May 21st marked the first real day of spring in Montreal. Warm, sunny, a hint of humidity, with the scent of blooming flowers and freshly cut grass finally overwhelming the smell of automobiles. A perfect day to investigate more wonders hidden within one of the oldest cities in North America.
The Lachine Canal stretches about 14.5 km from the Old Port of Montreal to Lake St. Louis. One of those landmarks you see while jogging or walking along the waterfront around Old Town, but for most people it is just that – one of those old relics of a city that has been around for a long time. Not many souvenir shops along the canal, just a few cafes, but a really pleasant series of protected trails and bike paths for residents and visitors to enjoy.
Walking along the canal you will eventually hit one of the 5 locks providing access to small boats desiring to cruise the historic industrial living museum of Montreal on both sides of the Lachine.
On Saturday, Andre Marin and Martin Nguyen were manning the locks, both lock keepers for Parks Canada. As I walked towards Lock #3 at Saint-Gabriel, Andre and Martin greeted me, and asked where I was from. Learning a California boy had stumbled upon their lock, and the fact no boats were currently approaching, they both lit up and took the opportunity to give me a complete overview of the lock system, and history lesson on the surrounding area.
Martin, who grew up in the local area near “his” lock, took a special pride explaining the significance of the canal to not only the city of Montreal, but to the entire economy of the Great Lakes waterways. “Over there, that was a sugar refinery. And there, an old textile mill,” said Andre. “Don’t forget to take pictures of the old swing bridge, it is covered with graffiti and weeds, but still pretty cool…”
Andre continued with detailed explanations of how the locks worked, explaining during the summer season “we can do (process) nearly 100 boats on a busy day.”
Time to go to work. Martin needs to prepare the lock to accept their next “customer,” a small inflatable craft. Martin heads into the lock reception area, and Andre gets ready to open the lock’s doors for their visitor.
Andre reminds me, “hey, make sure you ask the boat driver for permission to take pictures, it is the tradition here” as he focuses on getting ready for “his” boat.
The boat arrives, slides through the entry lock, ties up on the reception dock, and the lock floods up to the level of the next segment of the canal. Andre runs to the other side of the lock, opens the doors, and the “customer” is free to head on to Lock #4 (Cote-Saint Paul).
All done with precision, and a genuinely friendly greeting to their boating customers. A good feeling all around for everybody.
Hand shakes, email addresses, and promises to connect at some point in the future, and we are on our way to the next Montreal adventure.
Ambassadors of the Lachine Canal
Granted, customer service is the primary job of all persons working at Parks Canada. However there is a big difference between following a customer service script, and having deep pride in your city, work, and heritage that drives both hospitality and friendship to strangers. Andre and Martin both had a couple Los Angeles or “states” stories to tell, but it is clear their mission in life is to promote Montreal, Canada, and their special role as ambassadors to the Lachine Canal.
And it is clear they love their job.
If you would like to learn more about the Lachine Canal, check out the Parks Canada website, or simply do a Google search on Lachine Canal. Plenty of history, lots of old pictures and documents.
Better yet, when you come to Montreal take a break from the tourist areas of Vieux Montreal and walk, ride, or jog along the canal. When you get to Lock #3, give the guys my regards.