Three wooden forts and one stone fort
Why a fort at Chambly? The first wooden fort was built as a defence post in the wars between the French and the Iroquois in New France in the second half of the 17th century. A stone fort was later built during the English-French conflict that was to follow.
In 1665, after pleas from the inhabitants of the colony, Louis XIV sent out the Carignan-Salières Regiment to launch a huge offensive against the Iroquois. One of the captains, Jacques de Chambly, was to direct the construction of the first wooden fort to be built on the Iroquois River (later called the Richelieu River), at the foot of the rapids at Chambly. It was built during the week of August 25 which also marks the day of the patron saint, Saint Louis, whose name was thus given to the fort.
Fort Saint-Louis was built in a square shape with 144 feet to a side. There was a crowstep on three of the sides and on the fourth there was a door protected by a drum. The palisades measured between 15 and 20 feet in height. Inside was a simple habitation surrounded by small buildings to house the soldiers.
This first fort was one in a series of five built along the Richelieu River up to Lake Champlain. It served as a supply base for the raids against the Iroquois.
The Carignan-Salières Regiment carried out two expeditions against the Iroquois. The first, in the winter of 1666, was a failure. In the second, in the fall of the same year, they sacked the Iroquois villages and burned their crops. In 1667, peace was then signed and two-thirds of the soldiers were ordered back to France. However, the peace was a fragile one at best.
Hostilities between the French and the Iroquois started up again toward the middle of the 1680s. Troops from the Compagnies franches de la Marine were sent out to protect the colony. The first detachment was garrisoned at Fort Chambly in 1685. The Chambly Militia also was called in. At this time the role of the fort was more defensive than offensive.
Towards 1690, a second wooden fort was built to replace the first fort that had deteriorated with age. However, in the winter of 1702, an accidental fire burned it to the ground. It had to be rebuilt all over again!
The following spring, the French built a third wooden fort, despite the fact that the Iroquois had no longer been considered a threat since the Montreal signing of a definitive peace treaty (Traité de la Grande Paix de Montréal) in 1701. The problem was not the Iroquois but rather that an old enemy had stepped ashore in New France: the English.
The Spanish War of Succession (1702-1713), that set France against England, forced the French to prepare for an eventual attack, as the conflict was expected to spread to America.
© Archives Nationales du Canada / Josué Dubois Berthelot de Beaucours / C-15990
The French feared an attack by the English coming from the south of Lake Champlain. Knowing the English would be heavily armed, Philippe de Rigaud, Marquis of Vaudreuil, and Governor General of New France, ordered the construction of a new fort at Chambly in November 1709. This time the fort was to be built of stone.
Josue Dubois Berthelot de Beaucours, officer of the Compagnies franches de la Marine and chief engineer in Canada, directed the construction, which took place from 1709 to 1711. The imposing structure was designed along the lines of fortifications in France built by the famous architect Vauban. The fort was named Fort Pontchartrain after the French naval minister and was manned by soldiers of the Compagnies franches de la Marine.
This fort was to become the largest fortification along the Hudson River - Lake Champlain - Richelieu River waterway. However, it was only able to resist light artillery. The French counted on the rapids to prevent the English from transporting large canons for their attack.
Was fort Chambly invincible? For the whole of the French reign it was never attacked, thus its honour was spared. However, it was later to fall into the hands of the British on September 1, 1760, during the Seven Years' War.