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Rivière Châteauguay

A historical narrative of the Rivière Châteauguay, produced in collaboration with the Société du Musée du Grand Châteauguay.


Aerial view of Chateauguay and the river of the same name

It has been there, among us, running for millennia. Ignored by some, adored by others, the Rivière Châteauguay has a story of its own to tell us.


Rivière du Loup, as it was called before 1800, overflowed with edible fish, provided the hydraulic power to operate mills and offered an ideal climate for farming. The Indigenous peoples were fishing on the river long before the arrival of the colonial empires, and fishing enthusiasts, like local entrepreneurs, knew how to seize the opportunity presented to them in the abundance of fish. Big spring carp filled up rowboats, and the innumerable sturgeon provided profitable caviar. Catfish was popular too, but people especially loved lake sturgeon, a little sturgeon that provided the foundation of a stew as typical as Sorel fricassee.


River transportation was best suited to a land as vast as New France, so our settler ancestors did not take long to identify the best spots on the banks of the river to put down roots. This is why Île Saint-Bernard was quickly chosen for French settlement by Samuel de Champlain, especially because the area had always provided well for the local Agnier* communities. In 1855, navigation was flourishing in Châteauguay. The 3,400 inhabitants enjoyed regular service between the village and Montréal to transport travellers and merchandise. The dock was in front of Roméo Laberge’s inn, now an apartment building at 221 Boulevard Salaberry Nord. Two steamboats crossed the river daily, the Châteauguay and the Beauharnois, as well as many other vessels. A lot of rowboats plied the waters at the whim of the locals. Regattas were also often held on the river basin. The surrounding area bubbled with activities in what would become Châteauguay-Ville, called the Basin.

Holiday resort

By the beginning of the 20th century, Châteauguay was attracting a fair share of seasonal tourists. They were mostly Montréalers looking for nature or Châteauguay natives returning to their roots. The bourgeoisie built summer homes on the Chemin du Lac, around what would become Léry, while the middle classes flocked to rented cottages or small self-built homes along the river bank. Many Châteauguay families with well-located houses seized the opportunity to rent them out to visitors. Further upstream, around 1930, René Urbain built rental cottages on the island that then bore his name. The sale of summer produce to summer residents often gave Châteauguay residents additional income that was especially appreciated during the economic crisis of 1929.

A river is, naturally, a great place for swimming. In hot weather, the entire river was filled with swimmers. Young people could regularly be seen lounging on the rocks, wearing one-piece swimming costumes made of wool! At the time, there was a natural sand beach at the mouth of the river, around where the Centre Nautique is today. There was also a hotel bar serving drinks that made for noisy Saturday evening parties.


The cleanliness of the Châteauguay river was a positive factor for the local economy for a long time. In addition to providing drinking water for the residents, the waterway contributed enormously to the tourism sector. Unfortunately, the use of pesticides and fertilizers of all sorts gradually polluted the water to the point of putting an end to its primary vocation.

Urban development

One unusual feature of the area in terms of Québec’s urban development is that several village hubs scattered along the river all contributed to the origin of the current city of Châteauguay.

After the initial stage of settlement on Île Saint-Bernard, a wooden fort was built near the basin, beside Boulevard D’Youville, but few dwellings were built around it. The construction of the church near the river’s first rapids led to the development of the first village of Châteauguay, known as Châteauguay-Village or Châteauguay-Centre. Advances in navigation brought urban development to the area of the river basin, around the dock.

Beginning in 1880, the construction of the railway led to the development of a new village hub, around the station, Châteauguay-Station. These various hubs were merged in 1975, creating the city of Châteauguay as we know it today.

* Agnier is the old French word for Mohawk.

Beauharnois Ferry

The Beauharnois ferry at the Châteauguay dock.

(Ville de Châteauguay collection)

Rivière Chateauguay - Régates

Châteauguay regatta in 1904

(Ville de Châteauguay collection)

3 people at the river

The Châteauguay river has long been central to the pastimes and activities of local residents.

(Ville de Châteauguay collection)

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