The Vianney-Legendre Fishway provides a route for many fish species, some at risk, to navigate over the Saint-Ours dam and reach their spawning and feeding grounds. It was built in the spring of 2001. This is a concrete measure to preserve biodiversity and maintain wild fish populations at viable levels.

What is the Vianney-Legendre Fishway?

Overview of Vianney-Legendre Fishway
Vianney-Legendre Fishway.
Aerial view of the Richelieu River and the Saint-Ours Canal National Historic Site of Canada.
Aerial view of the Saint-Ours Canal National Historic Site of Canada and the Saint-Ours dam, on the Richelieu River.

The Vianney-Legendre Fishway is a structure that offers an alternative route to fish stranded at the base of the Saint-Ours dam as they try to swim up Quebec’s Richelieu River.

The fishway was named in honour of Vianney Legendre, a renowned ichthyologist (fish scientist) who officially named the Copper Redhorse (Moxostoma hubbsi) in 1952.

The Copper Redhorse is one of the species that uses the fishway. It is a rare fish found only in Quebec. In fact, the world’s only known Copper Redhorse spawning grounds are located on the Richelieu River. Because of its limited geographical distribution, low population density and increasing rarity, the Copper Redhorse was listed as threatened by COSEWIC in 1987. In 2004, COSEWIC moved the Copper Redhorse to its endangered list.

Where is the Vianney - Legendre Fishway?

The French name for the Copper Redhorse is "Chevalier Cuivré", which means "Copper Knight." This name comes from the fish's large, copper-coloured scales, which resemble the chain mail worn by medieval knights.

The Saint-Ours heritage canal, opened in 1849, enables boats travelling the Richelieu River to bypass a hurdle between Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River - the Saint-Ours dam. The fishway is part of the Saint-Ours Canal National Historic Site of Canada, by the dam between Sorel and Chambly, Quebec.

Why reconstruct the Vianney-Legendre Fishway?

Construction of the fishway.
Construction of the fishway in spring 2001.

During reconstruction work carried out in 1967, the fishway that had been part of the dam for over 100 years wasn’t replaced. Since that time, the dam had been preventing the natural movement of fish along the Richelieu River.

This river is home to over 60 species of fish, including species whose survival in the Richelieu River is of concern - the Copper Redhorse, River Redhorse, Lake Sturgeon, American Shad and American Eel. These fish need to move between these areas to breed, and in the case of the American Eel, to feed.

Some of these species migrate thousands of kilometres. Others don’t travel far at all. But no matter what the distance, the movements are crucial to the health of fish populations. When obstacles like dams block fish movement, populations can suffer.

What is Park Canada doing to maintain the Vianney-Legendre Fishway?

One way to help fish move beyond obstacles like dams is to install fishways. These structures, sometimes also called fish passages or fish ladders, enable fish to swim over the barriers.

In spring 2001, Parks Canada, in collaboration with various partners, constructed a multi-species fishway to help fish navigate beyond the Saint-Ours dam.

The main, multispecies fishway responds to the requirements and characteristics of the Lake Sturgeon, American Shad, River Redhorse, and Copper Redhorse. A special fishway was added to accommodate the needs of the American Eel.

The design of the structure took a number of factors into consideration, including:

  • the body size of the five main fish species expected to use the fishway
  • the capacity of the fish to swim upstream
  • the different periods of use
  • the rate of water flow

The construction of these fishways represents an important effort to preserve fish biodiversity in the Richelieu River. The structures enable all the fish in the river to reach their spawning grounds, find suitable habitat, and move between populations for access to a wider gene pool. The fishway will also enable eels to regain access to feeding grounds, a factor that could benefit commercial fishing.

On May 30, 2002, the first Copper Redhorse was detected passing through the fishway at Saint-Ours. In 2005, over 20 Copper Redhorse fish were caught in the fishway. American shad, although found nearby, have not yet been caught or seen in the fishway. Between 2002 and 2005, the Vianney-Legendre Fishway allowed several thousand individuals of 36 fish species to navigate freely beyond the Saint-Ours dam, a major obstacle.

The project is a concrete measure to preserve biodiversity and maintain wild fish populations at risk at viable levels. We hope that it will promote the better management of uses of the Richelieu River, a major tributary of the St. Lawrence.

Partners in the Vianney-Legendre Fishway project include:

A painting of a Copper Redhorse, an American Eel and a Lake Sturgeon.
Fish, like the Copper Redhorse, the American Eel and the Lake Sturgeon in this painting, can be seen through windows in the walls of the Vianney-Legendre Fishway.
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec
  • Economic Development Canada
  • Environment Canada
  • Agriculture, Pêcheries et Alimentation Québec
  • Transport Canada
  • Fondation de la faune du Québec
  • Projet Rescousse.

Parks Canada is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the Vianney-Legendre Fishway.