Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Little Powerstation

One of the most interesting landmarks along the old Soulanges canal in Quebec is the "Petit Pouvoir" hydro power station in Les Cèdres.  The building above served to power the lights and locks along the now-decommissioned 23 kilometres (14 miles) of the Soulanges canal.  The Soulanges canal became obsolete with the opening of the Saint-Lawrence seaway in 1959.

Designed by engineer Thomas Monro, and built in 1899, the "Petit Pouvoir" produced 528 kilowatts using 2 turbines, and permitted the locks to be operational 24 hours a day.  Of 87 hydroelectric plants built before 1900, the Cedars central is only one of 4 buildings still left standing today.

The building is modeled on the "Château" style of architecture, and some famous Canadian Pacific hotels were built in this fashion, such as the Château Frontenac in Quebec City with its iconic turrets.

The old Soulanges canal is no longer open to maritime traffic, as the locks are now non-operational.  Various organizations talk about opening the locks to pleasure craft, but considerable investment is required to build bridges, overpasses, and replace rotting infrastructure.  In 2008, an estimated 160 million was needed to oversee this project.  Needless to say, with government budget cuts, we can't hope for capital investments like this, even if the return on investment would be many-fold.  We have a talent of subsidizing a variety of businesses that fail after millions of dollars in government investments, yet we are incapable of vision when it comes to saving our history for future generations.  It's all part of the deal, and I stand by my belief that we need to know where we came from to know where we're going.

The shore of the Soulanges canal is now a popular bike and roller-blade path.  People fish the canals, and rowing groups use the long, straight stretches between locks for scull-rowing.  Like the Rideau canal in Ottawa that attracts millions of skaters each winter, the Soulanges canal could have the same sort of appeal to Montrealers.

With a bit of organization and a lot of vision, I believe that the "Petit Pouvoir" could be used as an arts centre, a community centre or even a hotel or restaurant.  Certainly, I don't think the government can be counted on to invest in this historic building.  It is going to take a lot of private initiative to save this building before it falls to ruin.  Since the above photo was taken, the windows have been boarded up to prevent vandalism, and with each passing year, resurrecting this building to its former glory becomes more and more of a fleeting dream.

Je me souviens.  That's our provincial motto.  It means, "I remember".

How fitting.


Robin said...

What a cool looking old building. Lee said when he visited Quebec before he remembered there being lots of neat old buildings. He also mentioned forts, which of course he would remember as he was obsessed with them as a kid. I just love old buildings like the one in your picture. So neat! It's too bad it is deteriorating.

Shim Farm said...

Hi Robin! There are lots of old buildings still around. There are still a few forts (now historical sites, obviously) in our area. Quebec City is also totally beautiful, and steeped in history and architecture. I guess it's just a question of preserving it all. I love the old power station, because it just sort of appears out of nowhere and seems totally out of place. I'd really love to see someone give it some good TLC.

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