The Chambly Canal Workshops

The workshops of the Chambly Canal National Historic Site, located in Old Chambly between locks Nos. 3 and 4, form a group of six buildings built between 1883 and the early 1960s.

Drone view of the Chambly Canal workshops
Chambly Canal National Historic Site Workshops

The oldest of them, called "the Old Workshop", was built in 1883. It has been a designated heritage building since 1989. Its heritage importance stems not only from its period architecture, but also from the activities that took place there and the technological evolution associated with it. Over the years, five other buildings were added around the Old Workshop to meet the needs of the various trades.

The workshops have always been linked to the smooth operation of the canal. It is here, in particular, that we carry out various carpentry and joinery work necessary to maintain and repair equipment. When a breakdown occurs, the proximity of the canal and the workshops means less downtime for navigation. In the past, the lock gates, the locks themselves and the many bridges spanning the waterway were built here.

The Old Workshop: Practical Architecture

In spite of its venerable age and the numerous transformations carried out on the interior walls, the old workshop has kept its original function.

Chambly Canal old workshop, 1904.

Its mansard roof covered with Canadian-style sheet metal will make it easy for you to spot this iconic building the next time you walk down the canal.

Although the building's style is similar to the domestic architecture of the era, several architectural features indicate that it was designed primarily to facilitate the employees' work.

When analyzing the period photos, one notices that the designers added many windows to the building. At a time when electricity was not yet in use in the canal workshop, natural light was paramount in the interior work area.

Second floor of the old workshop.
Second floor of the old workshop.

Building a mansard roof made perfect sense as it creates a square second floor and therefore, a lot of extra space to store different materials and tools such as nail barrels, glue, oil, iron bars and pumps. Between the 1950s and 1973, this section of the workshop was used as a paint shop before reverting to its original function as a shed.

The use of hung windows with multiple panes of glass is somewhat surprising, as Second Empire style windows are often used with larger panes.

Those of the workshop might have been in response to the "revival" trend in the United States, which valued colonial architecture.

Chambly Canal Carpentry workshop
Carpentry workshop, 1904.

However, it is suspected that the small panes were chosen for a practical reason: in a workshop, it is always simpler and cheaper to replace a small broken glass pane while working than a large one.

The First Canal Workshop

Although they are very old, these workshops are in fact the second workshops of the Chambly Canal. The first canal workshop was located near the Chambly basin, close to the Superintendent's house and locks Nos. 1, 2 and 3. It was in operation from 1847 to 1883, the year in which the present workshop was commissioned.

Although the size of the land did not allow for the expansion of the first workshop, the superintendent at the time wanted to have a workshop so that he could make necessary repairs along the canal. Even then, the canal walls were found to be thin and some wooden structures were failing. A workshop was much needed to do essential things, such as repairing gates and locks, creating reserve gates, and also to work on movable bridges that are located along the Chambly Canal.

Old Chambly Canal workshop, circa 1900