The Rideau Canal includes several very different sections – most of which can only be described as idyllic. For every section, there must be a transition, and Smiths Falls had to be the most sudden, even surrealistic, transition we saw. We had been cruising along through areas with the channel meandering through open farmlands ever since Merrickville. All of the locks, and many of the nearby buildings, had been the original stonework laid by the French Canadian and Irish immigrant workers almost 200 years ago – an open air museum. Other than us, the only sounds were the wildlife around us – loudest of which were the screeches of the Osprey and croaking call of the Great Blue Herons.
Arriving at Smiths Falls, we cleared the first lock – all as expected – beautiful! Then we arrived at the second Smiths Falls flight, three locks, and something looked funny – there were potted plants sitting on the lock sills! Hmmm…Something’s up! A slight turn to the right and we were greeted by a modern concrete lock and bridge, both presided over by a brightly painted water tower. The lock was even hydraulically operated instead of hand cranked vales and gates. Okay, welcome back to the modern world…
We cleared the lock, which opened up on to a large pool, and were surrounded by modern concrete walls, a campground for RV’s, and a park full of people, booths, and tents. There was a large festival in town and we were to be front and center! We were greeted by a very friendly and eclectic collection of folks including kids on skateboards, “Steampunk” ladies, and a local church group offering coffee and water. There was even live music playing on a stage further in the park!
After we settled in and set up for the expected crowds in the morning, we were able to do a little exploring of Smiths Falls. What we found was a town that was also in transition. Most of the downtown could be described as a 19th century mill town, a continuation of the open air museum. Clearly, the Rideau and the railroad had had a large hand in defining this town’s past. However, there were other areas, most obviously for us the waterfront, the park, and the water tower which had been recently freshened up with a modern paint job and powerful lighting at night, that demonstrated that Smiths Falls is on its way back! Bridging the two eras was the Rideau Canal Museum, built in a former mill and yet using modern museum technologies to remind visitors of the huge and technically impressive efforts used to build the waterway.
After the day open to the public, a public that came out in impressive numbers and expressed their gratitude for our visit with lots of interest and questions, we headed off through the last lock at Smiths Falls – back to 1832.
This parting had a sad moment to it as we had to say good bye to Isaac Parker, our personable, energetic, and thoroughly enjoyable high school student volunteer. He had been on the schooner since she left Burlington and endeared himself to everybody. A great experience on all sides, one I am sure he will never forget.
Paul Smith An engineer at NRG Systems in Hinesburg, Paul has been a long time volunteer with the schooner project. While spending time on boats is a passion, he also devotes time to exploring the options in the renewable energy fields – most recently by building his own electric scooter.
After departing Dow’s Lake, Lois made up along the canal wall at the Hartwell Lock, the beginning of our transit of canals, lakes, and waterways that will lead us to Kingston. Hartwell Lock is bordered by the lovely campus of Carleton on one side and a park and trail system on the other. I joined Lois too late in the day to follow Art’s recommendation of a visit to the special 1812 exhibits currently on display at the War Museum, but given his favorable impressions and the current mission of the Lois, I’m interested in a return visit to view it and to explore the city of Ottawa at a relaxed pace.
At our pre-departure meeting the morning after I arrived, Art explained that construction of the 126-mile Rideau Canal System, designed and overseen by Col. John By, was intended to support Canadian military defenses against possible future invasion by the U.S. Colonel By anticpated the ascendancy of the Age of Steam by pushing for the enlargement of the lock systems already being constructed, in order to accommodate steam vessels. Thus, there are no tow paths along this system.
For the most part, the locks are the original ones constructed between 1826-and 1832 and are consistent in design, materials, and dimensions with about a lower width of 33 feet. Lois, with C.L. Churchill on the hip comprises a total width of about 30 feet–close, yes, but manageable.
At one point during the afternoon we passed through two very closely positioned concrete piers. Upon approaching them, from my untrained point of view, these were to narrow for us to clear, but Roger, undaunted, dropped us in dead center with (some) room to spare.
We had a quiet passage to Long Island Marine where we dock for he evening and make a tour of the S.S. Pumper, a 1907 steam powered tour boat. (Jean Belisle explained that, in this instance, “S.S.” signified “Steam Screw”, and not “steam ship” as some of us had presumed.) Pumper is aground and, despite evidence of a boiler re-fit, is in need of much work. She must have been a sight when in operation!
Whenever boat people stop at a new marina, there is always time spent browsing the yards, taking in all the different vessels docked, moored, or on the hard. While perusing around the marina yard here, we happened upon an unusual craft–a well-worn, diesel powered work boat with a battered steel hull, a massive roller in the bow and heavy protective shroud around the prop. Chris, the yard manager, explained that “Alligator”, as she is called, is a specially designed work boat for use on lakes and waterways in the local logging industry. In addition to its unusual design, “Alligator” has the unique ability to be kedged (hauling herself with an anchor) through the woods from one body of water to another. Once in the water she can be used to “bull” logs and maneuver booms.
The following day, we take on Nina Donald, President of the Merrickville Historical Society, who welcomed us and explained that the town was happily awaiting our arrival, that docking and shore side accommodations were in place, and that our crew was invited to attend a reception in a historic waterfront blockhouse.
Merrickville is a historic canal side village. We made up along the wall not far from one of the town’s important historic features, the restored blockhouse. The blockhouse was constructed by Col. By in 1832 as a part of the general plan to develop military fortifications along the canal. A number of defensive buildings and blockhoueses were constructed; only 4 blockhouses remain. Below the wall we discovered a display maintained by the town describing local industrial heritage, including brick making, iron foundry, a hames factory, and several furniture manufacturers.
