Chambly

by Art Cohn

Chambly is a historical power spot and after our tow by horse and Churchill, we tied Lois up in the Basin just above locks 3-2-1 as we had in 2008. We happily plugged into power that Parcs Canada had arranged and fretted over the shower we previously had access to in the Superintendants House that was not going to be available to us this time. However, our friend Claire, one of the veteran Chambly Canal lock tenders, had a portable shower she had acquired for her lock and arranged to move it to the bathhouse on the lower locks where we were staying. With the important tasks of power, bathrooms and showers taken care of we were indeed ready for action and action we had, seeing over 1100 people on a busy holiday weekend and talking history to all.

Statue of Samuel de Champlain in Isle LaMotte, VT

Chambly is such an important place in the story of our shared heritage. Written about by Samuel de Champlain on his quest to see a “large lake filled with beautiful islands” which he named Lake Champlain, it was first fortified by the French in the 17th century. During the first year of the American Revolution Chambly was successfully taken by Richard Montgomery during the invasion of Quebec. Later, in the attack on Quebec City during a New Years Eve snowstorm General Montgomery was killed, Benedict Arnold badly wounded and the American army demoralized. They struggled through the Quebec winter only to reach spring sick with smallpox* and witnessing British reinforcements arriving at Quebec. Forced into a hasty retreat they abandoned one position after until finally falling back to Chambly, Saint Jean then Isle aux Noix before finally being able to embark on their few warships, described more as “floating wagons” before tumbling back to Lake Champlain. Now the 1776 campaign would fall to the shipbuilders and naval teams on both sides to see who could build the strongest fleet in the fastest time in anticipation of battle.

Lt John Schank

Chambly was an essential place in this strategy. British warships from the St. Lawrence could sail to the Richelieu River and as far as Fort Chambly, but here, as Samuel de Champlain had learned in 1609, the rapids of the Richelieu presented an effective barrier to ships. However, the British had the mightiest navy in the world and a core of experienced officers and men one of whom was Lt. John Schank. The Lieutenant was a mechanical genius and he was given the responsibility of assembling a fleet capable of taking control of strategic Lake Champlain from an American force commanded now by a healed “Commodore” Benedict Arnold.

General Benedict Arnold

Contemplating his situation Schank struck on an ingenious solution…why not take existing warships as far as the Chambly Basin, then take them apart to their lower hulls and transfer the pieces to Saint Jean at the other end of the rapids and reassemble them? That is exactly what he did and by October the reassembled British fleet had embarked from St. Jean to seek out the Americans in what has became known as the Battle of Valcour Island.

Painting of the Spitfire in her current resting place, by Ernie Haas

That story is a centerpiece of LCMM’s research and has been a current focus of our recent work at the Valcour Island Research Project, an effort to systematically map the submerged battlefield. That project was stimulated by the discovery of an exploded cannon under the mud of Valcour Bay by Ed Scollon and has added much to our understanding of that important event. Our lake research has also led to the discovery of Spitfire, the last unaccounted for American gunboat from Arnold’s fleet. The Spitfire Management Project is one of the most important nautical archaeology projects in which LCMM is currently engaged. To learn more about these important projects check out our website at www.lcmm.org and visit our Basin Harbor campus.

Log raft on the St Lawrence river.

Back to Chambly. After the American Revolution ended, Chambly once again became a center in the transportation and trade of the region. As peace prevailed and settlers streamed into the Champlain Valley log rafts from Lake Champlain were floated to Saint Jean before being floated in sections over the Richelieu rapids and then reassembled at Chambly for their final leg to Quebec City. Chambly was an active seaport with a large basin and significant trade but the friction between Great Britain and the US which led to the War of 1812 threatened all that. The Federal Embargo Act of 1808 ordered Champlain Valley residents to stop trading with British Canada. However the Embargo seemed more to empower the enterprising Champlain Valley natives who continued their northern trade by smuggling vast quantities of materials over the border, and this did not stop when formal war was declared in 1812.

During the War of 1812, the Americans, perhaps remembering the early success of their invasion of Canada in 1775, tried to invade Canada via Lake Champlain in three separate campaigns, each a failure. Finally, in 1814, British Governor General Prevost attempted to invade the United States via the Lake Champlain-Richelieu corridor supported by the large British bases of operations at Chambly, Saint Jean and Isle aux Noix. This invasion by land and sea with veteran regulars recently arrived from success over Napoleon in Europe would prove to be their undoing. The combined American army and naval success at Plattsburgh, NY, remembered today as “Macdonough’s Victory on Lake Champlain” was the finest hour for the American’s and dealt the British such a blow that the war was soon brought to a negotiated conclusion in which no territory was exchanged and no borders changed.

