Workers open the lock gates to allow the steamship Turret Crown into the Lachine Canal, 1895.
Musée McCord / II-111872
The Lachine Canal was much more than a shipping channel, it was the industrial engine of the city and the entire country. The canal’s first two locks are located in the Old Port of Montréal.
The Lachine Canal opened to commercial shipping in 1825, making it the first navigable waterway for shipping goods between the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes. The canal’s locks allowed vessels to navigate a difference in elevation of 14 metres over a distance of 14 kilometres.
Starting in 1847, companies set up on lands adjoining the locks, and equipped themselves to make use of the hydraulic power generated by the locks. The canal played a major role in the industrialization of both the city as well as Canada.
The canal’s busiest year was 1870, with 13,572 vessels passing through, of which a quarter were steam-powered and three-quarters were sailing ships. At the time, the lock gates were opened and closed with hand-cranked winches operated by the lock keepers. They must have had strong arms!
In 1929, the Lachine Canal was declared a National Historic Site. However, it became obsolete after the opening of the St. Lawrence seaway, it was closed to shipping in 1970 until its re-opening in 2002. Parcs Canada is now responsible for the overall functioning of Locks 1 and 2, as well as for maintaining its historical legacy.