Locksmith Operator for Parks Canada

Yachting Quebec

If there is one trade that is not well known, it is the locksmith trade. Those who work at Parks Canada’s Historic Canals in Quebec have agreed to tell us about their daily lives and let us discover their wonderful work.

For some, navigating a channel means, year after year, rediscovering a familiar contact with the lock keeper with whom they have been associated. For others, the presence of the airlock is reassuring when their boat enters the airlock; There are many emotions we feel when we call a locksmith as boaters cruise through the canals. Do you know what the job of lock keeper consists of? This unconventional occupation interests boaters as much as swimmers. Much more than cashiers or gate openers, Parks Canada locksmiths are experts in waterway operations, specializing in true safety and customer service, whether on the canals of Saint-Ours, Carillon, Chambly, Lachine or Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. At the start of the season, we present to you a photo of three of our colleagues who exercise this unique profession with passion.

Locks ensure that boats are moored in the right place. Image credit: Parks Canada.

traffic control

Indrik Romit, locksmith manager at Canal-de-Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, describes himself to his family and friends as a “maritime traffic controller”. This is sometimes a difficult and stressful task depending on the day’s traffic. Sometimes more than 20 boats can wait to enter the lock, with captains on board whose nautical experience varies as much as the size of their boat. The lock keeper positions and guides boats through the lock in the safest and most efficient way possible. This means that he must know the exact size of the lock and the boats to come in order to put it there without making a mistake. Imagine Tetris but on a boat! The gentlemen and the locksmiths are contacted by VHF radio, by telephone, or simply by calling them from the quay with “Black boat, it’s up to you!” Blue boat, it’s up to you! “.

The Parks Canada team is on hand to help steer the boats and make sure the captain is anchored in the right place. Once the boats dock we can proceed to the lock before leaving with the boats arriving in the opposite direction. During the beautiful days of summer, the locks follow one another non-stop, from opening to closing.

Lock at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. Image credit: Parks Canada.

The profession of lock keeper… in the long term

Did you know that the locksmith profession has not changed much over time? Its functions remain essentially the same as 150 years ago, although working conditions have improved considerably.

Lock the guard working capstan yesterday. Image credit: Parks Canada.

For example, at the Chambly Canal, employees lived in a house provided by their employer until the early 1900s. From thawing to freezing.

Capstan running lock guard today. Image credit: Parks Canada.

It was not a question of counting the hours and it was necessary to show the greatest dedication to render such a service.

Cabin attendants and locksmiths in the Lachin Canal. Image credit: Parks Canada.

Knowledge that is transmitted

When he started working as a locksmith with Parks Canada in 1980, Richard Sorbrinant, chief locksmith at the Lachin Canal, noticed that the locksmith at the time looked like he was in his late 50s.

Cabin in the Chambly Canal. Image credit: Parks Canada.

By rubbing shoulders with them and debating with them, he finally realized that the majority of his colleagues were in fact veterans who obtained this position in recognition of their service to the country. Through their contact, Richard familiarized himself with his new job and its many subtleties.

Lock and cabin guards at the Canal-de-Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. Image credit: Parks Canada.

These veterans had an average of twenty years of experience each and they generously passed on their experience to him. Being a locksmith is not learned from books, it is passed down from generation to generation.

Carillon Canal locks. Image credit: Parks Canada.

Occupation required

The beginning of the 1980s was a particularly busy period, when it was not uncommon to lock more than a hundred boats per day during the month of July in the Chambly Canal; The work schedule there was particularly demanding. Needless to say, locksmiths spend far more time with their co-workers than with their immediate family members.

Hand-operated lock guard Lock no. 9 of the Canal-de-Chambly. Image credit: Parks Canada.

Although the automation of the majority of workstations today makes work easier and shortens working days, work is still a requirement. In addition to performing shutdowns, it is also necessary to take care of all site maintenance tasks. Whatever the weather of the day, business never fails!

Pontier 1 bridge in operation in the Chambly Canal. Image credit: Parks Canada.