Macdonough’s Victory on Lake Champlain

With the war over Chambly and the rest of the Richelieu communities settled down to resume their successful trade relationship with the Champlain Valley, but a dark cloud was on the horizon. This time the threat was not war but the potential devastating impact to this lucrative trade pattern by a plan gaining traction in New York State to build a new canal connecting Lake Champlain to the Hudson River. In 1817, the Canadian merchants worst fears were realized when the New York State legislature approved the construction of the Northern and Western canals. The completion of the Champlain canal connecting Lake Champlain to the Hudson River would potentially turn significant amount of trade that had previously followed the water north to new markets in the south, and that is just what happened.

Fort Chambly before the opening of the Chambly Canal

When the new Champlain Canal opened in 1823 it was like the northern spigot of trade closed and the southern spigot was opened. The commercial world of Saint Jean, Chambly and Montreal merchants was so hard hit that despite the military objections for a canal to by-pass the Chambly rapids, lest the Americans find it easier to invade again through the Lake Champlain-Richelieu corridor, the Chambly Canal, a 12-mile system was pressed. Built in spurts over the next twenty years it was finally completed in 1843 and its completion dramatically expanded the canalers inland route options. Now the Canadian ports along the Richelieu, St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers would join Lake Champlain, the Hudson and Erie Canal options. This northern route, through Chambly, is the water highway we are following today. In fact, I am beginning this blog at the entrance to the Lachine Canal a component of the northern system first completed in 1825.

Today, it is impossible to walk through Chambly and not be taken with the depth of its multi-layered history. Our dockside location at the basin above the locks was made more interesting and easy to interpret by a 19thcentury photograph presented to us by Bernard Halle, our Parcs Canada friend, showing a canal boat loading hay in this exact location. The wonderfully restored and interpreted Fort Chambly presents the many military aspects of this strategic place and a special exhibition presents a perspective on the War of 1812.

Loading hay at Chambly (photo courtesy of Parcs Canada)
The house of de Salaberry (photo: Art Cohn)

A short stroll past the fort on the quiet street that follows the rapids in the river brings us to the home of Charles-Michel d’lumbery de Salaberry, the hero of the 1813 Battle of the Chateauguay River and a Canada’s national hero.  His home, interpreted by an outdoor sign, is presently for sale.

Today the Parcs Canada restored fort and operating canal reflects on Chambly’s rich military and commercial history. The towpath that once saw teams of horses slowly towing canal boats to Saint Jean or Chambly is alive with bicycles, runners and walkers while many of the bridges and the masonry locks still operate with hand cranks and are interpreted by outdoor panels that provide the public with a reflection on this rich place with which we share so much history. Today, on special occasions, the sound of horses footsteps can still be heard as the Lois McClure gets slowly sped on her way by the same horse power that once powered the original canal boats that came before her and helped inspire her mission.

Horse tow in St Jean (photo courtesy of Parcs Canada)

Special Thanks to:

Art Cohn
Captain, C.L. Churchill

* General John Thomas and hundreds of soldiers died of smallpox during the American retreat in 1776. General Thomas is today remembered on a bronze plaque near Fort Chambly. The American soldiers buried on Isle aux Noix are remembered by a small plaque on the island.

Historic Horsepower on the Chambly Canal

Horse tow on the Chambly Canal (photo courtesy of the McCord Museum)
Horse tow on the Chambly Canal (photo courtesy of the McCord Museum)

The Chambly Canal, like most 19th century canals, were designed with a “towpath”, a trail that paralleled the canal and permitted horse and mule teams to slowly pull canal boats to the other end of the canal. The Chambly Canal was considered by many canal boatmen to have one of the best towpaths on the integrated waterway system and on June 28th, 2012, with the support of Parcs Canada, we prepared to demonstrate how it was done.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPxiJF67iZ4&w=560&h=315]

Art Cohn
Captain, C.L. Churchill

St Jean

by Art Cohn

The Bicentennial tour, 1812: Commemorating the War: Celebrating the Peace continued north from Isle aux Noix to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Saint Jean is a community whose strategic location at the northern end of Lake Champlain-Richelieu River navigation corridor has connected us together in history. I first studied this historic place in conjunction with Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold’s taking of Fort Ticonderoga in May of 1775.

