Located in Montreal, the Lachine Canal (Lachine Canal National Historic Site of Canada) runs 14.5 kilometres from the Old Port to Lake Saint-Louis.
The Lachine Canal is much more than just a route bypassing the rapids of the same name. The Lachine Canal’s history stretches over more than 150 years and takes several directions. It comes within the scope of the interdependence between shipping, industrialization and urbanization, which marked Montréal’s development.
The canal was the port of entry for a canal network that linked the Atlantic to the heart of the continent. The canal’s location near the port and the development of its hydraulic power potential in addition to the availability of inexpensive labour, sufficient capital and the closeness of markets favoured the establishment of highly diversified businesses along its banks.
The canal is situated on land originally granted by the King of France to the Sulpician Order. Beginning in 1689, attempts were made by the French Colonial government and several other groups to build a canal that would allow ships to bypass the treacherous Lachine Rapids. After more than 130 years of failure, work on the canal commenced on July 17, 1821 under Chief Engineer Thomas Burnett and Construction Engineer John Richardson.
The original canal was 14 km. long and had seven locks, each 30 m long, 6m wide and 1.5 m deep. The Lachine Canal which was inaugurated in 1824 and opened to navigation in 1825.
During the 1840s, the Lachine Canal was deepened to allow heavier ships to pass through and hydraulic power was introduced to the industries located on its banks. Through the enlargement of the canal, its use changed from solely a means of avoiding the Lachine rapids to that of an industrial region within Montreal.
The first enlargements took place between 1843 and 1848, under the supervision of Alfred Barrett. Five new locks, each 61 m long, 13.5 m wide and 2.7 m deep replaced the original seven locks. A second enlargement of the canal took place between 1873 and 1885 at which time the locks were lengthened to 82 m and deepened to 4.3 m.
The canal continued to operate successfully until around 1950, but now, surrounded by the industrial developments which it helped to create, it could not be expanded further to cope with the continuing increase in vessel size. The canal became obsolete in the second half of the 20th century, being replaced by the St. Lawrence Seaway, which opened in 1959. The canal was finally closed to shipping in 1970.
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