The project

The canal of the Garonne is in fact the second party of the canal of both seas, wanted for centuries by the Roman emperors or the kings of France. Pierre-Paul Riquet, the creator of the canal du Midi, had envisaged it in his initial project. But the financial and human scale of the works of the party from the Languedoc will not allow him to make a success of the whole project.

The need for the navigation always was to allow the connection between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, by " the France isthmus " then by the Garonne river. But this river has a very irregular rate of flow, a hydrologic regime of type nival. This nival regime is characterized by floods in spring and weak flows in summer. Let us remember ourselves the last big floods in June 1875 in Toulouse provoking the death of 200 persons and in March 1930 the destroying of Moissac, with 120 deaths and 6000 homeless persons. There is also a problem of the bed of the river, with weak depth in certain places, below Toulouse or Moissac, with problems of low water. The navigation on the river Garonne was thus difficult and occasional for centuries, at the big risks of the boatmen.

In 1681, after the works of the canal du Midi, is necessary to transship in Toulouse the goods of the boats of the canal du Midi on the other boats of weaker tonnage, for continue towards Bordeaux city. 5 days are necessary to go down Garonne towards Bordeaux and especially 15 days to go back up the goods in the other direction. And all this remain averages, seen the unpredictable conditions of navigation on the river. To compare with 5 days to connect Toulouse and Sète (in both directions), two cities distant from 240 km, we understand easily money troubles engendered by the navigation on Garonne river. The transport by inland waterway through the southwest of France stays in these conditions till the beginning of the 19th century, not reaching its original ambitions.With the industrial revolution, the necessity of the side canal in the Garonne reappears. Although the region is not industrial, the passage between both seas is always of a major interest for business between countries.


At this beginning of 19th century, the advantage of the construction of a side canal in the Garonne is clear for all, bringing the security and the mastery of the costs of the navigation.

On December 17th, 1828, a law is voted prescribing the study of this canal. A private company in Bordeaux, Cie Magendie, sees attributing this study, confided more particularly to Alexandre Doin. Through a report of 1832, Alexandre Doin presents all the advantages of the future canal. The exhaustive document compares the costs of navigation of the future canal with those of the railroad, those of the passage by Gilbratar or by the hypothetical canal of Pyrenees. In fact, another people want establish another canal project towards Bayonne, with a canal going upstream to Toulouse and connected with Adour river, after crossing the plateau of Lannemezan.

The project of the side canal in the Garonne is finaced by Company Magendie. In 1830, this company, in agreement with the State, loads Jean-Baptiste De Baudre, engineer « Ponts et Chaussées », with the technical study of the realization of the canal. Moved to Agen in 1825, J-P De Baudre had previously been in charge of the study of a navigation improved on the Garonne. De Baudre is convinced that the solution of the canal is the best. The proposition of Company Magendie is going to correspond for him to an opportunity dreamed to work on a big project. Surrounding itself with quality engineers, as Jean-Gratien De Job, Jean-Baptist de Baudre is considered like the "father" of the canal of the Garonne. Like Pierre-Paul Riquet, Mr De Baudre will not see the end of the works of the canal of the Garonne. He dies in 1850. After the publication of the report already quoted of Alexandre Doin, the law of April 22nd, 1832 confides him the project management and to Company Magendie the concession of the future canal. But Alexandre Doin dies and the project is then entrusted completely to Jean-Baptiste De Baudre.In 1839, the adjucation of the works is made and the construction begins simultaneously in various places. With splendour, the Duke of Orléans, elder son of Louis-Philippe, accompanied with his wife, princess Hélène de Mecklenbourg (more known to have popularized the custom of the Christmas tree), puts first stone of the canal bridge of Agen on August 25th, 1839.

In 1839, the adjucation of the works is made and the construction begins simultaneously in various places. With splendour, the Duke of Orléans, elder son of Louis-Philippe, accompanied with his wife, princess Hélène de Mecklenbourg (more known to have popularized the custom of the Christmas tree), puts first stone of the canal bridge of Agen on August 25th, 1839.

The doubt

The works continue, and the first put in water allows from 1845 the boats to reach the new port of Moissac. In 1848, it is Agen who is connected in Toulouse by the new canal.

However, at the beginning of decade 1840, France is very late on the development of the railroad, contrary to the other countries like United Kingdom, or Germany. The first line for traveler between Paris and St-Germain-en-Laye exist since 1837. Let us note that this railroad line is proposed and financed by the brothers Émile and Isaac Pereire, bankers and businessmen, whom will find we a little later protagonists in the history of the canal of Garonne. By the law of June 11th, 1842, the government launches the " charter of railroads ", planning the fast extension of the railroad network and the establishment of main lines from Paris, but also transverse. The enormous and fast profits made by the new rail companies instigate new speculators. Concessions are attributed by the State for several decades, thus assuring the profitability. The train, it is the future! So, the construction of the railroad line between Bordeaux and Sète, via Toulouse, is launched after 1850. It has to be gradually made between 1855 and 1858.

In 1850, the construction of the canal of the Garonne meets money troubles. The question of the continuation of the works is then put, seen the future competition of the planned railroad. The opponents of the canal become numerous and are influential. Some even go as far as proposing the filling of the unfinished canal to put rails there. Inquiries are launched by the Minister of the Public Works, Pierre Magne, with the local elected representatives and the result is without appeal: it is the death of the canal in its part downstream to Moissac. And consequences are to be afraid for the canal du Midi.

By economic interest, the city of Bordeaux remains favorable to the canal, as well as some municipalities on left bank of the river Garonne, forgotten by the future railroad. The State measures from his part the expenses already engaged for the construction of the canal and prefers to opt for the continuation of the canal. And so the law of July 8th, 1852 gives the simultaneous concession of the railroad and the canal, in the local rail company. The duration of the concession is fixed to 99 years. So is created " Company des chemins de fer du Midi et du canal latéral à la Garonne ". The law stipulates in particular the simultaneous finish of the works of the canal and the railroad. The fate of two constructions is henceforth connected! But with the brothers Pereire who take the control of the new company on August 24th, 1852, it is rather the fate of the canal that is sealed !

We continue ...


To deepen, you can read the good book writed by Jacques Dubourg " The canal of the Garonne, when the men connect seas " in the "Dossiers d'Aquitaine" editions / ISBN 2-84622-043-3. You can also click on the images « Mémoire » and « Annales » to read these historic writings.