The Lachine Rapids where a Montreal firefighter died have a long and dangerous history – Montreal


The stretch of the St. Lawrence River where a Montreal firefighter died in a rescue last week has been known for centuries as one of the city’s most dangerous.

Today, the Lachine Rapids are above all an attraction for surfers, sports kayakers and picnickers along the river, but the death of Pierre Lacroix, 58, reminds us that Montreal owes its very existence to their dangerous nature. .

Lacroix was one of four firefighters who were in a boat that capsized last Sunday night as they tried to help a couple in another boat in distress. While the others were all rescued, Lacroix died after getting stuck under the boat.


Montreal Fire Chief Richard Liebmann speaks to the media on the death of firefighter Pierre Lacroix on Monday, October 18, 2021 in Montreal.


Louise Desrosiers, spokesperson for the Montreal Fire Department, said lifeboats generally avoid venturing into the rapid current of rapids.

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“It’s an area that is dangerous, so the boats will go upstream to save people or downstream to pick up people who have crossed the rapids,” she said in a telephone interview.

READ MORE: Montreal firefighter dies after lifeboat capsizes in St. Lawrence River

Desrosiers says eight fire stations have water rescue units, all staffed with specially trained employees. Calls for help are initially classified as either an “engine problem” or a more serious “maritime emergency” which usually occurs when someone is in the water or in immediate danger.

While boaters involved in the incident involving Lacroix initially reported an engine stall, Desrosiers said she could not confirm how the call was categorized. An investigation into his death is still ongoing.

Click to play the video:

Montreal firefighter dies after dramatic boat rescue

Montreal firefighter dies after dramatic boat rescue

Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary Prevention Officer Michel Martin describes the rapids as “ruthless” and “a trap”.

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Since he started with the service in 2014, he said he has seen more and more boaters, paddle boarders and fishermen on the water – some of them inexperienced or ignorant when they start. to get caught in the current.

He said auxiliary coastal boats, like firefighters, do not venture into rapids because the boats are not designed for the conditions he describes as rocky and unpredictable, with fast-moving waters varying from third of a meter to three meters deep.

“We will do everything to help people in distress, but not at the expense of the lives of our members,” he said in a telephone interview.

Lacroix is ​​far from the first to lose his life in the dangerous waters of the rapids. For better or worse, the rushing waters have shaped the city’s existence since its earliest days, according to historian Denis Gravel.

“Montreal wouldn’t be Montreal without the rapids,” said Gravel, a specialist in municipal history.

While the island has long been used as a meeting place and fishing ground for Indigenous peoples, it served as a roadblock for European explorers, including Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain, who stopped after learning their ships were failing. couldn’t go up the river.

Until the opening of the Lachine Canal in 1825 to bypass the rapids, goods heading for the Great Lakes had to be unloaded in the Montreal area or ported _ leading to the city developing as a trading zone and of settlement.

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“Since the start of European colonization there are ‘many, many stories of shipwrecks and dangers, of people who drowned or went fishing and didn’t pay attention,’ Gravel said. .

One of the first incidents reported involved an associate of Champlain who had traveled to a nearby island with two Native men. Their boat, laden with birds, capsized on the way home, and two of the three drowned.

While the rapids were almost impassable heading west, boats would always try to cross the rapids in the other direction. Some were rafts laden with cargo and led by specialist pilots who, despite their skill, sometimes lost their cargo in the current. Later, steamboats carried thrill-seeking tourists.

In 1873, one of these boats, the Louis Renaud, crashed in the rapids, avoiding tragedy thanks to the Mohawks of Kahnawake, who came to the aid of the passengers.

There have been other incidents in recent years. A fisherman died after losing his footing in 2010, and a surfer died after falling into a popular surf spot dubbed the standing wave in 2013. This summer, a man went missing after falling from a boat.

The number of rescues in Montreal waters appears to be increasing, although incidents in the rapids have remained stable. The Montreal Fire Department has seen a 30 percent increase in the total number of boating incidents since 2019 – what Desrosiers says could be attributed to the growing popularity of outdoor sports during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Desrosiers says it’s important for boaters, especially the less experienced, to remember that the strong currents of the St. Lawrence make navigation difficult. She said it’s also crucial for boaters to familiarize themselves with their boats and the places they sail, to avoid drugs and alcohol, and to wear a properly fitted life jacket.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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