Designed around 1830, the Chambly Canal was opened for navigation in 1843. It is 18.5 kilometers long and stretches from Saint-Jean to Chambly, bypassing the three insurmountable rapids in between. It links Lake Champlain to the Saint-Laurent River, thus giving access to the American network of canals and to New York City. Its nine locks, originally manually activated, allow navigation over a difference in levels of 23.5 meters. Repair and reinforcement work took place from 1850 to 1858. At that time, boats could reach towns along the river banks with more ease than trains. The main purpose of the Chambly Canal was a commercial one. As soon as it opened, timber rafts were drifted from the Ottawa River. Logs were assembled into small boats and topped with a shed for the raftmen accompanying the load.
Later, came sailboats with a capacity ranging from 50 to 150 tons. Those schooners, which also sailed on the Saint-Laurent River, carried namely vegetables, cereals, fruits, hay, sand and stone. Around 1860, the number of sailboats travelling on the Richelieu River and the Chambly Canal was estimated at 200.
Finally, came the barges which, being better adapted to navigating on canals, remained in use until 1930 approximately, in spite of the fact that it took about twelve hours for a barge to be painfully towed by horses to cover the distance between Chambly and Saint-Jean. The canal was widened in 1970, in front of the downtown area; shortly after, apparently in 1978, a barge navigated on it for the last time. Consequently, commercial and economic activities gave way to leisure activities and, today, the canal is used, in summer, for yachting and, in winter, for skating.
One of the oldest activities to have taken place on the Richelieu River remains eel fishing, which has been commercially done in Iberville for over 150 years. Much appreciated by American Indians, who smoked its flesh, the eel caught in the Richelieu River is exported all over the world. Moreover, about thirty meters downstream, wooden traps used to catch this fish according to an old method, can be seen. Incidentally, the Richelieu River has over 70 different fish species. Fishermen, take note!