Our walk through the center of the village revealed a number of carefully maintained buildings crafted from limestone or brick. We asked Jean why some of the older stone buildings had gable ends that rose above the roof lines by several feet. We wondered if this was simply a flourish added to make the building appear larger. Jean explained that that these actually served an important safety function in that that the raised gable could prevent fire from spreading from one roof to to another. Not only was this a common feature in older buildings (including those found in Old Montreal), but it was a legal requirement to include it. Additionally, these building also contained masonry fire blocks between the floors and metal roofs, again with the intention of preventing the spread of fires.
That evening the crew attended the aforementioned reception. Hosted by Ms. Donald, the affair offered the crew a chance to tour the block house and to engage with community members including Mayor Douglas Struthers, the town council, and others. We were grateful for the the town’s gracious welcome and excitement for our presence at Merrickville.
We were able to have some time off before we opened, which gave us a chance to see the town. While exploring at a local antique shop, Whistle Post Antiques, Kathleen struck up a conversation with the manager who recommended that she contact a local baker renowned for her pies. Losing no time, Kathleen called the bakers June and Peg directly from the store and made arrangements for the delivery of what turned about to be delicious pies, cookies, lasagna and quiches. Although we obtain local food when it is available, our foraging for usually involves trips to supermarkets, but these locally prepared provisions were a very pleasing exception.
We opened the following day, and were overwhelmed with the response. Despite the rain, we saw over 400 people, and had many detailed conversations with locals about the history that built Merrickville into the thriving town it is today. The sense of pride and ownership of the citizens was clear.
Stopping at places like Merrickville are a treat for us – beautiful scenery, great people, and a wonderful reception. Thank you for a great stop!
At Lachine, the crew had a couple of days off and then, in the next three days, welcomed aboard nearly 1,000 visitors. These Canadian citizens were glad to trade views with us Americans on the subject of the War of 1812. The “forgotten war” came to the fore, thanks to its 200th anniversary. The most satisfactory conclusion, it seemed to talkers on board the Lois McClure from each side of the border, was that the war put both British Canada and the fledgling United States on the map. Mr. Madison’s idea of simply walking into Canada unopposed proved to be entirely wrong, and Great Britain’s idea that her navy could do as it pleased on the high seas—and Great Lakes—proved equally in error. In any case, we made it clear that the Lois McClure had come to Canada to celebrate 200 years of peace, surely the most significant outcome of the war.
On July 23rd, we were to leave our snug harbor and move a quarter of a mile back up to the public dock, where a crane truck could come alongside to strike the rig. Easier said than done. The snugness of the place gave us a challenge in turning the vessel around so that we could tow back out the narrow channel bow first. First, we had the Oocher pull us off the floating dock, out from under the trees, so that when the wind—a lucky wind—blew us up to a somewhat wider place just outside the canal lock, the masts wouldn’t foul overhanging branches. (It’s maneuvers like this that enable us to tell visitors with a straight face that we don’t have to be crazy to do what we do, but that it helps.) Next, we put two bow lines ashore so that we could control with some exactitude the position of the bow as we slid it into shallow water where a small offshoot of the canal came in. Then we had the Oocher shove the stern all the way around until it rested against the lock’s approach wall. Voila! We were now pointed almost back out the channel. It only remained to have Art Cohn back the C. L. Churchill up to the schooner’s bow, pass us a short towline, and take a strain. It was easier to miss all the moored motor yachts towing back out, because the light headwind made steering precise and, besides, we were now familiar with the territory. That same breeze, along with a little head current, made it easy to stop the schooner at the outside dock without even having to use the Oocher, now made up on the stern, for a brake. In the afternoon, Team Kerry (Kerry Batdorf, Ship’s Carpenter, and his crew of hardhats) made a good job of working with the crane to take down the schooner’s masts and stow them atop our T-shaped braces, up off the deck. And just in time. An hour and a half later, a thunderstorm came through with blinding rain driven by brief gusts of up to 50 knots. Mercy.
On July 24th, we started up the Ottawa River. Our first stop was at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, where we tied up to a wall, right in town, along with a number of cruising motor yachts. It was a sunny afternoon, we were glad to get into a quiet berth off the River where the Northwest breeze was strong and gusty, and the atmosphere in St. Anne was definitely holiday even though it was only Tuesday. Families were strolling up and down the waterfront. Ice cream cones were much in evidence. People from nine months to ninety were looking us over, many asking questions. It’s not an old boat; it’s a replica. We’ll be open for your inspection tomorrow; come on back. Well, 552 strollers did.
The lock at Carillon, our next port-of-call, is a whopper. The Lois McClure and the C. L. Churchill seem very small moored to the pontoon in its bottom. Standing on the bow, I look up at the sill we will have to go over, fifty feet above my head! The total lift is sixty-five feet; it takes 17,000,000 liters of water to fill this lock. Eastern Canada is in the midst of a drought, but up we go.
We were to tie up on a wall just above the lock, which required a 180-degree turn to the right, followed by another 90-degree turn to the right to put the schooner alongside. We had the place to ourselves, so it was time for new First Mate Tom Larsen to try his first landing. Well, didn’t he put her right in there perfectly, just coasting the last fifty yards with engine orders to neither the Churchill nor the Oocher. He had her going exactly where he wanted her to go and resisted mightily the temptation to try to improve on the situation. Outstanding.
That deep lock means plenty of waterpower, and Carillon is the site of a major hydro-electric generating plant. Some of our crew put on hardhats and toured the giant facility, as interested in the huge water turbines and all their accoutrements as were the citizens of Carillon in this big canal boat, the likes of which the town hadn’t seen in more than 100 years.
On July 28th, we ran up the River to Montebello. The Ottawa River is broad and widens further into the occasional lake. So first we crossed Lac Dollard des Ormeaux, made by the Carillon dam. Re-entering the River proper, we began a hunt for ice. Kathleen Carney engineers about 250 meals a week for the crew, and ice is a key factor in her planning for fresh food. Ice was a common cargo of the old canal boats, though not a favorite. Despite insulation with sawdust or hay, melting could do away with up to a third of the precious stuff and left a dampness in the vessel that was hard to dispel. Our hunt was successful: off Hawkesbury, we sent the Oocher in to a marina, where her crew, Kerry Batdorf and Isaac Parker, obtained our daily requirement of four blocks and four bags of cubes. Meanwhile, the schooner continued at her usual 5 knots; the speedy Oocher had no trouble overtaking us.
