The Lachine Rapids were an obstacle for early mariners, forcing them to offload their cargo at the Port of Montreal and haul it overland to avoid the rapids. The first attempt to dig a bypass canal started in 1689, but the work was interrupted by an indian attack and later faltered due to a lack of funds. A second attempt in 1821, proved successful, and the Lachine Canal opened to navigation in 1825. The canal was 14 kilometres long with seven locks, each thirty metres long, six metres wide, and one-and-a-half metres deep, to allow flat-bottomed boats to bypass the rapids. Between 1843 and 1848, the canal was enlarged and the size of the locks was increased to accommodate larger vessels with deeper draughts. The improved Lachine Canal, finally made it possible for these vessels to freely sail between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes.
In 1849, a 20 foot high wooden lighthouse with light from one lamp, set in a reflector, was established at the canal’s western entrance to help mariner’s make the transition between the canal and Lake St. Louis. In 1900 a current set of two permanent range lights was built. The front range lighthouse is 29 ½ feet high and stands on the western extremity of the railway wharf. The rear light ,which is higher than the front light, stands 900 feet to the east from the front light. It is a white-painted metal tapered tower, set on a concrete base. An attractive, decorative metal cupola houses the light apparatus and is accessed by a circular, metal gallery platform accented by corbels. An additional small equipment platform crowns the tower. Both towers were built using metal-working techniques developed in the early part of the 20th century for shipbuilding and boiler-making. The techniques consist of assembling slightly curved steel plates and fastening them with rivets to form a truncated cone. Steel was used because it was resistant and easy to maintain, provided it was properly protected against corrosion.
The towers had occulting white acetylene lights, burning with full power for eight seconds, and with a dim light for two seconds, and visible for 10-12 miles.
The Lachine Canal continued to operate after the Saint Lawrence seaway opened in 1959, but it finally closed to shipping in November 1970.
Both Lachine light towers now standing in St. Louis Park, a municipal recreation space on the waterfront, were designated a Recognized Federal Heritage Building in 1991. The range lights remain active today, exhibiting fixed green lights to help mark the upper entrance to the canal.
The lighthouses are owned by the Canadian Coast Guard, and located in Parc Saint-Louis, in Lachine.
By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
Lachine Wharf – about 1910 (McCord Museum M-0000 899.1)
Lachine Wharf + Rear Range Light Tower – 2016 (Photo: ©Dick NIeuwendyk)