The towman's job involved leading horses to pull (or tow) barges through the locks, from one end of the canal to the other. The path they used is called a towpath. The towing season ran from April to September, lasting 200 to 215 days. During this time, towmen could work up to 20 hours a day.
In English, we talk of "swearing like a trooper"; the French equivalent is "swearing like a towman", because towmen had a reputation for using crude language. Their arduous job, the accidents involved (horses falling into the water), the harsh temperatures and the length of the journey to Saint-Jean (10 to 12 hours) would often try their patience. In 1878, the canal superintendent sued the towmen, and regulations came into force prohibiting abusive and vulgar language, on pain of a $40 fine.
To be a lockmaster in 1853, you had to:
have experience as an assistant lockmaster
be able to read and write
be able to speak French and English
Work began on the canal in 1831, continuing until 1843. The financial difficulties of the contractors and a cholera epidemic among Irish immigrant workers were among the reasons for delays in the building of the canal.
The government of Lower Canada had a budget of $180 000 for the construction of the Chambly Canal.
In 1843, it took 10 to 12 hours for a barge to travel the canal. Today, a motorboat can easily complete the same journey in 3 to 5 hours.
American bargemasters regarded the Chambly Canal towpath as the best in North America.
In the early days, only three horses were needed to tow a barge. Later, nine would be needed to tow a Murray barge carrying pulp and paper.
The Guinness Book of Records 1997 lists a natural snow sculpture of a barge carrying wood, carved by 50 sculptors. It measured 37.2 m long, 3.50 m high and 5.75 m wide. The work was carried out by Les Arts Joe Maltais and Parks Canada.