Sketch of the schooner LIBERTY

After Arnold realized he could not safely remain amongst the Green Mountain Boys he had alienated, he was able to make his exit aboard the schooner just arrived from Skenesborough, present day Whitehall, NY. The schooner had belonged to Philip Skene and had been captured by a rebel force that while enroute to Ticonderoga had re-christened it Liberty. I have always thought that was a profound reflection of the moment and the times. Arnold, now comfortably aboard, set sail for Saint Jean and successfully surprised and captured the only other large vessel in the watershed, the King’s sloop, which he re-christened Enterprise. Arnold accurately reports to Congress that with the capture of these two vessels, “We are Masters of Lake Champlain,” and both Arnold and Allen advocate that the Champlain-Richelieu corridor should now be used for an invasion of British Canada. Our visits to Isle aux Noix, Saint Jean, Chambly, Sorel and Montreal directly reflect on this important chapter in our shared national stories.

British shipyard at St Jean during the American Revolution

Flashing forward some 236 years, our visit to the Royal Military College at Saint Jean was in sharp contrast to the violent siege American forces waged in 1775. In 2012, our crew, bringing the gift of history, was accorded the warmth and hospitality of rooms, meals and showers to help support us in our mission to recall the shared story of the War of 1812 and the canal era that flowed from it. Our reception at Saint Jean gives further credence to this year’s theme of “Commemorating the War and Celebrating the Peace.” The Saint Jean community could not have been more gracious of our visit. Our good friend Denis Couture and his sons Michel and Francois, made sure the crew had rooms, showers, bathrooms, ice, a vehicle for errands and anything else we might have needed. Mayor Gilles Dolbec extended the official welcome of the community as Captain Roger, Jean and I were invited to sign the “Golden Book”. A visit from Tarik Brahmi, MP from Saint-Jean and comments from our visitors added to the warm welcome to the crew. It was another good example of a community embracing us and our mission and validating the concept that we are connected through the waterway and its history.

Canal boats lined up in St Jean (click to enlarge)

At Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu everything came together. We had dockage on the wall just south of the automobile lift bridge and the railroad swing bridge that mark the entrance to Lock 9, the southern end of the 12-mile Chambly Canal. The Chambly Canal, was begun in 1831 against the opposition of the military which still saw the route as a threat of invasion from the US. Despite these concerns, the canal was completed in 1843 and became a dynamic connection for trade and travel between Canada and the US.

Lumber boat in the Chambly Canal
A boat loaded with lumber in the Chambly Canal, 1914

It was the route most frequently taken by our canal era guide, Captain Theodore Bartley. Captain Bartley had established relationships in the Saint Jean area with a number of lumber merchants and farmers and regularly came to Saint Jean to load a cargo destined for New York City with a return cargo often of coal to heat homes and sometimes clay for the thriving Saint Jean ceramics industry.

During this visit to Saint Jean we learned of a catastrophic fire which burned much of the downtown in 1876. The fire started in a sawmill and was pushed along by a strong south wind and in addition to significant property damage, two people had died. I wondered if our Captain Bartley had commented on this event and once again, Captain Bartley’s record provided a glimpse. Returning to Saint Jean on July 10th and observing the town just three weeks after the fire he wrote, “the town looks awful since being burned. The whole business portion is burned down, about $2,000,000 worth destroyed. I had some walk to find the Customs Exchange or anything else.” Today, the beautiful waterfront, with its shops, restaurants and Military College bear little resemblance to the destructive scene recorded by Captain Bartley.

For two days, folks from the community came aboard Lois to talk with our crew and interpreters from Parcs Canada who operate the historic Chambly Canal reflecting back to the pre-canal days of the War of 1812. It was at the conclusion of that conflict that building canals, a concept which had been percolating since Revolutionary War days, finally generated enough support, in part, as national security projects in anticipation of another war involving British Canada and the US. Indeed, the Rideau Canal to which we are heading in August was designed and built by the British Royal Engineers to enhance security, while the Chambly Canal was opposed by the military who felt it would make Quebec more vulnerable to attack from the south.

