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Ice jams and Break-ups

A historical narrative about the Ice jams and Break-ups, produced in collaboration with the Société du Musée du Grand Châteauguay.


 

Ice jams and Break-ups - Boulevard Salaberry Sud

A short history

The first colonizers in Châteauguay settled at the mouth of the river valley to facilitate transportation and benefit from the good farming climate and soil, but living downstream of a river that runs south to north entails a number of difficulties, because the ice upstream melts earlier in the spring. Every spring freshet worried the inhabitants, because of the frequent flooding caused by the ice jams.

Hunks of ice created by the melting upstream – the break-up – piled up on obstacles and in narrow spots of the river until the accumulating water caused the river to overflow its banks. The mountains of ice would spill out of the riverbed and pile up against adjacent buildings, wreaking havoc and destruction along the way. When the ice jams subsided, the flood victims heaved a sigh of relief, because that meant everything would soon dry out, but the owners of buildings downstream of the ice wall were not out of the woods yet. The ice, rushed along by the freshet, also brought its own disaster.

Three locations

Historically, three places are especially conducive to the formation of ice jams. First, the Île Chèvrefils Mill dike, then the waterfall at the foot of Rue Desparois and finally the northern end of the river basin, where it separates to surround Île Saint-Bernard. That means that the area around Parc Valérie-Fournel, the village, Châteauguay Bassin and Châteauguay Station were regularly flooded over the years.

Dike

One of the oldest recorded floods, in spring 1855, caused a lot of damage around the dike. The Grey Nuns, who owned the mill, reimbursed the inhabitants for the damage they suffered. Apparently the height of the dike was the cause, and it was lowered when it was restored in 1935 to avoid the formation of ice jams.

There was also a traditional ice jam at the “Sault Desparois” which gave the village a hard time. No fewer than five ancestors of the Pont Laberge were swept away between 1829 and 1886. That year, the Congrégation Notre-Dame convent was also damaged and the village was flooded. The debris from the bridge was found in the convent’s recreational courtyard. History repeated itself in the spring freshet of 1910, and the convent was moved higher up, eventually becoming Châteauguay city hall. The old convent was demolished and swept away by the ice break-up a few years later.

A few dates

1829

The bridge in front of the church is swept away by the ice.

1843

The bridge in front of the church was swept away by the ice.

1855

Ice jam at the mill dike and flooding.

.

1863

The bridge in front of the church is swept away by the ice.

1867

The bridge in front of the church is swept away by the ice.

1886

The bridge in front of the church is swept away by the ice and the village is flooded.

1910

Ice jam at the “Sault Desparois” and flooding of the village.

1936

Ice jam at the basin and flooding of Châteauguay Bassin.

1950

Ice jam at the basin and flooding of Châteauguay Bassin.

1973

Ice jam at the “Sault Desparois” and flooding of the village.

1998

Ice jam at the “Sault Desparois” and flooding of the village.

Note: More floods occurred than those listed in this chronology. The events in the list left more historical traces, however.

Ice jams and Break-ups - Boulevard Salaberry Sud

Boulevard Salaberry Sud in 1973.

(Photo: Jean-Charles Côté, SMGC collection)

Ice jams and Break-ups- Rue Saint-Jean flood

Flooding on Rue Saint-Jean, 1936

(Photo: Jean-Claude Lussier, SMGC collection)

Ice jams and Break-ups - Air Glider

Today, the authorities work to prevent ice jams, which are the cause of the flooding. While dynamite was used in the past, risking the life of the dynamiters who had to climb on the unstable ice jams, since the 1998 floods, a Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft has been used to unjam the mouth of the river and an amphibious crane – the “grenouille” – has been used to open a channel.
(Photo: Direction des communications et relations publiques)

Rue Saint-Jean Floods

That day, during morning mass, the bridge in front of the church was suddenly carried away by the break-up with a terrifying noise. Part of the debris landed in front of the convent and another part stopped in front of the home of Mr. LePailleur, the notary. Father Vinet barely had time to finish the mass. In just a few moments, the water on the ground floor was two feet deep. The children and even some nuns had to be piggybacked to one of the windows, where they climbed into rowboats that had rushed to pick them up.
Photo de Convent chronicler
Convent chronicler
Translation of an excerpt of the text from 1886

download PDF file (in French only)

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