The Sulpicians' Canal
The proposed canal would enable canoes to ascend the river into Lake St. Louis which would in turn give access to the Ottawa and upper St. Lawrence rivers. The proposal required the excavation of a channel about one mile long commencing at Lachine, above the rapids, to Little Lake St. Peter. This lake was later filled in and no trace of it now remains. From the lake to Montreal the Little St. Peter River was to be deepened to make a channel 12 ft. wide with a minimum depth of 18 in. when the St. Lawrence was at its lowest level. The deepening of the river was carried out but official support was apparently lacking and no work was done on the channel. A few years later Dollier de Casson, Superior of the Sulpicians, who was also an engineer of some repute, proposed that the work be done by the settlers at Lachine on a communal basis. Preparations for this were completed in the Summer of 1689, but in August of that year most of the settlers at Lachine were massacred in an Indian raid.
In 1700 the Sulpicians arranged a contract for the work with a Montreal contractor named Gideon de Cathalogne for the then large sum of £9000 with the stipulation that the work was to be completed by June of 1701. However, the contractor ran into difficulties and in February of 1701, when the work was about three quarters finished, the money was exhausted.
The remaining work was never completed although many attempts were made to revive interest during the next 30 years and at one point Louis XIV of France became personally interested in the scheme. It is probable, however, that at periods of high water canoes were able to use the partially finished channel.
In spite of these handicaps, traffic on the river increased rapidly, the cargoes of trade goods to, and furs from the West, being carried mainly in canoes. The birch canoes were light enough to be portaged around the unnavigable parts of the river. The canoes had, of course, a very small carrying capacity.
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This paper was presented at a meeting of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers and is reproduced with permission.