Horse tow on the Chambly Canal (photo courtesy of the McCord Museum)
Horse tow on the Chambly Canal (photo courtesy of the McCord Museum)

The completed Chambly Canal became a dynamic catalyst to north-south trade. Canal boats from Lake Champlain and Canada carried immense amounts of lumber, coal and agricultural products through the short canal which bypassed the rapids. Indeed,  many canal folks thought the Chambly was one of the best. Captain Frank Godfrey, writing in his Godfrey letters published by the Canal Society of New York, reflected that “The best towpath to my knowledge was the Chambly, a Canadian Canal on the Richelieu River, eleven and one-half miles long from St. Jean to Chambly. The towpath was wide enough that nine horses could not have filled it. There was no place that a team could not climb out of the canal. Watering places for the teams, and from about 1902, the towpath was electric-lighted the entire length of the canal.”

For the crew of the Lois McClure, one of the most anticpated events of journey was scheduled to take place as we left Saint Jean. In 2008 our friends from Parcs Canada to arranged to tow the Lois by horse on the towpath, which still exists but has been transformed into an a vibrant  walking, bike and running path that follows the canal. That demonstration had been so successful that we now planned to do it again, this time leaving Lock 9 and heading north. I was just able to meet the horsemen and the handsome team of giant but calm Percheron horses before the Churchill was sent around the bend to be ready to take Lois in tow when the horses were done with their work. By all accounts the horse-tow was another great demonstration of the thoughtful technology of an earlier age. That report will be coming next…

Special Thanks to:
•    Denis Couture and the Friends of Chambly Canal
•    Michel Couture of Aqua Futur
•    Christian Mercier, Francois Couture, and the Royal Military College of Saint-Jean

Art Cohn
Captain, C.L. Churchill

Cora Archambault: 1904-2012

A wonderful Friend has passed

Cora in 2005 (photo: John Butler)

While we were traveling north through the Richelieu River valley, word arrived that Cora, a very special friend to all who have an interest in canal life, had passed. Cora was in her 108th year when her time came, and the news was received with a mixture of sadness and relief.

Jane Vincent with Cora at Fiddler’s Elbow

I met Cora some years ago when she was a spry woman in her mid-90’s. I heard that she had been raised on a wooden canal boat and was willing, even eager, to talk about her own and her family’s experiences. When LCMM researcher Jane Vincent returned from a visit to Cora with an audio tape filled with sharp, thoughtful recollections  and insights that only someone who lived the life would have, I knew that I needed to meet Cora.

Cora lived on Fiddler’s Elbow, a familiar and important landmark just north of Whitehall Village. The Elbow was the hard turn to the west that mariners made for generations to get into the old channel that completed the journey to Whitehall. That sharp turn, sometimes only accomplished by running a line ashore, was only improved when the “new” canal was completed in 1918. In years past, I had worked and dived in the area of the Elbow, Old Channel, and the Poultney River, looking for and documenting abandoned shipwrecks from the War of 1812 and the commercial era. Visiting Cora for the first time involved a land approach that culminated literally at the very last house on Fiddler’s Elbow. Cora lived in a small house her father had built for her on the site of the old Henry Neddo shipyard, a facility that built and repaired many canal boats.

While the location was historically interesting, it was Cora’s incredible recollections that made the visits to see her so very special. Cora told me that she was motivated to speak of the canal days to preserve memories of her family, particularly of her mother, Isobel. Cora was able to answer my questions with many details that had escaped the written, artistic, or photographic record. What was it like in the family cabin? Where did you and your sisters and brothers sleep and play? What kind of pets did you have?  What cargos did your father haul? What was it like during the war (World War I) years? Cora told stories of everyday travel, as well as a series of dramas like the time her younger sister Viola fell into the water at Sorel. Cora’s mother heard the other children scream and, despite the fact that she couldn’t swim, Isobel jumped into the water to save her. The screams woke up her father Francois (Frank) who, “quick as a cat,” dove into the water and saved them both. To Cora, for this and other acts of courage, her father was always an unsung hero. I went to visit Cora often, recording her stories and recollections. A more generous spirit I have never met.

I remember being intrigued by Cora’s explanation of filling up the canal boat’s drinking water barrels on Lake Champlain: “When we got to Lake Champlain, way out the water was beautiful and clear, and they would send back word ‘Don’t anybody empty your slop buckets or throw anything in the water because we’re going to fill the water barrels.’ They filled the fixed barrels with buckets over the side.” I asked Cora what a slop bucket was and she laughed and told me it was another word for chamber pot, the traditional way of providing the people on board with bathroom access. Cora then asked me if I wanted to see the family slop bucket, which she still had in her garage, and, of course, I did. I so admired the small porcelain bucket and the role it played in everyday life aboard the canal boat that Cora asked if I might want it for the museum. Today, the slop bucket and the family’s cabin oil lamp, also a gift from Cora, are on display at the museum for all to see.

