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Schooners on the St. Lawrence, cabotage in the era of water cars

The G. Montcalm motor schooner in 1939PHOTO: Wikipedia / Desgagnesh

For a long time, water cars provided supplies to isolated villages along the St. Lawrence River. Easy to build, able to adapt to all conditions, schooners are an integral part of Quebec’s maritime history, but this tradition has been lost with the development of road transport. Alain Franck, an ethnologist specializing in maritime history, reminds us of this forgotten culture.

“Cabotage is a navigation that takes place along the coasts of the St. Lawrence, from cap to cap, without losing sight of the land. It is a way of transporting goods to Quebec, for example, explains Alain Franck. It really is a well organized system for commerce and economy. “

The schooner is a vessel adapted to the particular conditions of the river. As its bottom is flat, it can easily run aground on the shore at low tide, as not all villages have a wharf.

A capricious stream

Due to the shallows, flats, tides and summer mist in the estuary, navigation on the river is difficult and capricious. Before the installation of radars, sailors had to wait for the mist to lift. Not to mention the storms and winds. Several sailors operating schooners have also lost their lives in service.

In their early days, schooners were fitted with sails, and the engine arrived around 1920, the heyday of this mode of transport. “The engine made it possible to avoid the effects of wind and current, and to maintain more regular schedules”, points out Alain Franck.

The truck, the road network and the arrival of industrial transport companies signaled the end of schooners. The last ones disappeared in the early 1980s.

Finally, Alain Franck reveals what remains of the schooners and how researchers are trying to preserve this maritime history.

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