Early French explorers believed that the broad flowing river would eventually lead them to the far east. Hence their name "China" for the treacherous rapids which made the St. Lawrence River practically impassable without a difficult portage here in Montreal. 19th century visionaries successfully brought to reality the dream of bypassing the rapids with a well-engineered canal that was first used in the early 1820s. Later generations expanded and deepened the canal, making possible the establishment of Montreal as one of the great industrial centers of North America.
The industry is gone, many of the warehouses have been torn down or converted to condos and offices, but the canal remains both as a reminder of history AND a well-maintained and flourishing recreational path through the heart of the urbanized city. Popular bicycle and jogging paths today are busy with healthy Montrealers who are able to enjoy the scenery and the heritage. The Canal is about 14 kilometers - approximately 9 miles - long, stretching from the Old Port of Montreal in the east to Lake St. Louis in the west.
Lachine Canal may not seem like a likely tourist attraction, but it should be for anyone who enjoys doing things outdoors. The canal stretches across the southern part of the city and offer visitors the chance to spend time outside (especially on beautiful summer days) while also experiencing a part of the city's history and the reason for the growth of Montreal as an important commercial and financial centre. The Canal had been a demand of residents for quite some time since the foundation of the city (there are historical differences between the preferences for roads and canals by the Provinces two linguistic communities), but work on it only began in the 1820s. Montréal sits at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, or more precisely the narrowing point, and canals like the Lachine helped to ensure that a greater flow of traffic through the city's port to and from downstream centres (such as Toronto) could be handled. The Canal takes its name from China (Chine in French), as the original belief by French colonists in the 17th century was that Montréal lay on the route to China. The Canal was in use until 1970, when it was closed to shipping traffic. It has since been declared a National Landmark, and rollerblading and cycling paths have been opened along side it, allowing visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of the canal.
West of the old port is the Lachine Canal. Once the very heart of Montreal's industrial core, it bypassed the rapids on the St Lawrence River, south of the city, enabling goods to move up and down the river. This was a key connection between the open sea and the country's interior. Factories, warehouses, and other industrial infrastructure grew up along this canal. Today, many are being renovated and reused.
Today, with the railroads and highways, it's a backwater. Small tour boats and pleasure craft still ply its quiet waters. Hikers, runners, and cyclists move along the paths on either side of the old canal.
It stretches 4.5km from downtown Montreal though lake Saint-Louis to Lachine. It used to be a shipping route that closed in 1970 with the construction of the Saint-Lawrence Seaway. And on the canal banks, there is this great pedestrian and cycling route where countless details evoke the past. The locks and walls of the canalized waterway, the 19th century factories and the downtown skyscrapers will fill your day. It starts at the Old Port and finished at the Lachine rapids (or the other way around!). The paved path shared by cyclists and in-line skaters is completely seperated from car traffic and it is lighted at night and well maintain. Make a round trip in the Lachine canal path (23km) or take the Grand Tour. This circuit goes along the Canal path and follows the Des Berges path along the St-Lawrence river, both of which are linked by the Atwater and Argenson streets cycling link (25km). Once at Lachine, take the path criss-crossing the green spaces along the shores of Lake St-Louis. To the east, near bonnaventure autoroute, the path connects up with the Old Port path which is linked to the wider Montreal network that crosses the east and north of the island. Make a detour by the Cite-du-Havre bicycle link and head for the Parc des Iles. This bicycle leads to the Seaway and south shore network.