At Montebello, we moored to the public wharf, sharing it with the local fisher persons. People with fishing rods have a tremendous concentration. I can’t recall ever successfully tempting one of them to come on board the Lois McClure. But plenty of their neighbors did come on board. And again, we were as interested in their town’s sights as they were in our boat.
For instance, the Chateau Montebello is one of the former Canadian Pacific railway hotels (now a Fairmont) that has attracted the rich and famous. This one is built of logs that the railroad brought in from British Columbia. It’s reputed to be the biggest log structure in North America, if not the world. I can tell you that the hotel lobby is five stories high.
On July 30th, we went on up the River to Ottawa itself. We passed lovely, big marshes. Oh for a week here with a kayak. The approach to the capital city by water is spectacular. The Gothic Parliament building, with its majestic bell tower, the Tower of Peace, high on its hill, dominates the scene. And we tied up right at the foot of that hill, just outside a flight of eight locks, the start of the Rideau Canal.
One of my favorite things about cruising in a boat is harbor lights. The reflection of lights on gently moving water is wonderful. This berth in Ottawa provided perhaps the most spectacular harbor lights I’ve ever seen. In one direction, the lighted stone walls of another ex-Canadian-Pacific Railway hotel, the huge Chateau Laurier, shone down on the watery staircase of locks; in another, the multitude of lighted windows of tall city buildings could be discerned out on the waters of the river; and just adjacent were reflected the gorgeous curves of the lights on the Macdonald-Cartier bridge.
On the last day of July, we started through the Rideau Canal, a journey of 126 miles requiring passage through 47 locks. We would be two weeks on the Rideau. Before we had gone very far, we happened to meet a handsome little tug yacht, the Oasis, a boat that startled Kathleen and me, for we knew her as a neighbor in the Paris marina where we spend winters in our own small vessel. Her crew, having spent many years cruising the rivers and canals of Europe, had shipped their craft across the Atlantic and had just come through the Rideau Canal, which they now claimed was their favorite waterway of all! The crew of the Lois McClure had each been looking forward to the Rideau, but with this report, our anticipation knew no bounds. We were not to be disappointed.
Colonel John By, who engineered the Rideau Canal, had foresight. In the belief that steam-powered vessels would become common and larger, he insisted that the canal locks be made big enough to accommodate vessels of the future. His vision made our passage through his canal relatively easy. Although the Rideau’s locks, opened for business in 1832, have never been enlarged, as have the original locks of the Erie and Champlain Canals, they can take a vessel up to 90 feet long and 28 feet wide. Well, the Lois McClure is 88 feet long and, with the C. L. Churchill on the hip for towing, the two vessels are nearly 26 feet wide, not counting fenders. This meant that, with extra care, we could lock through both vessels in our normal, maneuverable configuration, tug-on-hip. There was even room for the Oocher to go through with us, tied onto the schooner’s bow ahead of the tug.
It took about two hours to go up the Ottawa flight of eight locks. Each succeeding lock was drained into the one below it to lift us, step by step, a total of 76 feet. The climb was recorded by a local television channel so that viewers could experience the now-unique—though once common—sight of a canal boat coming upstairs into their city.
The canal through Ottawa is very civilized. Its smooth cement walls start along busy streets, but quickly change to traversing a manicured park. Our berth to greet the citizens was to be at Dow’s Lake, created when Colonel By flooded the area with a dam. But on this day, we bypassed the lake and tied up at Locks 9 and 10 at Hartwell, just beyond. Because we were to be the centerpiece of a festival to celebrate the 180thbirthday of the Rideau Canal, we re-stepped our masts for the occasion with the help of a crane from Dulepka Equipment.
Lock 9 had a road down to its mooring wall, so that a crane truck could park beside the schooner to do the lifting of spars and sails, and there were no bridges between it and Dow’s Lake. By the end of August 1st, the Lois McClure was rigged and moored at the west end of Dow’s Lake, ready to join the celebration.
During the next five days, more than 3,000 Ottawans trod our decks, gazed aloft at our gaff-rigged masts, inspected our cargo samples in the hold, and asked many questions of our crew, transformed from deckhands to docents. We welcomed on board professional Town Criers (a nice Canadian touch) and the quietly curious; politicians and voters; tourists and amateur historians. Three musketeers in uniform fired their pieces from our foredeck to signal the start of an evening boat parade, in which one of the circling, lighted craft was the C. L. Churchill herself.
On August 7th, it was back to Lock 9 to strike the rig, so that we could continue up the Rideau waterway. Putting the schooner’s rig up or down takes about four hours of crane work, followed by an equal amount of time to tidy everything up. We are thankful that the captains who worked out the details of the rigs of the canal schooners kept their minds on simplicity: since the rigs had to go down and back up again whenever the vessels entered or left a canal, they eschewed topmasts, and, of course, bowsprits were out of the question in canal locks. With the rig stowed, we were ready for the Rideau’s low bridges.
Our travels in 2012 would include a trip through the legendary Rideau Canal, formally designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. Since our Lois McClure outreach program began, I had heard much about the Rideau Canal. Always described in superlatives, the Rideau Canal was completed in 1832 and was described as still mostly in its original “as built” condition.
When visiting Ottawa, I vividly remember seeing the flight of Rideau’s eight stone locks ascending from the Ottawa River to begin the inland journey to Kingston some 124-miles to the south-west. The connection I had never made prior to preparing for our current outreach program was the profound linkage between the construction of the Rideau Canal and our “1812: Commemorating the War, Celebrating the Peace” interpretive program.
The Rideau Canal was conceived and built in the immediate aftermath of the War of 1812 and reminds us of the hostility that once existed between Great Britain and the United States. After the peace agreement negotiated at Ghent was ratified there was still a real expectation that hostilities would continue and that another conflict between Britain and the US was imminent. British war planners in Canada had heightened concerns that in a future war they could be at a serious disadvantage using the St. Lawrence River to send supplies and troops to Upper Canada and the lakes. Here the Americans working from a fortified New York State shoreline could impede or shut down the strategic resupply route and so an alternative option was put in motion. Surveys were authorized to determine if an alternative route between the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario could provide a feasible alternative. Beginning at the Rideau River where it entered the Ottawa River, the goal was to utilize a series of interconnected lakes to reach Kingston on Lake Ontario. The early surveys proved positive enough and British war planners ordered Lieutenant Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers to travel to Canada in 1826 to take over the project and superintend the work of building the strategic new canal. Lt. Col. By proved to be the perfect man for the job.
After By’s arrival from England he examined the proposed route and with fresh eyes refined the placement of dams, locks and channels suggested by previous engineers. The most profound suggested change, however, involved making a strong case for expanding the size of the locks to accommodate steamboats in place of horse drawn power. In this radical departure to incorporate steam-power as the primary-power for boat movement through the canal, Lt. Colonel By was ahead of his time. To accomplish this goal he had proposed the locks be expanded to 150 feet long by 50 feet wide and 10 feet deep. Although he did not convince his superiors to expand the locks to this full-extent, he was successful in expanding the locks, many of which were already under construction on the reduced size, to 134 feet long, by 33-feet wide, with 5-feet of water over the sills. At this new size, the locks were sufficiently large to accommodate the steamboats of the day and the towpath, so central to the other Canadian canals, as well as Erie and Champlain canals, was not present. This gave the Rideau Canal the distinction of being the first canal in the world engineered for the new transportation technology. Over the next 6-years, John By overcame every conceivable difficulty and obstacle and in 1832 the new 124-mile canal was completed from the Ottawa River to Kingston. The new canal, built more for military than commercial purposes was completed with blockhouses, defensible lock-masters houses and the active presence of military barracks ready for the next war between Great Britain and the US. One of the important and positive observations we can make in 2012 is that that conflict never came and by 1850’s, the military gave up control of the Rideau canal to civilian authorities as Great Britain, the US and Canada embarked on two centuries of peace, growing economic interdependence and cultural connections.
Another By-product of building the new Rideau Canal was the establishment of a new settlement at the entrance to the canal on the south side of the Ottawa River. The southern shoreline of the river where the Rideau River entered in a magnificent waterfall’s in a very sparsely populated area. Meanwhile, the community of Wrightstown on the north shore was flourishing.
Lt. Colonel By’s selection of the “Entrance Valley” to locate the first flight of locks and erection of workshops, hospital and headquarters for the enterprise created what would become known as Bytown and later Ottawa. The stone Commissariat building erected to support the work still stands today as the Bytown Museum. Workers from Lower Canada, Scotland, Ireland and the United States streamed into the new settlement looking for work and with them came the full spectrum of suppliers of all that was needed to support the work effort and leisure time. Bytown became a frontier community with a reputation as a wild town and that reputation continued until the settlement transitioned into the new city of Ottawa and transformed from a raucous outpost into the gentile capital city of Canada. Ottawa became the nation’s capital in no small measure by the presence of the Rideau Canal.
Lt. Colonel John By, dedicated public servant who provided the engineering skill, leadership and dedication to implement this challenging project did not fare as well. In May,1832, after completing a triumphant tour through the entire new canal with his family, Colonel By was recalled to England to answer questions about the canals expense. Instead of the hoped for Knighthood and recognition for his accomplishments, Lt. Colonel By suffered from second guessing by people unfamiliar with the project and he died four years later a disappointed man. It is hard to imagine a more dedicated and effective public servant, and it has only been in the reflection of time that Lt. Colonel By has been recognized for his amazing achievement.
The Rideau Canal today is very close to its 1832 “as-built” condition. The stone locks built by Lt. Colonel By have never been expanded and the twists and turns that challenged our canal boat were the same ones that caused our Captain Theodore Bartley to remark in 1886 that while the country was some of the most beautiful he had ever seen, “the little lakes[were] the most irregular I ever saw”. The flight of eight locks that takes you from the Ottawa River to the next level was is a marvel for its engineering achievement and sheer grandeur as a stone sculpture.
The Lois and crew arrived at the bottom entrance late in the afternoon we spent that first night on wall just below the locks, the Canadian Parliament and the Bytown Museum. The next morning, with the assistance of our friends from Parcs Canada, we made our way up through the eight locks and up to Hartwell’s Lock, where a huge crane from Dulepka Equipment Rentals put our sailing rig up so that we might participate in the annual Rideau Canal Festival. Assigned a position at the head of Dow’s Lake, a former dense swampland which had created so many problems for the Rideau Canal engineers, we found ourselves in a beautiful boating basin. In company with our new friends from Pogo, the 36-foot, 1954 retired Canadian hydrographic survey vessel now used for on-water youth programs, over the next three days we participated in a nighttime boat parade, helped interpret that history of the canal, and related how the War of 1812 helped create the infrastructure still in place today.
An opening celebration was hosted aboard the Lois McClure and Rideau Canal Festival supporters and government officials including Susan Crystal from the American Embassy and Royal Galipeau the Ottawa Member of Parliament attended. The next days were filled with incredible activity and visitation as extra help in the form of veteran interpreters Ernie Haas and Karen and Jim Gallott came to the rescue. We also received great support from Juan Sanchez and Stephanie Elliot from Parcs Canada who provided logistical support and interpretive coverage for this important stop. Being in Ottawa, our time off gave the crew opportunities to embark in many directions to eat, sightsee, shop and visit the cities many excellent museums. For me, one of the real highlights was a visit to the Canadian War Museum to view their new and excellent War of 1812 exhibit. The exhibit presents the war from the different perspectives of British, Canadian, American and Native Peoples. It was an excellent and thoughtful presentation that helped me to better understand the war’s complexity and geographic expanse. By the time the Ottawa stay was completed we had hosted over three thousand people aboard and were very gratified by the reception.
