Letter to the editor 1, Feb. 4, 2021
‘What to do with the Soulanges Canal?’ (The Journal, January 21, 2021) is a question that has been repeatedly asked over the almost half-century I have lived with it in my view in Les Cèdres. There have been discussions about grandiose plans along the lines of those of the Lachine Canal. Unfortunately there are several problems involved with such ideas being applied to the Soulanges, most preceded with a dollar sign.
Often heard is the concept of opening up the canal to pleasure boating.
Those with such thoughts need to be reminded about why it was built in the first place and the 25-metre height differential between Lake Saint-François and Lake Saint-Louis. Without the lock gates closed there would be another set of rapids, this one man-made. That flow would quickly erode the already deteriorating canal walls.
When the canal was decommissioned in 1958 the Federal Government decided to remove the various swing bridges along its length (except for the last remaining at Coteau-du-Lac) to avoid future maintenance costs. They were replaced with causeways over relatively small culverts so as to allow some water flow and fish movement and also to prevent stagnation. Those too would have to be rethought.
Another major impediment is the lack of space. The right-of-way is quite narrow. The surrounding terrain is, for the most part, precious and protected agricultural land. As is, some of the recent work, for example the toilets at the bicycle path parking lot at Rang Saint-Antoine were squeezed in by reducing the number of already insufficient parking spaces. So now many park on the soft shoulders near there turning them into what looks like a tank training ground.
I think that the biggest obstacle is funding. For the Lachine Canal, banked (sorry, no pun intended) by no-longer viable industrial land and affluent residences that generate big taxes, it was relatively easy. Not so in these sparsely populated boonies. There is even a problem about the high cost to demolish the huge concrete abutments, formerly used by the long-gone swing bridges, in order to gain valuable space or to remove the numerous mooring bollards, slowly rusting away, along the length. That high cost was why the aforementioned toilets were plunked down in the middle of the parking lot instead of closer to the bike path.
Then there is the question about supervision. The Lachine Canal falls under the watchful eyes of the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM). The Sûreté du Québec (SQ) are very reluctant to do anything at the Soulanges Canal until reminded that it is provincial crown land and various activities such as illegal camping, poaching, or pooping in the bushes are, in fact, under their jurisdiction. In case anyone wonders, our dogs often find evidence of that last listed activity. Even the reports of drug-dealing in the parking lot here fall under the wire of the distant Saint-Clet SQ detachment which, for reasons unexplained, patrols here rather than the closer Vaudreuil-Dorion post.
Without wanting to sound like a total curmudgeon, I would prefer it remain as is. I would hate to see my property taxes increase with no benefit for me. Indeed, it would only add the decline in the quality of life we enjoy here now. An added influx will only aggravate the existing problems of misuse by non-residents. The only locals who would see a gain are business owners and the developers who turn corn fields into a suburban sprawl of houses, spaced by arms' lengths, sold to those falling to the lure of ‘Country Living.’