Source: Hand-coloured engraving, 1830, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 2895991
In the early 19th century, the timber trade replaced the fur trade in Lower Canada. England urgently needed wood to supply its shipyards, as the Continental Blockade decreed in 1806 by Napoleon I of France meant that it could no longer import timber from Russia, Norway and Prussia. The British therefore began harvesting the vast pine and oak forests of their North American colony. During the first half of the 19th century, wood was Canada's main export. It was transported on sailing ships.
02/View of Quebec from the opposite shore of the St. Lawrence
Source: Hand-coloured engraving, circa 1844, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 2895995
Logging operations mainly took place along the Ottawa, Saint-Maurice and Saguenay Rivers. Tree trunks would be lashed together into rafts on which men took places to navigate to the Port of Quebec. There, the rafts were taken apart and the timber was loaded onto large ships bound for Great Britain.
03/Timber raft on the St. Lawrence River passing Montreal
Source: 1849-1930, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3372551
The men who travelled on these log rafts were known as "raftsmen." The idea was first devised in 1806 by timber trader Philomen Wright, who also founded the city of Gatineau. He travelled on such a raft from Pontiac to Quebec City, navigating along the Ottawa and the St. Lawrence for two months.
The rafts floated down the Ottawa, then were assembled into large platforms to travel along the St. Lawrence. Wooden cabins were built on these platforms to shelter the raftsmen, and sails were raised. The platforms could be steered using long poles. This method of transportation declined after rail transport was introduced around 1860.
04/View of the Port of Montreal looking east, 1884
Source: William Notman & Son, McCord Museum, VIEW-1332
After crossing the Atlantic, ships had to stop at the Port of Quebec. Further upstream, shallow waters in certain sections of the river made navigation too risky, so smaller vessels were used to carry cargo up the river. Merchants began to pressure the government to dig a channel that would make it easier for ships to make it to Montreal. Dredging operations began in the mid-19th century, boosting maritime traffic up to the Port of Montreal. To ship cargo further west, it had to be loaded onto trains.
05/View of Quebec from Lévis, circa 1880-1890
Source: Jules-Ernest Livernois, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3193016
In the 1880s, sailing ships began to give way to steamships, which moved at a steadier pace and were less subject to the whims of the winds and currents. This made it easier to predict their time of arrival at the port.
06/Cargo is unloaded from the steamship Durham City onto a pier at the Port of Montreal to await shipping to its final destination
Source: William Notman & Son, 1896, McCord Museum, II-116749
The railroad passed near the docks of the Port of Montreal, making it easy to transfer cargo from ship to train. In 1896, construction began on new raised piers, cargo warehouses and grain elevators. The majority of the port's workers were longshoremen. This physically demanding job required long hours of labour during the navigation season. But during the five months when ice blocked the river, the longshoremen had no work.
07/Quebec seen from the St. Lawrence, circa 1900-1910
Source: Ralph Greenhill, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3330058
Maritime traffic on the St. Lawrence increased dramatically over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.
08/Steamship with sails, Government Shipyard of Sorel, 1917
Source: Denis Duhamel Collection
Cargo and passengers were carried between villages along the St. Lawrence in smaller vessels known as schooners. This coasting trade covered shorter distances, and reached regions that were inaccessible to larger ships. This method of transport declined as roads improved in the 20th century.
Some ships used mixed propulsion methods, being equipped with sails and a steam engine. The engine allowed them to face strong currents and made them less dependent on the wind.
09/The schooner Labrador Quebec City, 1930
Source: Clifford M. Johnston, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3398430
Cargo was carried on sailing schooners, which were later replaced by engine-powered wooden coasters.
10/Model of the schooner Mont Sainte-Marie
Source: Jean-Pierre Gagnon Collection
The engine was placed at the rear of the ship, leaving more room for cargo.
In 1952, Albert Audet built this schooner at Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive for the JAZ Desgagnés company. The largest wooden schooner ever built on the shores of the St. Lawrence, it remained in use until 1970, when it was retired at Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive. It was destroyed by fire in 1998.
11/The schooner L'Accalmie or M.P. Émelie, Baie-Saint-Paul, 2012
Source: Sébastien Auger, Stratégies Saint-Laurent
Captain Éloi Perron of Isle-aux-Coudres began working on this schooner in 1956, together with a number of workers and the carpenter Paul Mailloux. The M.P. Émelie was launched in 1957. Captain Perron sailed this schooner for more than 15 years. It was then sold to a new owner, who renamed it L'Accalmie. It was grounded at Baie-Saint-Paul in 1976, and became the workshop of painter Guy Paquet. On February 18, 2015, this survivor from the glory days of the St. Lawrence schooners was destroyed by arson. During the 1930s and 1940s, coasting was a very important method of transport. Hundreds of wooden coasters were launched, with nearly 40% being built in the Charlevoix region. The coasting trade declined in the late 1970s.