M984.273 | Lachine Canal, Lachine, QC

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Lachine Canal, Lachine, QC
James Duncan (1806-1881)
About 1850, 19th century
Watercolour and graphite on paper; Lithography
19.4 x 29.3 cm
Gift of Dr. Daniel Lowe
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Painting (2229) , painting (2227) , Waterscape (2986)
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This view, executed near the first lock of the Lachine Canal, looks north-east into the harbour. The small building to the left of the lock served as quarters for the men who operated the floodgates. In 1844, the canal had undergone further enlargement to accommodate bigger vessels, and by 1850 - the time this watercolour was executed - the port of Montreal was receiving 222 vessels per season and the tonnage had increased to 46,000 tons. The canal was also a popular site for leisure activities. A young boy can be seen fishing from the top of the floodgate while other figures observe the scenery from the banks. Although the work is not signed, comparison of the inscription with those on other works known to be by Duncan shows it to be in the artist's hand. The people depicted in the work are also typical of this artist's handling of the human figure.

Keys to History

This scene dates from about 1850, when the Lachine Canal was the first link in a series of canals connecting Montreal and Lake Superior.

Previously, the Lachine Rapids had stopped ships from going further upstream. The canal construction project, which was initiated by the merchants of the city before being taken over by the government, was completed in 1825. Almost 14 km long, the canal was originally designed for small flat-bottomed sailing ships, but many modifications were made in the 19th century in order to accommodate bigger and bigger vessels.

These major construction projects permitted Montreal to supplant the port of Quebec City as the main entry port to the St. Lawrence. The metropolis, which would now accommodate large ocean-going ships, became an essential port of call for inland navigation.

  • What

    This view shows the first lock of the canal. The port of Montreal can be seen in the background.

  • Where

    Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, industries were established near the canal to take advantage of the water power potential and the transportation facilities. However, as the artist suggests, people also enjoyed walking along the canal.

  • When

    The waterway was profitable. In 1859, the transportation of a ton of merchandise from Montreal to Toronto cost $2-3 by water and $3.50 by rail.

  • Who

    This anonymous painting has been attributed to the artist James Duncan (1806-1881) because of its style. Born in Ireland, Duncan immigrated to Canada in 1830, and settled in Montreal.