I was 35 before I paused for historical markers. Like the ones I carefully and excitedly read yesterday while cycling along the Lachine Canal in Montréal with my 23-year-old son who paid only slight attention to these markers.
I don’t hold it against him–how could I? But I startled at what happens to us as we age. It is certainly never only physical. The death of the dearth of industry that once lined these picturesque bicycle and pedestrian paths along the water–where we also managed to stop, midway along our journey, at a craft brewery crammed with bikes–was a thrilling series of lessons for me.
I kept insisting we stop: let’s look! Let’s read! Once, I abruptly turned off the path and he rammed into the back of my bike. Fortunately another mark of age is that I now ride at a snail’s pace so he had already slowed down to accommodate me.
I learned that the Lachine Canal’s 150 year history made it it “the gateway to a network of canals linking the Atlantic Ocean to the heart of the continent” and that it paved the way for the urbanization of the island of Montréal’s southwest.
In the first half of the 19th century, according to my historical research into this archival footpath, Canadian industry was embryonic. Canada had merely supplied Great Britain with raw materials, which returned in the form of manufactured goods.
Back then shipbuilding, blacksmithing and foundries, sawmills, elevators and flour mills, tanneries, distilleries and breweries were the only independent producers along the canal, strengthening Montreal’s urban economy and the construction of nearby neighbourhoods, such as Sainte Henri, where my son lives.
“The growth of shipping and the first railway boom would encourage the development of heavy industry and a multitude of businesses associated with the building of ships and railways,” according to a website that delves further than the posted plaques along the trail.
Ghosts along the canal.
We live, yes, rhythmically stretching our legs toward these written signs posted eye level. We live, yes, and turn toward the Terrace St-Ambroise for a pint in the late afternoon late August sun.
Such as the two boys peering down from the iron bridge at three girls as in the illustration above. Their gowns must have become very muddy as they strolled along, probably stopping short at the uncommon sight of a photographer.
I loved welcoming myself into their history, into this world, while remaining in our own as the wheels turned and our thirst grew. Stopping at a brewery-of-now. Differently shaped indeed from a brewery then, along the Lachine Canal.