Safe Passage: Aids to Navigation on the St. Lawrence
Loading grain in sailboat "Lake Michigan", Montreal, QC, about 1878
Notman & Sandham
Probably 1878, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
10 x 8 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords: boat (1192) , harbour (624) , Photograph (77678) , Transportation (2517)
Keys to History
Although the quantity of merchandise carried upriver increased throughout the 19th century, the flow of goods in the other direction was actually more important to Canadians. In 1832, 66 000 tons of goods were being shipped annually from the Great Lakes region to Montreal, including 92 000 barrels of flour and 300 000 bushels of wheat. During the 19th century, grain was second only to coal in terms of the quantity shipped. The products from the West were usually carried by barge or schooner to Montreal or Quebec City, before being loaded into oceangoing ships for transport to the ports of Europe.
The grain barges used in the late 19th century were built of wood and generally had no engine. They had to be towed to their destination. Most had a single small sail to make them easier to tow.
The port of Montreal was the main terminal for grain barges sailing downriver from the Upper St. Lawrence. This is where their valuable cargo was transferred to larger vessels such as sailing ships or steamships destined for faraway markets.
With the opening up of Western Canada to settlers in the late 19th century, grain became one of the principal commodities transported on the St. Lawrence system. Ships make the same journey today, their holds bursting with grain.
Grain barges were often owned by large transport companies such as the Canada Atlantic Railway. To transport Western grain to the terminals (e.g., at Coteau-du-Lac on Lake St. Francis to the west of Montreal) for loading on barges, the company built railroads.