The next leg of the trip would take us through the entire length of the Rideau Canal from Ottawa to Kingston. For many of the crew, this has been a highly anticipated centerpiece of the trip. However, before we could embark on the historic canal we first had to return to Hartwell’s Lock so our friends from Dupleka could help us take down the rig in anticipation of traveling the UNESCO recognized Rideau Canal that would transport us back into the time when the War of 1812 had recently ended and the next chapter anticipated was continuing conflict with the United States.
It is a beautiful Saturday and we are leaving our dock at Carillon. We anticipate a nice transit. We are heading for La Petite-Nation, the kingdom of Louis-Joseph Papineau one of the leaders of the rebellion of 1837. La Petine-Nation refers to the seigneury of the Papineau family. Today all the area is known as Montebello. During the French regime, the seigneurial system was the way of dividing the land. The king Louis XIV was giving the seigneuries to subject who served the crown well. La Petite-Nation was given to the Jesuit order during the 17th century. The Papineau family acquired it from the Jesuits late in the 18th century. The Napoleonic war in Europe forced the British to look to their colonies for raw materials, specifically shipbuilding wood . And La Petite-Nation had lot of usable wood. The Papineau family made their fortune with the big pines.
The Ottawa river is impressive, running very deep in places. After a very nice transit we docked at the municipal quay, a very strong concrete structure. Immediately the locals are coming to see us. We are a very unusual sight in these waters. After the usual duties of setting up our gangway and information panels, I am exploring the village with a bunch of our pamphlets in my pocket. I started my distribution at the Tourist information center in the old log railway station, then at the Manoir Papineau National Historic Site to finish at the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello.
Since I am starting my shift late on the boat Sunday, I visited the Manoir of the Papineau in the morning. This is an impressive house built in 1854 by Papineau after his return from exile (Papineau was obliged during the rebellion to seek refuge in the USA). It is a mixture of Georgian and Victorian architecture. Parks Canada did an excellent restoration, but just for the main floor because the second had been heavily modified by the Seigneury Club. The Papineau were so proud of their family that they built a private family museum on the property. The museum was transformed into a chapel by the Club. The Club acquired the property from the Papineau family in 1929.
After the Manoir, I went to the Hotel. It was built by the Seigneury Club at the beginning of the 1930s. It was at that time the largest log construction in the world. It is still a very impressive structure. All the logs are treated with a black coating for conservation. It is dark building very medieval in atmosphere. On the walls there is lot of photographs of famous visitors including several American presidents (Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush). Many international summits were held here. The hotel is literally covered with paintings by the artist Sheriff-Scott.They represent naturally the life of Papineau and the rebellion of ’37 but also the nature and the wildlife of the area. After all that “visiting“ back to the boat to receive visitors. As usual they are very curious about the boat but also about how as a crew we live together today. Were are we sleeping? Were is the kitchen? What are we eating? So the past is becoming the present! We as interpreters are becoming part of the history. At the end of the afternoon the mayor of Montebello came to visit the boat. For this small community we are a big attraction.
Before leaving this very nice town, Art and myself went to the ice cream store to test and compare the quality of the famous Montebello banana split. It lived up to its reputation… And Monday morning we took in our gangway and panels, and headed up the river. Ottawa is waiting for us.
Jean Belisle A recently retired professor from the Art History Department at Concordia University, Jean has been involved with LCMM for many decades. He joins us for his second year as crew aboard the Lois McClure.
From the time that I was a child, I have admired the family heirloom silver medal bearing the likeness of Queen Victoria. The bar on the red and blue striped ribbon reads “Chateaugauy”. Engraved along the edge of the medal is “F. Rousseau – Canad’n Militia”. The medal, now on display at my parent’s home, belonged to Francois Rousseau, my great-great-great-great grandfather. The family’s oral history of Francois Rousseau and his role in the War of 1812 is a fantastic tale of revenge and gallantry. But what really happened? This summer I had a chance to find out. I returned to the canal schooner Lois McClure at the Lachine canal in Montreal. From there we made our way west with stops at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue and Carillon.
On our way to Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue we passed through the peculiar Becker Dam, a man made protected passage through the rapids. We tied up below the lock, in front of the same hotel de ville that Theodore Bartley would have seen on his way thorough during the 19th century. Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue is a quaint little community on the western side of Montreal. The locals were quite curious about our boat and we enjoyed a busy day interpreting both the boat and our tour.
Out next stop was at Carillon. The highlight of the day’s transit was a single 65′ lift at the Carillon lock. This is a “guillotine” lock where a massive lower lock door raises and lowers rather than swinging open and shut. After being lifted the height of a 6 story building we tied up and prepared to welcome the public aboard.
While we were at Carillon I jumped at the chance given to us by Jean Belisle’s roommante, Pierre, to go to Parcs Canada‘s Battle of Chateaugauy historic site. Pierre was gracious enough to come with a car to bring us to the site itself.
Driving across the flat fertile plain of the St Lawrence River reminded me much more of the American Midwest than the Champlain Valley. Eventually we arrived at the visitor’s center along the banks of the quiet Chateaugauy River. We went inside and introduced ourselves. The staff was pleased to meet a blood-relative of a participant of the battle. Our guide gave us a tour of the museum and a play-by-play overview of the battle from the observation level overlooking the battlefield.
