Death of a canal: A short history of the former canal between Liège and Maastricht
July 13, 2010 Leave a Comment
The death knell sounded for the former canal between Liège and Maastricht when the Dutch Juliana Canal and the Belgian Albert Canal, which were respectively completed in 1935 and 1940, made it become redundant.
The Onze Lieve Vrouwewal in 1884. The canal disappeared in 1963. Nowadays the gateway gives access to the Pierre Zenden sports centre. There is a parking garage here now.
A Belgian canal
A local newspaper had in 1909 already foreseen that the old canal, inaugurated in 1850 and running parallel to the Meuse river, could not possibly keep up with the demands of increased shipping tonnage and traffic intensity.
In spite of several modifications and improvements between 1850 and 1930, a widening of the canal within the city of Maastricht was out of the question.
Barges in the canal
The village of Sint Pieter to the south of Maastricht offered no room for enlargement either, because of the projection of the eastern slope of the limestone hill and the presence of the Lage Kanaaldijk road along the western bank of the canal, used mainly by lorries of the ENCI cement factory.
The canal had been designed for 450-ton barges only, with a draught of a mere six feet. When the Albert Canal was inaugurated in 1940, so was the so-called Stop at Lanaye: 600-ton barges coming from Belgium could no longer continue further than the locks at the Belgian border village of Lanaye. The outdated and relatively shallow canal (a mere seven feet) in Dutch territory simply prevented larger boats from reaching Maastricht.
Barges in the canal, circa 1890. The customs office stood on the left. The buildings still exist.
In 1951 the then mayor of Maastricht, Michiels van Kessenich asked the Dutch Transport and Public Works to dismantle the canal between Liège and Maastricht, and replace it by a motorway. What he probably did not know was that the canal was Belgian property.
The Dutch Transport and Public Works had carried out maintenance works and steady improvements on the canal since 1850 and sent the bills to Brussels. Dutch staff involved in the exploitation of the canal were paid in Belgian currency.
Permission to close the canal had to be obtained from Belgium.
A temporary closure in 1957
In August 1957, the construction of a dam at the Van Hasseltkade prevented further sailing on the canal from and towards the Bassin, the still-existing inland dock in Maastricht.
The dam was originally built as a temporary measure to allow heavy lorries to supply materials for the construction of the new Wilhelmina Bridge, which was completed in 1960.
The dam however was never demolished and the abandoned canal became a receptacle for domestic waste. Soon the area became infested with rats, which locals would combat with rifles.
The canal off Van Hasseltkade on 8 October 1962, looking towards the Bassin lock. The area was rat-infested.
At the end of the 1950s, the Dutch politician and entrepreneur Maximilien van Steenberghe implemented a major complex of locks at Lanaye, slightly across the Dutch-Belgian border. The immense structure, which opened in 1961, made the old canal towards Maastricht become completely redundant at once.
Two new and giant locks now allowed barges up to 2,000 tons to safely enter the Meuse river, which had especially been dredged for the purpose.
The Belgian authorities started filling the now obsolete canal up to the Dutch border.
Filling the canal between the Bassin and Sint-Lambertuslaan in Maastricht
In order to obtain permission to fill the former waterway with gravel between the Bassin and Sint Lambertuslaan, the treaty between the Dutch and Belgian governments, ratified on 12 July 1845, had to be terminated.
The Dutch Transport and Public Works asked its Belgian counterpart for the go-ahead signal, which was given in 1961.
On 8 October 1962 cleaning operations began in the bottom of the canal. Discarded bicycles and all conceivable items of garbage, including ammunitions and the mortal remains of a pig, were recovered and removed. The activities were planned to last three months but winter set in prematurely on 21 November 1962 and work had to be interrupted due to freezing temperatures.
The actual filling operations started on 1 April. Six hopper barges dropped their charges in the required spots. By mid-June 1963 the dredgers had arrived at the so-called Bloedbak*, near Pesthuys and Helpoort. The construction of a gravel dam led to the creation of the still existing pond near Vief Köp. The brick wall of the Bloedbak was breached with explosives and the canal emptied itself into the small Jeker river. The walls of the canal were demolished with a wrecking ball and by the summer of 1963 the two swing bridges at Prins Bisschopsingel and Sint Lambertuslaan had vanished.
Swing bridge 6, built in 1871, was demolished in July 1963. St Lambertuslaan can be seen behind it.
Gravel was deposited off the Kesselskade. (photograph taken on 25 April 1963)
Thousands of tons of gravel were deposited into the empty bed of the canal and subsequently equalized. From mid-1963 until February 1974, when work was started on the Maasboulevard, the former canal served as an official parking space.
Filling the canal towards the Belgian border and demolition of the Sint-Pieter lock
The next step was to dismantle the former canal from the Prins Bisschopsingel towards the ENCI cement factory.
In order to facilitate the construction of the Kennedy Bridge between 1965 and 1968, areas of open water between the two dams near St Lambertuslaan and Prins Bisschopsingel were filled in parts to allow the installation of sheds and cranes.
Construction of the Kennedy Bridge, ca. 1966-1967. Looking south towards the ENCI cement factory. The last parts of the canal were emptied in 1968-1969…
In 1966, the ENCI cement factory extended its conveyor belts for the transportation of cement across the canal towards barges on the adjacent Meuse river, causing the canal between the Sint Pieter lock and the city of Maastricht to become redundant as well.
In 1966 the ENCI cement factory completed the extension of its conveyor belts to transport cement across the canal towards the Meuse river. The canal could now be dismantled. The picture may have been taken in June 1967…
In May 1967 the doors of Sint Pieter lock were opened and the canal emptied itself into the Meuse river.
In May 1967 the Lock doors at St Pieter were opened and the canal emptied itself into the Meuse river…
In February 1969 the concrete walls of the lock were buried under several layers of soil. The empty canal bed was cleaned and formed the basis for the Maasboulevard, which was inaugurated in 1973.
Apart from the pond off the Vief Köp, a forgotten capstan near the ENCI factory, and a few railings which used to border the waterway, there are no remains left from the old canal between Liège and Maastricht.
By Rob Kamps
Rob Kamps is co-author (with Wil Lem) of the book Het Kanaal Luik-Maastricht, Een Vergeten Vaarweg (published by In de Kiekkas, 2009). A more extensive work on the subject is in preparation.
* The Bloedbak (‘Blood Container’) resembled an aqueduct across the Jeker river near Helpoort and Pesthuys. A nearby slaughter-house spilled blood and guts into the river, which accumulated against the brick wall of the structure and often blocked the flow of water under the canal.