A strategic route, an economic necessity
In 1821, the industrial era is under way. The Nord-Pas de Calais region, rich in coal, is about to experience an unprecedented economic development which will profoundly transform its appearance. In the Roubaix-Tourcoing area in particular, the wool and textile industries, spearhead of the local economy, require a constant supply of the two raw materials that are essential to their activity: water and coal. The management of water ressources and the development of communication networks are becoming major strategic challenges. The "canal project" linking France to Belgium is created as a result of pressure applied by local manufacturers and merchants as well as a political desire will to promote commercial activity throughout the region.
More than 50 years to dig the canal.
In 1831, the first section is completed, canalising the river Marque from the Deûle to the town of Croix. Twelve years later, after a number of modifications to its layout, the canal section linking Roubaix to the Belgian border is inaugurated, at the same time as the Espierre Canal. The project then undergoes successive delays due to the difficulty of the initial layout which included a tunnel in Roubaix.
The first barge loaded with coal, "la Décidée", does not arrive in Roubaix until January 1877.
In 1893, Tourcoing is connected to the waterway network.
The canal is completed at last.
End of the 20th century
Let's save our canal ! Story of an unprecedented mobilisation of effort
Beginning in the 1970s, the Nord-Pas de Calais region undergoes a period of economic decline resulting in the closing down of textile and wool industries. The strong competition provided by road transportation causes a significant drop in waterway transport activity in France. The usage of the canal decreases and eventually comes to an end. In 1985, the canal is closed to navigation.
Time for mobilisation
The closing of the canal serioulsy affects the survival of this historical and cultural heritage. Unmaintained locks and bridges are became rusted, banks collapse, the towpaths fall into disrepair, the canal becomes silted, the water quality deteriorates... It is even proposed that the canal is made into a ring road. In other words, the canal comes close to its worst possible fate. But, thanks to the vigour and the will of local enthusiasts who refuse to leave this site abandoned, around forty French and Belgian organisations create a collective association and mobilise them selves to save the waterway.
The canal, blue link of Europe, motor of urban reconquest
The momentum to safeguard the Canal enjoys a boost thanks to the contribution of the urban architect Christian Devilliers. In 1994, as part of the Metropolitan Council's built-up area contract, Lille's Urban Agency launches a competition seeking ideas focussing on "the enhancement and development of lands traversed by the Roubaix Canal". The "Devilliers Report" demonstrates the interest in considering the canal as the driving element in a large scale urban regeneration and ilustrates opportunities that would be provided by a restored, living and busy waterway.
The " canal project" initially designed as an environment-friendly initiative to restore some value to the canal's banks, becomes after several years an urban project with metropilitan ambitions and transborder issues at stake.
local organisations, Lille Métropolitan Council, the Nord-Pas de Calais region, the Artois Picardie Water Agency and Voies Navigables de France jointly agree to reopen the canal to navigation. The first phase of the works is commenced in the 2002-2003 period.
After extended studies, in particular the Deûle-Escaut Enhancement and Development project ( Projet d'aménagement et de développement de la Deûle à l'Escaut , PADDE ) and after the submission of a detailed dossier on the technical, financial and partnership aspects, Europe, through the Objective 2 and Interreg IIIB programmes, accepts to support the project financially.
See the map