This Week in History


Construction of the Lachine Canal

This story was initially published in 2000

On July 17, 1821, the first sod was turned to begin construction of the Lachine Canal. It marked the beginning of a major program of canal building in Canada, and an effort by Montréal merchants to capture the trade of the Great Lakes interior for the port of Montréal.

The Lachine Canal as it opened in 1824

The Lachine Canal as it opened in 1824
© H. Burnett / LAC / C-113716

Since the beginning of settlement in New France, the Lachine Rapids at Montréal were an obstacle to the expansion of settlement and trade into the interior. To avoid the rapids, all goods and merchandise had to be carried by ox-cart on a costly 14 kilometre trip between Montréal and Lachine at the head of Montréal Island. As early as 1689, François Dollier de Casson, Superior of the Sulpician Order, attempted to construct a canal to bypass the Lachine Rapids. However, the hard rock proved too costly to excavate. Further attempts were discouraged until 1817, when the Americans began building the Erie Canal to divert the trade of the Great Lakes interior southward to New York and away from Montréal.

Encouraged by the Montréal merchants, the Province of Lower Canada (Quebec) responded in July 1821 by commencing work on a canal from Montréal to Lachine. Completed in August 1824, the Lachine Canal began an era of canal building in the Canadas. It also established Montréal as the commercial centre for Canada in exporting grain, flour, potash, and timber, importing manufactured goods, and providing banking, forwarding, and commercial services. The canal also ensured that Montréal would remain the port of entry for immigrants settling in the Canadian interior.

Enlarged Lachine Canal, 1882, flanked by<br>steam-powered industries established by that date.

Enlarged Lachine Canal, 1882, flanked by
steam-powered industries established by that date.

© Canadian Illustrated News, July 1, 1882.

In the 1840s, the Lachine Canal was enlarged to accommodate larger vessels and provide water power for industrial purposes. Water-powered iron foundries, boiler and steam engine works, textile factories, metal working plants, and flour milling complexes were established along the canal, as well as wood processing shops and nail and spike factories. Montréal was transformed into Canada's leading industrial centre, while maintaining its commercial importance.

The Lachine Canal was enlarged again between 1873 and 1884. It continued to play a critical role in the national canals transportation system, and in the development of Montréal, until the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959. Replaced by the Seaway, the canal was closed in 1971.

Saint-Gabriel Lock

Saint-Gabriel Lock
© Parks Canada / P.-É. Cadorette / 2002

In 1997, Parks Canada, in cooperation with Heritage Montréal, began major construction work along the canal and shoreline, including the restoration of the walls and locks, the addition of footbridges and bridges, improvements to the bike path that skirts the canal, and the construction of a visitors centre near the Lachine Locks. The revitalization was completed in 2002, and on May 17, over 30 years after its closure to navigation, the canal was once again in operation for pleasure boating.

Today, the Lachine Canal National Historic Site of Canada continues to preserve and actively interpret the industrial heritage of the Lachine Canal corridor.

For further information, please visit the Lachine Canal National Historic Site of Canada.

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