After the tour, I set out to see what I could learn about Francois Rousseau. I found his name engraved on the wall of honor and then, using the electronic database at the visitors center’s museum, I was able to look up his service record. He served in the 5th Regiment of the Embodied Select Militia. The Embodied Select Militia was made up primarily of conscripts, though his rank of lieutenant reinforces the family’s story that he enlisted on his own accord. While his unit, in their green uniform jackets, was at the battle on October 26, 1813 they were likely a reserve force that did not see direct action against the Americans.
None the less, in 1848 Francois Rousseau received a medal from Queen Victoria recognizing his service to the crown fighting in defense of his native Canada. Now, almost 200 years later, I too have been to the banks of the Chateaugauy River. This time the occasion was a tour celebrating two centuries of peace. My visit to the battlefield of Chateaugauy has shed some light on the story of Francois Rousseau and his medal but there are still more questions to answer. Those may have to wait until next year.
Jeff Hindes A 7th generation Vermonter whose family once owned a standard canal boat out of Vergennes, the J. G. Hindes, Jeff is also a captain for the Lake Champlain Transportation Company. When not on the water, Jeff teaches social studies at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg.
Montreal is an island and historically the point at which travelers moving up the St. Lawrence River had to circumnavigate the rapids, which barred their passage west. This dynamic place in the river made Montreal the city it is today. However, by the early 19th century the city’s location and its requirement to transship goods also became a limiting factor to Montreal’s potential for growth. The solution was to construct a canal from one end of the swift water to the other, bypassing the challenging energy of the rapids. The Lachine Canal opened in 1825, the same year as New York’s Erie Canal, and like the Erie, it was expanded and enhanced several times over its working life before being bypassed and superseded by the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1958. The once active waterway fell on hard times and finally closed to navigation. Like many of Canada’s historic canals, it was revived by Parcs Canada. It now provides an all-water route through the city and is alive with boats, kayaks, runners and bicycles.
During our stay at Montreal, we scheduled visits to both ends of the Lachine canal. At the Old Port we got a taste of the still dynamic currents that required us to supplement the steady Churchill with an assist tugboat graciously donated by Oceans Group by arrangement of our friends at Gresco Ltee. After a warm three-day reception in the historic Old Port, we transited through the St. Lawrence Seaway to the western end of the Lachine Canal. Moored at a dock just outside the stone locks of the Lachine Canal Visitors Center, we enjoyed a busy weekend in this very historic place. The Visitor’s Center and Fur Trade Museum are operated by Parcs Canada, and the town operated Lachine Museum added perspective through an excellent archaeological exhibit about the days when the Chevalier de La Salle settlement became a jumping off point for explorations further inland.
Our visit to Montreal was a sensory delight of maritime activity and stories. Empire Sandy’s overhanging bowsprit was a constant reminder that we had left Lake Champlain. Watching container ships, tankers, private yachts on steroids, go-fast boats by the dozen and working tugboats it occurred to me while in the shadow of this important Lachine Canal to examine the record of our Captain Bartley and get his perspective from the days when the shipwrecks that provided the information for the construction of the Lois McClure would have operated. The Bartley entries were many and as usual, very insightful to our understanding of how the Lachine Canal and business corridor influenced the world. In 1862, the year that both General Butler and O.J. Walker were launched, Captain Bartley arrived at the Old Port end of the canal from Sorel and “Locked up as soon as we could.” He then writes that he “laid up above the locks, head of Wellington St, till some time in the afternoon then started for Lachine through the Lachine Canal. Got there sometime before sunset. Stayed here until about 12 P.M. when we started in tow with the [steamer] Prescott for Thurso 30 miles east of Bytown and about 75 from Montreal.” Little did I realize that in the days that lay ahead, our crew we would pass by Thurso on the Ottawa River enroute to Bytown, now Ottawa, and the Canadian capital. Bytown was named for Lt. Col. John By, the British engineer who designed and built the Rideau Canal, but that story will follow along shortly.
Later, in October of that same 1862 season, Captain Bartley was back in Montreal to deliver a load of coal. He wrote on October 20, “We found by the consignee that we must unload our coal at the ax factory about 3 miles above the locks so we locked through as soon as our turn came & laid just above the mouth of the canal where it branches off. As we were hauling out of the lock the men on a barge that was hauling out told us to give them a line ahead as a steamboat was going to tow them out. So we hitch on & they towed us up near where we lay all night. This saved us probably an hour’s work poling” It was amazing to me to learn that Captain Bartley was regularly poling his loaded boat short distances around the harbor. Beyond the hard work of moving the boat, it seems that it would have taken considerable skill to guide the heavily laden boat to where the boatman wanted it to go.
The next day Captain Bartley is pulling up to the ax factory getting ready to unload his coal. “…the men began on our load but it began to rain & the work didn’t go very fast. Finally it rained so steady & hard near night that we all quit work for more than an hour. It finally slacked up a little & we had a little more taken off. While we quit work, I visited the different shops. They manufacture axes, scythes, shovels, augers & nearly all kind of edge tools. Beside there is a nail factory running 20 or more nail machines. They make about 240 axes per day besides the different tools”. On the next day they finished unloading the coal, “We then towed by horse through the remainder of the canal 6 miles to Lachine. Got there but little after dark. Locked through one more lock and tied up outside ready for a steamboat to us to Beauharnois.”
It was very pleasing and appropriate to realize that the place which Captain Bartley described a century and a half ago was the same spot that the Lois McClure was tying up 150 years later. We were not here to load or unload a heavy cargo, but instead to reflect on the days gone by. Captain Theodore Bartley shared his daily observations with us and we, in turn, are privileged to share his extraordinary record with the public. Following in Captain Bartley’s footsteps and moored at the entrance to the historic Lachine Canal, it all seemed right.
We celebrated the 4th of July quietly in Canada by dropping down the Richelieu River a few miles from Beloeilto St. Denis in the morning and hosting a group of 75 visitors on board in the afternoon, folks who were meeting in St. Denis to discuss the promotion of tourism in the area. Well, one of the things the Lois McClure does is draw people out. You could say that she is a sight worth seeing, wherever she is tied up. Have schooner, will travel.
