The St. Lawrence River Chronicle


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Respecting the River

Every day, thousands of Montrealers cross the bridges that link this island city to the surrounding suburbs without a second thought for the river that flows beneath them. The St. Lawrence River is broad, beautiful, and of great historical importance, yet many people know little about it.

Were it not for the St. Lawrence, this seaport city, hundreds of kilometres inland from the Atlantic Ocean, would not be here. Industries grew along its banks, and the river has transported explorers and traders, immigrants and invaders. In 2006, the Port of Montreal handled more than 25 million tonnes of cargo. Meanwhile, the river’s waters and wetlands provide refuge to an astonishing variety of birds, fish, whales and other creatures.

Yet the St. Lawrence River seems undervalued as a natural resource. It struggles to stay healthy despite the industrial and agricultural pollutants that people thoughtlessly poured into it over the last few centuries. It gives people pleasure when they use it for boating, but boaters sometimes cause erosion or disturb wildlife. It generates electrical power, and it acts as an economical transportation corridor, but global warming may cause its water levels to decrease drastically. It is at risk.

I suspect the cultural divide between English-speaking Ontario and French-speaking Quebec -- not to mention the international border between the United States and Canada, which at one point goes down the middle of the St. Lawrence -- has a lot to do with the river’s low public profile. The river runs primarily through French-speaking Quebec. Downriver from Quebec City, people’s lives are intimately linked to the Fleuve Saint- Laurent. In English Canada and the United States, people tend to be less aware of it.
East end of Montreal Island

Many Ontario residents love the Thousand Islands, near the St. Lawrence River’s headwaters in the Great Lakes, but have never seen the spectacular vistas of the lower St. Lawrence. Travelers drive down the highway on their way to or from Nova Scotia or New Brunswick and never stop to explore the riverside villages just a few kilometres away. And few Americans venture a few hours north of the border to explore a region that is as unique as anyplace they will find in their own country or abroad.

As a bilingual Montrealer, I’d like to take a stab at making the St. Lawrence River more accessible to English-speakers. I’d like to interview scientists and people who work on the river, visit libraries and archives, looking for stories about the river, and I hope to explore it once again, from end to end.

I had such a good time researching my book, The St. Lawrence River: History, Highway and Habitat, that I was almost disappointed when I finished it. There are a number of spots that I didn’t have time to explore properly. Parc du Bic, near Rimouski, for example, on the south shore of the lower St. Lawrence was shrouded in fog when we were there. I’d also love to visit Wolfe Island in the Thousand Islands, and any excuse is a good one to return to Tadoussac, one of my very favorite places.

I would also like to invite you, the reader, to suggest ideas for this website. If you live on the river, have you witnessed an interesting event? Has an old wreck been recently discovered? Is an interesting vessel coming to port? You can reach me at

Copyright Janice Hamilton 2007