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Endings and beginnings along the Lachine Canal

Canal leads participants on a walking tour through the post-industrial era of Montreal’s historic waterway
April 28, 2014
By Steven High

The Canal project is a visual and audio guided tour that takes participants from the Atwater Market to the Saint Gabriel Lock in the rapidly gentrifying South-West neighbourhood. | Photo by David Lewis

The Lachine Canal runs through the heart of Montreal’s South-West district. Once a vibrant but often rough-edged industrial hub, the canal and its surroundings have witnessed many changes in recent times.

Residents and visitors to the city can now get a taste of that history and transformation through Canal, an audio walk — a visual and audio guided tour — that takes participants from the Atwater Market to the Saint Gabriel Lock in the rapidly gentrifying South-West neighbourhood. The Canal project was created by Concordia’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, led by Steven High, professor and Canada Research Chair in Oral History, in conjunction with Parks Canada.

The 2.5-km tour begins at the Parks Canada booth at the Atwater Market (at the corner of Atwater Ave. and St-Ambriose St.). It includes an audio file, map and optional accompanying booklet (available for $10).

Over the hour-long walk, voices reflecting the memories of area residents and factory workers guide the listener through a part of Montreal that is undergoing rapid change. Canal is a journey through time and space meant to make participants see this famous navigational route in a whole new light.

The Canal project continues to grow. In the fall 2014 term, students from Concordia’s Department of History will create an audio tour of Montreal’s Pointe-Saint-Charles district. They will be joined by students from the Neighbourhood Theatre, led by Ted Little, a professor in the Department of Theatre, and art history classes taught by Cynthia Hammond, MFA 96, PhD 03, associate professor and chair of the Department of Art History. They will continue to explore urban change through an interdisciplinary lens.

For more information, visit the Canal project.

Current and archival photos of the Lachine Canal

canal-lachine-audio-walk-4-620 In the late 19th century, Montreal’s South-West was known to urban reformers as the “city below the hill” due to its crushing poverty, overcrowding and disease at the height of industrialization. At the time, the Lachine Canal was a mass of factories, railway yards and docks that filled the air with smoke and noise. | Photo courtesy of Parks Canada

canal-lachine-audio-walk-3-620 The canal was also the gateway to the Great Lakes until 1959. The building of the seaway, and the suburbanization of industry with the rise of trucking, contributed to the decline of the industrial corridor. | Photo courtesy of Parks Canada

canal-lachine-audio-walk-2-620 In recent years the area’s population has begun to rise again as a result of widespread condominium building and rezoning. However, this trend has sparked three decades of fierce anti-gentrification struggles. Today Pointe-Saint-Charles, in particular, has become synonymous in Quebec with the fight for community health, social housing, anti-poverty activism and neighbourhood control. | Photo by David Lewis

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