I say “dropping down,” because we were running with the river current. The Churchill tows the McClure at 5 knots through the water. The current in the Richelieu was moving at 1-2 knots. Thus, our speed over the bottom, as we say, was 6-7 knots instead of 5. It doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but when you glance over the side at the water running by the boat at its usual speed, and then look at the river bank sliding by, you’re always surprised at how fast the landscape seems to speeding along.
Next morning, we went down to and through the lock at St. Ours and tied up just below the lock. We had the afternoon and the whole next day off, and enjoyed fine weather and the nice park that surrounds the lock. What with moving our vessels safely from place to place, converting our home afloat into a museum when we get there, and acting as museum docents to our many hundreds of visitors, our crew works hard. A lay day here and there is mighty welcome.
On July 7th at St. Ours, we talked history with almost 200 visitors. While we’re always glad to be swamped with people on board the Lois McClure, a smaller gathering, as at St. Ours, gives us the opportunity to have unhurried discussions with visitors. We can explore the geography of the comings and goings of the old canal boats with their multifarious cargoes. We can get into the fine points of how the schooner’s rig works and how she handles under sail. We can examine just what life was like for a family living and working in a canal boat. And, in this bicentennial of the War of 1812, we can exchange ideas about how that conflict changed the lives of people living near the Canadian–United States border that we recently crossed. And, say, who won that war anyway? Well, in a way, maybe both sides won. After all, the nations involved haven’t fought since.
Next day, we continued down the Richelieu to its mouth at Sorel, where the river joins the St. Lawrence. On the way, we stopped at the Marina Belle Rive to take on fuel and water and pump out sanitary tanks. Ahhh. Making the landing at the marina’s fuel dock, we turned to head up into the current, my favorite set-up for bringing the schooner alongside. The opposing current gives you a whole ‘nother tool for maneuvering. You come in a little wide with a little extra headway and then angle in toward the dock, watching how much the current is pushing you sideways toward it. The current, slanting against the off-dock side of the boat, is just like another tug shoving you right in where you want to go and slowing you to a stop at the same time. Some fun!
At Sorel, we moored out on the St. Lawrence River on the downstream side of the huge commercial pier that includes the cross-river ferry terminal. This was an ideal spot for stepping the masts on July 9th. Plenty of room on the pier for the crane and plenty of space to lay out the spars while we took down and disassembled the T-braces that had been cradling them up off the deck. Well, it was almost ideal. A potential hazard was that our berth was wide open to wakes from ships and boats passing on the river. In my new role as supervisor-without-hardhat, all I really had to do was keep a lookout riverward and warn the crew of any dangerous-looking wakes. It wouldn’t do for the vessel to start rolling and pitching just as the crane was easing a mast, inch by inch, precisely vertical, down into a tabernacle. Luckily, I needed to issue no warnings, and all went smoothly, for Erick Tichonuk again came on board for the day to run the operation in his make-it-look-easy way.
On July 10th, we started up the river toward Montreal. The distance is 40 miles, and now we had the current against us. The water was going by at its usual 5 knots, but landmarks on the distant shoreline of the wide St. Lawrence seemed to take forever to move astern. We crept upstream at less than 4 knots.
So, we broke the trip in half and anchored for the night at the Iles-aux-Prunes. It’s a small island in the river halfway to Montreal with a fairly deep channel behind it. We had the place to ourselves and were protected from the ship wakes coming from the main channel of the river. At sunset, we watched a big container ship churning her way upstream, her hull invisible as she passed our island, but her high stacks of multi-colored containers reflecting their hues in the water alongside.
As you approach Montreal, the river narrows and so the current increases – to 5 knots! Groupe Ocean kindly sent their Service Boat No. 1, a fine towboat, out to help us. She took our towline, and up we went at a steady 7 knots through the water. It’s a bit surreal to be rumbling along at a great rate through the swirls of water coming down over Lachine Rapids, crawling past the big roller coaster at the site of the 1967 World’s Fair with its screaming customers, to finally arrive in the quiet water of the Vieux Port of Montreal. We tied up with our stern right under the bowsprit of the Empire Sandy, a big vessel that started life as a British ocean salvage tug and has been converted to a three-masted schooner. At this time, she’s running three trips per day with paying passengers down through all that current and back.
On July 16th, there was another great filling and emptying of the appropriate tanks, with the crew at the Vieux Port helping us in outstanding fashion. Then we put the Churchill on the schooner’s hip and set off back down through the 5-knot swirls. Art Cohn, reading true speed off the GPS in the tug’s wheelhouse, reported we were passing the roller coaster at better than 9 knots. Of course, we never allow screaming on the boat, but we were pretty excited.
We were headed for a berth at Lachine, just outside Lock 5 at the west end of the Lachine Canal. The east end of the canal is right at the Vieux Port, but the ten-mile-long Lachine canal has fixed bridges at 12 feet above the water and our height with masts down on both schooner and tug is 15 feet. So, to get to the other end of the Lachine Canal, we had to go 24 miles round through the Canal de Rive Sud, which is the east end of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
By 11:15, we were jilling around off Lock St. Lambert, the first lock in the Seaway, with a small fleet of pleasure craft waiting for a big freighter to lock down. These big vessels have to move very slowly entering and leaving the locks. They are so heavy that any collision with, say, a lock gate, would shut down the Seaway for quite awhile. We hemmed and hawed outside the lock for an hour, then eased in ourselves, astern of the other boats, and were soon lifted to the next level. There was no traffic at Lock Ste. Catharine, so we were green-lighted right through. That brought us up to the level of the next part of the Seaway, Lac Louis.
Lac Louis has a lot of shoals all over the place and a healthy current running. There are channels marked by red and green buoys leading to the different harbors on the lake. Tricky navigation for the uninitiated. So, the good folks at Lachine sent out a Coast Guard Auxiliary boat to meet us and guide us into their harbor.