Art Cohn interviewing Cora in 2005 (photo: John Butler)

Even after I had interviewed Cora many times and felt I had captured the wealth of her stories, I could not end the visits. I still went back to see her, knowing I was in the presence of a very special person. She had become, not only a teacher about the canal age, but a close friend. Cora was so unassuming and always made me feel special. If I tried to explain why I loved to visit her she would dismiss the praise and quickly change the subject. I often brought my son Nathan or a friend to meet her. In 2004, Jane Vincent and I were honored to be invited to attend Cora’s 100th birthday party, a family celebration that showed how much they loved her. When the Lois McClure paid its inaugural visit to Whitehall, we arranged to have Cora come on board, which was made even more special by providing an opportunity for Lois McClure (herself) and Cora to meet. In subsequent years, every time we would pass Cora’s house on Fiddler’s Elbow, I would call ahead to let her know that I would sound the tugboat’s horn when we went by. The crew, who knew Cora’s story, would all wave. I remember when we were going out the Erie Canal for the first time, she told me to be careful on Oneida Lake because it could get very rough. She also recounted the fun she had with her siblings at the amusement park at Sylvan Beach.

I think it was two years ago when we were going to pass by Fiddler’s Elbow on our way to the Erie that I couldn’t raise Cora on the phone. I called her great-niece and neighbor, April, and learned that  for Cora, living alone on the Elbow, even with April’s help, had become just too difficult. She was now at an assisted living facility in Granville, NY. I visited Cora there several times and found her well taken care of by the staff who seemed to recognize they had a very special person in their midst.

Cora’s recollections begin in the days when horses and mules still pulled wooden boats along a towpath, and she witnessed the transition to the enlarged New York State Barge Canal that replaced horses with tugboats.

Cora as a teenager, 1918

For me, beyond the many priceless recollections of days gone-by that enrich our understanding of the canal and allow us to share her family’s story with the public, I remember a sweet, unassuming, wonderful person, always more concerned for others than for herself. I will think of her often, especially whenever I am lucky enough to be traveling with Lois on the canal and especially when we pass by the Fiddler’s Elbow. Rest in peace Cora, all who knew you, loved you.

Art Cohn
Captain, C.L.Churchill

Across the Border

by Rosemary Zamore

Wednesday, June 20

A boy and his box
Hiltion Dier with the new ice box (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

I arrived at Gaines Marina in Rouses Point amidst the process of taking the rig of the schooner down.  It was quite an ordeal, laying the masts on the deck and then hoisting them along with the sails onto the braces above the deck.  As if that wasn’t enough excitement, Hilton Dier arrived shortly after I did, bringing with him a new ice chest! The stair railings had to be removed to get it below.   Of course the close to 90 degree temperature and high humidity didn’t help the crew any.   Much discussion followed on where to put it and rearranging the space, all in good spirited humor.

After a great dinner prepared by Kathleen, most of us took refreshing showers at the marina.  I was lulled to sleep by the humming fans.

Thursday,, June 21 Travel to I’lle-aux-Noix

Border crossing
Customs building at the border (photo: Rosemary Zamore)

We began the trip up the River Richelieu, traveling under the Rouses Point bridge.  After dropping anchor, Art and Roger gathered our passports and motored to Customs in the inflatable, the Oocher.  Entering a foreign country is pretty simple, until you want to sell things while you’re there.  Thankfully, we had worked with Customs prior to arriving, and had only a few things to finalize upon our arrival.  Art had nothing but praise for the officials and we happily set off once again.

It was a smooth ride to I’lle-aux-Noix, docking across from Fort Lennox.  We set up for an evening event upon our arrival and had about 40 visitors on board.  The amount of interest and excitement surrounding our visit was fantastic and contagious.  After the event,I managed to go for a swim before dinner which was wonderful.

Friday, June 22
Summer solstice and another scorcher.  After a good cleaning, the boat was opened to the public.  I was able to take the ferry to the fort during my break and walked around taking pictures.  I returned for my shift and greeted a very enthusiastic school group who came on board in the late afternoon.  It was hectic but fun.

