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THE OLD - FRENCH” CANALS ON THE RIVER
ST. LAWRENCE. Last summer, when visiting the “Cascades," where the sea-green waters of the dashing St. Lawrence are linked with those of her dark and placid sister, the Ottawa, I could not help admiring the grandeur and brilliancy of our Canadian scenery, and took out my sketch-book to secure a memento at least of this weird landscape which baffles pen and pencil.
At the point where these rivers meet without mingling, stands the ruin of an old seigniorial mill, a souvenir of the past, when a Vaudreuil or a De Beaujeu exercised feudal sway. The history of this mill must now be left for some student of the records of the noblesse of Canada and their efforts to secure the settlement of the country and to meet the wants of their censitaires. The walls are crumbling, and expose the heavy rafters of the building. The mill stones are within, resting from their labors. As we entered, the cattle seeking shelter there, fled and left us in full possession. But what especially attracted my attention was a canal of about twelve feet wide a few acres distance, cut across this point between the two rivers, and forming a communication by water to get past this wild rapid. No boat sought passage, no lock-keeper was there, the gates were gone, and
the banks overgrown with bushes. It was a desolation, but it was suggestive of the efforts of either military or commercial organization to overcome the difficulties of navigation. I knew, moreover, that Canada was historic ground, and that Quebec and Montreal were the starting points of the pioneers of Canada, who had explored the country from Hudson Bay on the north to the Gulf of Mexico on the south, and from Louisburg on the east to the Missouri on the west. I therefore, sought a clue to the history of this canal and the result of my enquiries is here given :
My friend, Raphael Bellemare, a well-known Canadian archæologist, had in his possession a map of the island of Montreal, dated 1744 (executed by Bellin, of the Department of the Marine), which corresponds with the map in Charlevoix's work on Canada. This map he lent me, and it is herewith reproduced, and is worth studying. It will be noted that the only " canal” there indicated is the one by which the little River St. Pierre is utilised as a means of passing through the then Lake St. Pierre (since drained) to Lachine by what is styled the Lachine canal.
There is no canal laid down at the “ Cascades," nor in that neighbourhood. Parkman, the careful and reliable historian of Canada under the French régime, having been referred to, I found that in 1673, Frontenac, with a force of 600 men, supplied with 120 canoes and two flat-boats, had passed over land from Ville Marie (Montreal) en route to Cataraqui (Kingston), where he visited the Iroquois, and that the - Cascades" and the neighboring rapids were passed with toil and difficulty by dragging their boats up the rapids, or, where that was impracticable, by portages through the woods. From this it may be inferred that there were no canals at any part of the route at this time (1673).
I had noticed, many years since, that along the shore of the St. Lawrence, cuttings had been made in the rock
ledges at the points where rapid water existed, to allow boats to pass, probably by the aid of a tow-line from the shore. The first one was at Point St. Charles, where the Victoria Bridge now stands, and I was surprised to find that similar cuttings are now to be seen on the southern shore of Isle au Heron. Why there, I cannot divine, as a natural “ chenaille" channel or canal exists in this doubleisland from the lower to the upper end, but even when the latter point has been reached, the head of the St. Louis or Lachine rapids has to be crossed to reach either shore. I was also aware of an inland cutting connecting the St. Pierre river with a brook, La Petite Rivière, running through the St. Gabriel farm, then through the old Montreal College grounds, thence across McGill street, where it was spanned by a wooden bridge, thence along Commissioner street into the St. Lawrence harbor at the foot of St. Peter street. The accompanying map lays down this cutting exactly on this line as one entrance to the “canal" or inlandwater route from Montreal to Lachine, the other being by the River St. Pierre itself at its mouth, thence through the small Lake St. Pierre, in rear of the present Côte St. Paul, and by a cutting marked “Canal de Lachine" to Lachine. That a swamp remained where this lake existed until within a few years, and that traces still exist of an old “canal ” about three acres south-east of what is styled now-a-days the old Lachine canal, is well known. From these facts I am satisfied that inland water navigation between Montreal and Lachine, on the line laid down in this map, did exist. From my own knowledge of this cut across the St. Gabriel farm and the River St. Pierre, as I knew it some fifty years since, I may state that there were not more than two feet of water therein, the width of the cut being about six feet, and of the St. Pierre river about twenty feet. It is stated that in 1763, when Lord Amherst, who had passed with his army from Oswego via the St. Lawrence, and had suffered heavily by loss of men and boats in passing the Cedars