We stopped at the big public dock before trying to negotiate a narrow channel leading past a marina loaded with boats to our final berth at Lock 5 and sent First Mate Tom Larsen with the Oocher crew up that channel to scout it out. They returned with much useful information, such as a yellow 5-gallon fuel jug marking a cement block placed in the channel with four feet of water over it (the Churchill draws 4 ½ feet), and the confirmation of the suspected fact that the channel was too narrow for us to tow through with the tug on the hip.
Armed with such intelligence, we took a short towline from the Churchill, cast off from the pier, and commenced towing toward a narrow slot between two breakwaters at the entrance to the channel. Moving slowly, the tug eased in between the breakwaters and started up the channel, red buoys to port (though we were entering, this was downstream) yellow fuel jug and fiberglass yachts, most with amazed owners on board, to starboard. As in the Chambly Canal, we had the Oocher made off on the schooner’s stern to use as a brake or to hold the schooner’s stern up to windward a bit should she start to blow down toward any of the vulnerable spectators. Made it through without touching anything. Whew! And landed on a long floating dock using the Oocher and a stern line to bring the schooner to a stop. We then hauled her by hand into a spot where there was minimum interference between her masts and the overhanging trees.
It had been a long, interesting day on the water. And here we were in a tightly landlocked berth at the end of it. I repeated to Art a saying of a friend in a similar situation, who looked round his vessel and opined, “Why, we’re as safe as in God’s pocket!”
It’s 9 pm. In the wheelhouse of the C.L. Churchill, it’s quiet for now. The museum’s tugboat is tied alongside a massive steel-sided pier at the west entrance of the Lachine Canal on the island of Montreal. The tug’s bow faces a gentle westerly breeze. The canal schooner Lois McClure is tied up just behind. Ahead lies the broad St. Lawrence River. An hour ago, there was rain and then a hint of sunset. The sky quickly darkened again though. It is now a deep wet gray.
A few raindrops spatter on the tug’s windshield, then a squall explodes like a bomb over the docked boats. Walls of rain collapse one after another onto the Churchill. The tugboat bucks violently in the sudden gale.
The Lois McClure and the C.L. Churchill spent the previous week down the Lachine Canal, tied to a peaceful tree shaded bank at the edge of a city park. The canal looks new, with restored stonework, the latest in lock mechanisms, and a modern visitor’s center. However, today’s Lachine is a modern incarnation of an old, urban industrial canal that opened in 1825.
The canal slices into Montreal near the island’s south shore. It leads directly into the old industrial heart of the city. In the heyday of smokestack industries, the canal lay at the bottom of a canyon formed by the block walls of massive factories. With the vast St. Lawrence River at its head, the canal provided not only a direct path to the city’s industries, but their water power as well.
The canal carried freight, first in wooden vessels similar to the Lois McClure, then in substantial steel ships. A series of lift, swing and draw bridges on the city’s cross streets allowed the passage of towering steamers as well as sailing vessels.
In the late 1950’s, however, the Lachine lost one of its original purposes – that of bypassing the rapids on the St Lawrence River southwest of the island. The enormous St Lawrence Seaway Project included a larger, newer canal on the south bank of the river, around these rapids. The Lachine canal closed in 1969. There was even talk of filling it in to create a highway.
Instead, in the 1990s, the canal was reborn as a recreational waterway. A large marina now occupies an unused segment of the old canal at the west end. Bicycle and pedestrian paths cris-cross the waterway on small bridges and across tops of the restored lock doors. Many of the Lois McClure‘s visitors during our stay in Lachine arrived on two wheels, enjoying these paths.
The squall at Lachine’s west end does not last long. It subsides to a light rain, and then finally to a cool, still darkness, interrupted now and then by far away lightning. Tomorrow, the Lois McClure and C.L. Churchill head upstream for their first trip on the Ottawa River.
Doug Riley Hailing from Essex Junction, VT, Doug Riley is a lawyer and sailing instructor. A lover of New England “antiquities” since his childhood near the Connecticut shore, he volunteers his help with LCMM activities several times a year.
As the Lois McClure travels the interconnected waterways of the northeast, it is not very often that the crew encounters a sailing vessel of significantly greater size. However, as we slowly labored against the swift current just down river from the Old Port in Montreal, we noticed a much larger schooner traversing the river ahead of us.
It turns out that our new dock mate was the Empire Sandy, which was advertised as the largest passenger sailboat operating in Canada. It was big. Measuring 203 feet from bow to stern and weighing in at 740 tons, she was one impressive ship. Besides being big, she also had a very interesting history as well. The Empire Sandy was laid down in the shipyard of Clelands (Successors), on Dec 22, 1942. She was built as an Englishman class deep sea tug with the added provision for mounting two Hotchkiss AA guns. She served in the North Atlantic all the way from Iceland to Sierra Leone, the Mediterranean Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean during WWII.
After her service, she underwent many name changes as she was bought and sold a couple of times. Luckily, just before she was to be sold for scrap, the Nautical Adventures Co. bought her and through lots of work she was transformed into the three masted schooner she is today.
Generosity seems to bob in the Lois McClure’s tiny wake and when it came to the crew of the Empire Sandy they were no exception. We were all offered the opportunity to travel on the boat when she went out for one of her cruises free of charge. Not wanting to pass up such an amazing occasion, Sal and I decided to see what it was like. It turned out to be really neat. The crew gave us a nice tour and answered all of our questions. On top of that they offered Sal and I the chance to help them when it was time to furl the sails. The crew has perfected the showy way of furling by walking along the boom and furling with their feet, before swinging down on one of the halyards and looking like a classic adventure hero. While I didn’t perform the acrobatic part of the furling, I still had a great time helping out. Thank you to the captain and crew of the Empire Sandy for a fantastic cruise!
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.