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Blue Days in september

‘Blue Days’, and the canal lives again...

Marianne, one of the 30 boats already
registered to participate in the event.

The ‘Blue Links’ partners have chosen for the event a simple name, clearly identifiable to the EU-funded project: ‘Blue Days’. Lille Métropole Communauté Urbaine has been working since early May with its partners on detailed contents of the event, which will be marked by the spirit of the waterside inns or guinguettes which were popular from the early 20th century.

In the middle of the Union site a stage will be erected for performances, concerts and interviews and commentary by a trilingual presenter. Along the canal, facing the moored boats, will be about 20 stands with exhibits by associations, local authorities, tourist offices, boating organisations. A spectacular show suitable for all the family will be organised on the Saturday evening.

The event is not limited to the Union district, however. The whole canal will be alive with activities, over its 28 km length. Two ‘inaugural’ flottillas of 10 boats each will make the voyage through to Belgium, and will meet up at the central site on the Saturday afternoon. In Belgium, the Leers-Nord site (on the commune of Estaimpuis) will see intense activity around the Maison du Canal, where the canal bow-hauler’s festival (‘Fête des Satcheux’) will take place as every year, but this time in the presence of about 10 boats moored under the 100-year-old plane trees.

The Blue Links closing conference will take place in two sessions, on Friday afternoon 18 and Saturday morning 20 September, at the Fresnoy centre in Tourcoing. This venue is like a space vessel grafted on to an unsuspecting residential quarter of Tourcoing, just as the urban express road was grafted on to the canal nearby, occupying half its original width. Delegates and politicians will take advantage of this proximity to walk to the Union rally site on the Saturday at 13:00, where they will witness the symbolic meeting of the two flotillas.

Blue Links: the final touches...

The canal’s management centre at
Union Lock, here waiting to be fitted
out, will soon have a neighbour: the
Union District liaison office.

Three months before the ‘Blue Days’ celebrations, works remain to be completed on a number of sites : not only Blue Links works contracts, but also some other works, just as essential for navigation on the canal.

Some works, visible to all passers-by, are proceeding as planned. The last footbridges under the responsibility of Lille Métropole Communauté Urbaine are being repainted. The Canal Management Office at Union Lock is ready to fit out, but the control systems and equipment are not expected to be installed in the short term.

A short distance from here, in Tourcoing, the Espace Naturel de Lille-Métropole (ENLM) has moved into its new offices, in a rehabilitated town house which will accommodate two public facilities : the Relais Nature Découverte du Canal, de la Deûle à l’Escaut where visitors will find information on all the sites managed by ENLM and on the various partners of the Blue Links project, secondly the interpretation centre for the canal itself.

The central item of this permanent exhibition will be a model of the canal, 7.50m long and 2.10m wide. The canal, its structures, the built heritage nad its natural environment, no details are spared, so that the visitor can fully appreciate the challenges faced by the canal’s builders, and those which still have to be faced today, to maintain and keep the canal in water. Elements of the model are produced in Arras before being erected in the large room, 12 by 5m. Around the model, against the walls, will be historic documents, reproductions of postcards and various artefacts donated by former boatmen or on loan. The exhibition should open to the public in the late summer.

Leers Lock at Estaimpuis will be accessible
from the river Deûle only. The site will
nevertheless host the traditional bow-hauler’s
festival, with many boats present.

Also highly visible, and still a road bottleneck for the population, is the Couteaux roundabout with its new underpass. For almost two years the canal has been drained, and hydraulic continuity guaranteed by a temporary conduit, allowing two parallel works contracts to take place: the underpass and the two lift-bridges. The roundabout crossing these two structures was reopened to traffic on 29 May, after tests confirmed trouble-free operation of the lifting bridge-decks. The next stage, at the end of July, will be rewatering of the canal, rendered perfectly watertight. Earthworks on the tunnel will restart in July, while final works on the tunnel under the canal will be completed in 2010.

There is just one area where works have not yet begun : dredging of the Spiere Canal in Belgium. This major contract is financed by the Service Public de Wallonie (the former MET) outside the budget of works included under the Blue Links programme. The sediment in Begium (originating from the catchment area in France) will be exported to France ; this requires a complex European procedure, and several questions of a technical, legal or regulatory nature remain to be resolved. The time required to dredge the canal means that it will be impossible to open the canal to boats entering from the Scheldt. Boats will nevertheless be able to reach the Maison du Canal moorings at Leers-Nord from the Deûle, via the canal in France. Only small craft drawing less than 50 cm will be able to use the Spiere Canal. 

The partners are grateful to all boaters for their understanding.


A new mini-site for ‘Blue Days’! web site

For all details on the programme and pratical information, visit the new mini-site This is also the place to register for exhibiting at the central site or for the international conference.*

You will be able to select elements of the programme by commune or by date.

Details of the programme for the week-end are currently being finalised and will gradually be posted on the site.

The site also gives outline information on the international conference to be held on canals and urban regeneration, which will be held in Tourcoing on Friday 18 September in the afternoon (session reserved for professionals) and the morning of Saturday 19 (session open to the public subject to registration in advance, with only a limited number of places available).

* Blue Links remains the host site for registering for the boat rally.



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Site managed by Lille Metropolitan Council for the project partners:
Voies Navigables de France, Wallonian Ministry of Public Works, Nord-Pas de Calais Conseil Régional, Conseil Général du Nord, Préfecture du Nord-Pas de Calais and Artois-Picardie Water Agency