Lined up for dinner (photo: Rosemary Zamore)

We were treated to a barbeque steak dinner expertly grilled by Tom.  As if that wasn’t enough, Barb melted the Lake Champlain Chocolates chocolate squares into fondue for dipping fruit and graham crackers.   Decadently delicious!  After dinner, we sat on deck and watched the parade of power boats heading south for the weekend.  I wonder how many of them are going to Lake Champlain.

Saturday, June 23
After breakfast, Kerry, Barb, Kathleen and Roger rode in the Oocher to take showers at Marina Ile-aux-Noix.  We picked up some ice and got a second shower on the way back.   A steady stream of visitors toured the boat and I was definitely ready for my break at 4.

After the boat closed and we finished dinner, Barb and I started  a scrabble game on deck.  She is killing me!  We had to postpone finishing until tomorrow since it got too dark.  Maybe a days rest will help.

Sunday, June 24
I began reading Bartley’s fascinating journal.   There’s so much you can learn from a day to day account of life on board.  After a slow start, visitors arrived mostly after their picnic and tour of the fort. I think we had over 200 people come on board.   Art met a 4 yr old boy, with aspirations to be a fireman, who stole his heart.

Scrabble game

Rain and wind kicked up in the evening, and the crew scrambled to get the awnings and signs down.  The Scrabble game was brought to a close (I lost) while Isaac and Noah played Yahtzee.  Early bed time.

Monday, June 25:  Travel to St Jean
“Safely, safety, safety”  was the captain’s message at morning meeting.  Roger reiterated the rules, basically to move slowly, speak quietly, except in case of man overboard or fire.  His gentle, soft spoken manner really  sets the tone.  I became a bit choked up as I thanked everyone for being so welcoming.

I spent most of the trip on bow watch, guided by Len and Tom.   After a bit of supervision and tutoring, they left me to do it alone, which was very enjoyable.  It was a smooth two hour  trip.   I could see the church steeple in St Jean getting closer as we approached the dock.  We had to wait a bit for a sailboat to move, but with the expert navigating, we pulled in near the start of of the Chambly Canal.

Another flurry of activity as the gangplanks were set up.  I handed out brochures to interested onlookers and told them when our public hours were.   After lunch, most of the crew set off looking for banks, groceries, etc.  Back on the boat, I waited for Elisa to return from grocery shopping with Kathleen and Barb.  Fighting back tears, I said my goodbyes and rode back to South Hero.

What a privilege  it was to be part of the crew on the Lois McCLure.   I loved being on the water and doing something that is educational.   I  learned so much history, met some great people and even spoke a bit of French!

Special Thanks to:

•    Matthieu Paradis and the Fort Lennox National Historic Site
•    Parcs Canada
•    Marina Ile-aux-Noix for great showers

Rosemary Zamore
Joining us for her second year of volunteering, Rosemary teaches elementary school music at South Hero in her real life.

Rouses Point

by Isaac Parker

St Patrick’s Church in Rouses Point (photo: Isaac Parker)

The sounds of church bells from the nearby St. Patrick’s Church announced the arrival of the Lois McClure to Rouses Point. After a long day battling the waves and wind of northern Lake Champlain, the Lois had finally arrived outside Gaines Marina. At first, we tried to thread the Lois along with the Churchill through the immense amount of slips outside the marina, which with the wind quickly proved to be impossible. However, up rolled Joe Treadwell, the owner of Gaines Marina, with his faithful lobster boat Prince of Peace II, to provide us with some talented towing assistance. As we maneuvered the boat for docking, one of the towing attachments was ripped off the Oocher, which acts as a bow-thruster.  However, we were able to make do and Joe quickly offered to repair the Oocher in his shop. Then after securing the boat to the dock, we able bodied crew members began the usual post docking procedures; setting up the gangway, getting a resupply of the ever precious block ice, hooking up electricity, and most importantly ascertaining the location of shore heads (bathrooms for you landlubbers) and showers.

The following day we were treated with a nice bunch of visitors, with almost all of them knowing the purpose of those big rocks, without an explanation that they currently are used as ballast, though in the 1860’s granite and marble were carried as cargo. By the end of the afternoon, the day had begun to heat up in preparation for the coming weather. Luckily for the crew, that night the local historical society, which had been instrumental in the planning and arrangements of our stay before we had arrived, had organized a dinner at Legion Post 912. The air-conditioned great room at the Legion Post was a relief from the stifling humidity that had come to us in the afternoon. After piling our plates with delicious food and Michigans, a combination of hotdogs and a hamburger-red sauce concoction, we talked away with our new friends. The party drew to a close and luckily for us many of the leftovers were sent back to the boat to add to our plethora of food. The historical society made us feel very welcome while we were docked in Rouses Point.

