Entirely man made, the Old Beauharnois Canal (1845–1899) gave birth to the town of Salaberry-de Valleyfield, which immediately became known as the “Gateway to the St. Lawrence”.
The construction of the canal was not without its problems. On June 1, 1843, one of the bloodiest industrial disputes in Canadian history erupted as 2,350 workers, masons, and excavators—most of whom were Irish immigrants—went on strike to protest the inhumane working conditions they were subjected to. On June 12, the Union government sent in the infantry and the cavalry to put a stop to the strikers’ display of outrage. Some 70 people perished in this historical conflict.
From 1929 to 1932, efforts were instead focused on building what is our present-day Beauharnois Canal, located between Lake St. Francis (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield) and Lake Saint-Louis (Beauharnois). This enormous canal is one kilometer wide and stretches over 24.5 kilometers through the heart of agricultural land.
Backfilled and closed to navigation in 1907, the Old Beauharnois Canal was replaced by the Soulanges Canal (1899–1958).
In the space of a few decades, the Soulanges Canal ceased its activities in 1959, giving way to the St. Lawrence Seaway.
June 26, 1959: Inauguration of the St. Lawrence Seaway by Queen Elizabeth II of England, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Canadian Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker.