Three Ways Around the Rapids

The St. Lawrence River abounds with rapids between Montréal and Kingston, especially between Lake St. Louis and Lake St. François, where a series of “cascades” made navigation impossible.

Crossing these rapids was no easy feat:

“At the top of the Coteau-du-Lac rapids, there were two different points of passage between the offshore islands. If we went past the first point of passage, the other one had to be taken. Otherwise, the risk of running aground was high. Along the way, it was important to steer clear of the “White Mare.” It was given this name because the waves crashing and foaming on imposing ridges mimicked the startled gait of a galloping mare, mane flowing in the wind.” (BESNER 1996, 106) [Translation]

Canoes, built of birch bark, were the ideal watercraft for sailing in turbulent waters because of their light weight, handling, and variable dimensions. Of Amerindian origins, canoes were quickly adopted by the French who made it, along with dugout canoes, their preferred means of transportation in Canada in the early 17th century.

Flat-bottomed batteaux were used by the French around the turn of the 18th century. Safer and more resistant, this watercraft had a higher carrying capacity. The flat-bottomed batteau was similar to a flat bottom barge with its pointed ends. Its dimensions were rarely larger than 12.1 m long by 2.4 m wide and it had a carrying capacity of 3 to 5 tons of cargo. The boat was propelled by oars or by poles; and could also be propelled by sail. It required a crew of 4 to 5 men.

For the batteaux to get past the rigolet canal, which was not equipped with locks to manage water flow, it was often necessary to unload three quarters, and sometimes all of the cargo.

Did you know that the path of the lock canal built by the British in Coteau-du-Lac follows the same path as the portage trail used by the Natives long ago?

The Former Shoreline at Coteau-du-Lac

At the eastern end of Lake St. François, dams, sluicegates, and the Coteau-du-Lac dikes divert much of the St. Lawrence’s flow into the Beauharnois Canal so that it may be used by the Beauharnois power station, which has no natural reservoir of its own.

These waterway developments considerably affected the landscape of Coteau-du-Lac. Originally, the Coteau-du-Lac Point, located at the confluence of Delisle River and St. Lawrence River, was surrounded by water. When the water receded, it became a peninsula.