commercial waterway it once was, but it is still part of the lives of people nearby, as a place for recreation. This former invasion route is now an escape route.