On the Shambly Channel, there is still a rare profession: the profession of bridge operator. The canal is the only one where the bridges that span it or lift it still turn. The bridge operator operates the bridge and manages vehicle traffic when boats pass. For bridge operators, accustomed to always working alone, the isolation ended up weighing down after a few months and the end of the season did not come quickly enough for some.

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The complex and exciting profession of lock operator deserves to be better known and the experience of those who practice it deserves to be appreciated. As for Parks Canada, the locksmiths will be happy to tell you more about their trade and the national historic site you are visiting. The invitation has gone out. If that’s something you’re interested in, the federal agency seeks to hire new locksmiths every year. Stay informed by following us on Facebook (Embed a tweet)!

Myriam Kopel. Image credit: Parks Canada.

Portrait of a locksmith, Myriam Kobal

Miriam is fortunate to be part of the team that operates this “recreational boat lift” at the Saint-Ours Canal National Historic Site in Montreal. In this team, she finds the satisfaction of being part of the history of Quebec’s waterways. The lock keepers become the ambassadors of these places by continuing to maintain them and maintain the operation of the locks.

Myriam has worked as a locksmith at Canal de Saint-Ore for five years. According to her, to do this job, you have to enjoy working in the great outdoors, enduring hot summer days and living with bad weather. Particular attention to outstanding customer service is required as well as an interest in teamwork focused on safety and continuous improvement. Throughout the term of lock operator, assistant lock operator, Parks Canada offers quality supervision and numerous opportunities to develop technical and personal knowledge.

Every summer, Miriam marvels at boats of all kinds. Boaters provide unforgettable, often fun and festive experiences, and feel free to introduce their family and pets. By sharing their browsing stories, they can allow locksmiths to travel with them. In general, the population is interested and surprised to learn that the waterways of Quebec are still made up of functional locks.

The lockkeeper welcomes the boat at the Canal-de-Saint-Ours. Image credit: Parks Canada.

The canals welcomed the first woman into their ranks in 1985. As it was a profession traditionally reserved for men, boaters made all sorts of comments, sometimes quite inappropriate.

The treasurer opens the door to the dam. Image credit: Parks Canada.

From the beginning, this pioneer was able to count on the support of her colleagues and found a way to persevere, paving the way for locksmiths like Miriam. Today, there are as many locksmiths as locksmiths at Parks Canada.

From left to right: Indrik Romit and Robert Lister, lock keepers. Image credit: Parks Canada.

Portrait of the lock keeper, Indrik Romit

Working as a locksmith at Parks Canada on the Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue Canal, for Andrek, is a fascinating and dynamic job, even if it includes difficult and sometimes breathtaking moments. This lock is the busiest in Canada! The relatively short transit time to pass through the lock and the popular attractions on both sides of the canal contribute to the increased traffic on the canal.

Working as a lock operator has many benefits, including the ability to be outdoors in good weather, interact with pleasant visitors, and enjoy beautiful scenery and sunsets. Finally, all Parks Canada scholarship recipients are good company and there to help each other, which makes business even better!

Richard Surprinant, locksmith. Image credit: Parks Canada.

Portrait of a lock keeper, Richard Surprinant

Richard Sorbrinant, locksmith director at the Lachin Canal National Historic Site, began his career at the Chambly locks in 1980. In 2013, he joined the Lachin Canal team where he continued his career. He had to update his knowledge there, because the work is done in a different way, and each channel has its own characteristics.

42 years later, Richard is still passionate about his job. What was initially supposed to be a student job eventually turned into a real job. It is clearly a job unknown to the general public, but fortunately he will take the time to explain to you what his job consists of. According to him, the profession will always need to influence and this will largely come from those who practice it with passion and dedication.

In the Lachine Channel, the locks are automated. Image credit: Parks Canada.

For more information, please visit the website parkscanada.gc.ca/canals And Follow us on Facebook!

By Sebastian Noel, Communication and Partnership Officer
In collaboration with Myriam Coupal, Indrek Romet and Richard Surprenant, Locksmiths
Waterways of Quebec, Gardens of Canada

* This article was originally published in the Digital Journal Flight. 45 No. 2 Quebec Yachting. Subscribe for free!

Michael A. Bynum