Richelieu, Rivière

  Richelieu, Rivière, or Richelieu River, almost 130 km long, flows from Lake Champlain in the US northward to the St Lawrence R near Lac St-Pierre. Located in the southern part of Québec, the river is often referred to in 2 parts - the Upper and Lower Richelieu ("le Haut et Bas Richelieu"). The southern portion of the river, the Upper Richelieu, is bordered by the cities and towns of SAINT-JEAN-SUR-RICHELIEU, IBERVILLE, Chambly, Beloeil and Mont St-Hilaire. A set of rapids extends from Saint-Jean to CHAMBLY. From there the Lower Richelieu continues its course through smaller, albeit perhaps more picturesque communities such as St-Charles-sur-Richelieu, St-Denis and St-Ours. The Lower Richelieu then extends to the mouth or junction of the river with the St Lawrence at the city of SOREL.

The Richelieu River has played a prominent role in the historical development of Québec. Originally inhabited by Iroquois, Huron and Algonquin, Samuel de CHAMPLAIN navigated its waters shortly after his arrival in 1608. Throughout the French regime the Richelieu, named after Cardinal Richelieu, was of great military importance. The French established numerous forts along it, including Isle-aux-Noix (Fort Lennox), Fort St-Jean, Fort Ste-Thérèse, Fort St-Louis (Fort Chambly) and Fort de Richelieu (Sorel). Owing to the fertile nature of the land and its defences, French Canadian farmers settled here. Following the British Conquest, 1759-60, and the American Revolution, British military and LOYALIST settlers joined the area's local populations. Benedict ARNOLD's invasion of British N America included the capture of British forts along its route. Several uprisings of the REBELLIONS OF 1837-38, including the battles at ST-DENIS and ST-CHARLES, took place along its shores.

The Richelieu was of significant economic importance in the 19th century. In 1843, the Chambly Canal was completed, bypassing the rapids and making the river transport of such products as wood, pulp, hay and coal from the US to Montréal more direct. Consequently the regional centres of Sorel and St-Jean grew and were incorporated as towns in the 1850s. The construction of railway lines from the US to Montréal in this same period, however, contributed to the eventual decline of the river's traffic. The economic influence of the region thus changed from commerce to industry in the later 19th and 20th centuries. The Richelieu R valley nonetheless retains some importance as an agricultural base, yielding some of the province's finest produce, as well as maintaining a military and industrial presence. A division of Environment Canada, Parks Québec region deals solely with the Richelieu R valley and conducts archaeological excavations at FORT CHAMBLY and Fort Lennox, and supervises the operations of the Chambly Canal.

See also BIOSPHERE RESERVES.