The Saint-Ours Canal National Historic Site of Canada is situated near the municipality of Saint-Ours, on the right shore of the Richelieu River between Chambly and Sorel. Covering an area of 5 hectares, the designated site includes a lock that allows boats travelling past Darvard Island to negotiate a 2.4-metre change in elevation, thanks to a dam that raises the water level.
The Saint-Ours Canal is part of the inland waterway system of eastern Canada and the United States. Along with the Chambly and Champlain Canals, it completes the waterway between the Richelieu and Hudson Rivers, thus linking Sorel with New York.
© Parks Canada / Jean Audet / neg. 184/PA/PR-7/SPO-00004
In 1849, when the lock and the original dam were built, the Saint-Ours Canal opened the Lower Richelieu to navigation and provided access to the Chambly Basin. The evolution of maritime traffic led to the building of further navigational structures, as attested to by 19th and 20th century remains and resources. The growth of pleasure boating has transformed this area into a recreational site of heritage value.
A national historic site
In 1925, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) recommended that the development of a national system of Canadian canals should be considered as a theme of national historic significance, and undertook a study of the various Canadian canals with a view to a commemoration project. In 1929, the Board recommended that 14 canals be recognized as sites of national historic significance, but the Saint-Ours Canal was omitted from the list.
In 1972, under the Agreement for Recreation and Conservation (ARC) Program, Parks Canada took over responsibility from Transport Canada for various canals whose use would henceforth be centred more specifically on pleasure boating. Eight historic canals, including the Saint-Ours Canal, were thus transferred, on the condition that the new administrator should manage them not simply as waterways, but also as areas in which the protection, enjoyment and interpretation of heritage values were to be promoted.1
In 1987, the HSMBC decided that the commemoration of a canal should be effected in one of the two following manners: either by setting a commemorative plaque or by setting a plaque and undertaking to preserve and present specific resources of national significance, such as buildings, locks, weirs and dams. In announcing this decision, the Board reaffirmed that “the historic Saint-Ours Canal was of national historic significance as a waterway belonging to the national system of canals in Canada”; however, the Board also mentioned that “commemoration by means of a plaque [would] be sufficient.”2
In 1994, Parks Canada established its Guiding Principles and Operational Policies, which broadly defined the general principles intended to guide national programs for the protection and presentation of cultural and natural heritage. The HSMBC’s opinion (1987) on the Saint-Ours Canal was thus fleshed out by the more detailed directives expressed in the Historic Canals Policy, the National Historic Sites Policy, and the Cultural Resource Management Policy.
1. Given these two functions, historic canals are administered under both the Department of Transport Act and regulations pertaining to historic canals under this Act, as well as the Historic Sites and Monuments Act, which governs the administration, protection and maintenance of national historic sites.