Having lived and rented studios in St-Henri for a number of years I have become quite familiar and fascinated with the industrial landscape of the Lachine Canal. I remember as a boy being told the origins of the name “Lachine” and finding it rather bizarre that some early French explorer named Cavelier de La Salle would have named this region after China. It was only this year I found out that it was his seigneury that jokingly called this region “La Chine”, in response to his failed attempt at locating an inland water route to China. They must have been a disgruntled bunch with a sense of humour no doubt.
Yet what is interesting in retrospect is that the Lachine Canal did become an important trade route from 1860 to 1950, until the St-Lawrence Seaway was opened. This route from the Old Port of Montreal to Lac St-Louis was responsible industrializing a greater part of North America and opening up the continent to the world.
Before the invention of the railroad and highways, the boat and waterways were the principle means of travel and transport for most early peoples. My last body of work specifically dealt with the transmigration and trade routes of my Scottish-Viking ancestors. My ancestors navigated and traded their way across the North Atlantic in ‘Long ships’ from Norway to the Outer Hebrides of Scotland and finally to Cape Breton Nova Scotia, so travel, trade and settlement is not new to humanity, this is something we have done for millennia and will continue to do. Thus as an artist, I have been fascinated by the vessels that have enabled people to move themselves and their goods. When I began researching the Viking’s for my last exhibition I read the Vinland Saga’s, which are oral histories that chronicle their travel and trade experiences from Greenland to Newfoundland. These Saga’s, offer the reader valuable insights into Viking life. It is the very document that enabled Helga Ingstad and Anne Stine to proved that the Vikings did come as far as Newfoundland over a thousand years ago to explore and trade with the First People. For this project I studied Yvon Desloges and Alain Gelly’s book The Lachine Canal, Riding the Waves of Industrial and Urban Development 1860-1950, to get a better understanding of the people, goods and technology that moved and settled in the Lachine Canal region. I have included storyboards in this exhibition with excerpts from this book, along with old photos from the archives next to my current photos, to compare how the canal looked in the mid to late 1800’s in relation to today.
The value of studying history is that we get insights into human nature and our past, and in reflection we can learn how we may improve upon the way we do things in the future. It was my friend Carina Rose, an architect that pointed out that community and business had a co dependency in the hay day of the Lachine Canal. From what I have read it was not always a sustainable relationship due to the changes in economic trends, technology, and pollution that caused health and environmental hazards. It was not all negative though, there were star performing companies that did give back to their communities by providing job opportunities and services that created residential neighbourhoods around the Lachine Canal. Today the vestiges of that industrial era remain. That is what I have tried to represent here tonight, not just the canal and the architecture but the memory and history of the people and companies who built what we know today as Lachine, LaSalle, Verdun, St-Henri, Cote Saint-Paul, and Point St-Charles.
I do believe that business still has a place in our communities if they maintain environmentally sound business practices. And evidence of this is right here on St. Ambroise Street - the McAuslan Brewery. Peter McAuslan’s vision and company exemplifies this positive symbiosis where community and business can again live next to each other in a sustainable fashion.
So in closing I would like to thank Peter McAuslan and his staff for their contribution to the local economy and the arts. I have witnessed Peter’s generosity over the years and I have been amazed by what he has done. Sir you have done a fine job and deserve acknowledgement of this. It is good to know that philanthropy has not died and that people still drink beer. I hope future companies will follow your lead in creating a better world for our communities. Here is a toast to you, may you have many more successful years ahead of you.
In closing I would like to thank Anthony Philbin NDP candidate for this region, for helping me transport and install my work, my former professor Dr. Jean Belisle from Concordia University for speaking tonight and giving us a brief history of the Lachine Canal and finally Peter McAuslan for making The Lachine Canal: Past and Present possible.
Thank you all for coming and enjoy the exhibition.