Even though we were not open to the public the next day we did not pack up quite yet.  We still had to lower the rig to prepare for our journey on the Chambly Canal.  The boom, sail, and gaff packages leave the boat first, beginning with the main. With the boom truck taking up much of the available space on shore, the packages were delicately plucked from the mast and placed on deck. With this finished we still had many hours to come, and the heat was rising. Into the afternoon we worked; the masts came down and were tucked gently in between the crane and the boat. Then the new and improved collapsible t-braces, courtesy of the mechanical genius of Don DeWees, were lowered into place. The crane then began to reload the rig back on to the Lois, but half way through a hydraulic hose burst, and progress quickly came to a halt. Luckily Gaines Marina is full of all kinds of wonderful Tonka Toys for adults, and we were able to use a big forklift to get the rest of the rig loaded on to the boat.

De-rigging at Gaines Marina
Taking the mast down at the dock of Gaines Marina (photo: Tom Larsen)

Everyone was glad when the last knot was tied and the time for rest came. After a long, gruelingly hot day Lois McClure the sailing canal schooner had become Lois McClure the canal boat.  Thank you Rouses Point for a great visit, and thank you Gaines Marina for all your help with the rigging process!

Special Thanks to:

•    Geri Favreau and the Rouses Point Historical Society
•    Lake Champlain Basin Program
•    Joe and Naomi Treadwell and the crew at Gaines Marina

Isaac Parker
Serving for his third year aboard the Lois, Isaac is a rising Junior at Mount Abraham Union High School.  With a career in naval architecture in mind, Isaac joins us for two months this summer.

St Albans

by Art Cohn

Sunset in St Albans Bay (photo: Tom Larsen)

Returning to St. Albans Bay is always like returning home. I lived in Fairfield, just east of St. Albans, for 25-years and still own land on French Hill in St. Albans town. I began my career as a diving instructor at Hathaway Point teaching classes at Camp Kill Kare, a Vermont State park. It was at that time I began to study maritime history of St. Albans Bay, a rich history that profoundly connects St. Albans Bay to the Lois McClure and the story of Lake Champlain’s sailing canal boats.

When the American Revolution ended, settlement in the Champlain Valley rapidly expanded and communities around the lake were established and thrived. The community of St. Albans Bay became an important location for importing much needed products like tea, salt and rum and exporting potash and other agricultural products from a vast area around the Bay.

A brisk trade was established with nearby Canada which made this northern territory a bitter opponent of the Embargo Act enacted by the Federal government in 1807. The Embargo was aimed at Great Britain in retaliation for their impressments of sailors and interference with American shipping on the high seas…underlying causes of what would blossom just a few years later into the War of 1812.

St. Albans and Franklin County, so dependent on trade with British Canada, became one of the most defiant and active smuggling venues on Lake Champlain. According to historian Allen Everest, “The Franklin County militia were ordered to duty at Windmill Point in Alburgh, but perhaps they knew many of the smugglers, [log] rafts continued to get by at night” and so they were replaced by militia units from Rutland County. In 1808 the infamous smuggling boat the Black Snake was operated by St. Albans area crews during the fateful and fatal encounter with Revenue Agents. In this encounter three agents were killed in a confrontation with smugglers and one smuggler, Cyrus Dean was tried and hung in Burlington. St. Albans Bay remained an active smuggling area throughout the War of 1812.

After the war, St. Albans Bay continued as an expanding maritime community. For a time it rivaled Burlington Bay for the distinction of being the most active maritime port on the lake. Early lake sloops and two early steamboats, Franklin (1827) and Macdonough (1828) were built and launched on its shores. However, it is the sailing canal boat connection that is at the heart of our story.

In 1823, the Champlain Canal connecting Lake Champlain and the Hudson River with a 63-mile long engineered waterway was on the verge of completion when two St. Albans merchants, Nehemiah Kingman and Julius Hoyt , began to contemplate the new opportunity. The canal would provide them and other lake merchants with access to markets from Waterford to New York City and dramatically add to their commercial options.  In the course of their conversations, they struck upon a radical idea – why not build a boat with dimensions capable of transiting the new canal, but equipped with a sailing rig so that it can come and go from St. Albans Bay to the entrance of the new canal under its own power. That concept for a boat that could sail on the lake and transit the canal became the Gleaner of St. Albans and in September 1823 it became the very first boat to transit the completed canal. The Gleaner’s passage was so momentous that it was covered by the newspapers of the day, which reported “the vessel was built as an experiment and is found to answer all the uses intended. She sails as fast and bears the changes of weather in the lake and river as well as ordinary sloops and is constructed properly for passing through the canal.” Mercantile Advertiser of New York City. The Gleaner was the first documented Lake Champlain sailing canal boat.

Docked at St Albans Bay (photo: Tom Larsen)

Sitting at the dock-of-the-bay in the historic bay it was possible to imagine the busy waterfront almost 190 years ago and the excitement that must have been growing in anticipation of the new canal and the opportunities it would bring to the community. If anything, those expectations proved to be understated as the new canal brought an unprecedented prosperity to the lake. St. Albans Bay, briefly renamed Port Washington in honor of our first president, continued to thrive until the railroads changed the mode of commerce, helping to establish St. Albans City as a railroad power but depriving St. Albans Bay of their commercial dynamics.

We arrived on Friday afternoon under the command of Captain Erick Tichonuk, who was also coming home, having grown up in St. Albans, attended all St. Albans schools and graduating BFA [Bellows Free Academy] before attending UVM. Erick’s parents John and Meg and an extended family still reside here.

Art Cohn educating visitors
Art Cohn at the wheel of the Lois, educating visitors about the local history of St Albans (photo: Tom Larsen)

By Saturday morning the weather was beautiful and remained so all weekend as more than 500 people came aboard, most for the first time, to discover this connection to their maritime roots. It was a wonderful two days of visits, conversations and reflection back to a time when St. Albans Bay was not just the beautiful indentation on Lake Champlain, but a vital link to the outside world. On Monday morning, with a fresh breeze blowing from the south, Captain Roger Taylor and Commissary Kathleen rejoined the crew after a week of sailing in the BVI’s and we motored out of the bay and headed to our next port-of-call, Rouses Point, New York. Here we would welcome the public for one day, take down our sailing rig the next and on Thursday, June 21st, cross the border for our extended outreach program 1812: Commemorating the War: Celebrating the Peace in Canada and beyond.

Special Thanks to:

Art Cohn
Special Projects Developer

Grand Isle

by Tom Larsen

Although the tour had officially started with the stop at Plattsburgh, it wasn’t until we left Burlington and headed off to Grand Isle that it finally started to sink into my brain that the boat was embarking on a four month trip.

Photo by Kris Jarrett
The Lois McClure under sail in 2009, with a LCT ferry in the background. (photo: Kris Jarrett)

On the way up to the dockage at Ladd’s Landing, we crossed the Grand Isle-Plattsburgh ferry route.  The Lake Champlain Transportation Company continues the proud maritime tradition of Mr. Wilcox, Bell, Gordon and Corbin (early proprietors of ferry services on the lake).  Starting in 1826 as the Champlain Transportation Company, LCTC has been in continuous operation since.

Docked at Ladd's Landing
Docked at Ladd’s Landing (photo: Tom Larsen)

Ladd’s Landing was the site of an early ferry, as many small points along the lake were, that connected Grand Isle and South Hero.  Now, that point is connected via a lift bridge that opens for boats on the half hour.  It always seems so narrow when we come through it, though there is plenty of space for us, even with the tug on the hip.

The Champlain Islands are full of history from the canal boat era.  Full of raw materials, they quickly became significant in both the building of canal boats, as well as providing mariners to operate them.  Almost all towns with any kind of waterfront had a place where you could commission a canal boat to be built, and many talented canal boat captains came from this area.

Hard at work
Molly Dunphy hard at work scrubbing the deck (photo: Tom Larsen)

After we pulled up to the wharf at Ladd’s Landing, the routine of being on tour began.  The usual dance of getting the gangway out, power connected and our panels set up happened a little slower than I remembered, as everyone worked to remember the steps. The next morning, we began the ritual of getting the boat sparkling for the public boarding hours.  Molly Dunphy and Isaac Parker put in some serious effort with scrub brushes (we had let it slack a bit while we were in Burlington), and in no time, the boat was shining clean.

Being able to connect with the public at such a great setting was a real treat.  Having a canal boat docking in a place with such a rich connection lent the stories we shared an even deeper impact.

Special Thanks to:

Tom Larsen
First Mate