Modern ferries seem to fall into two categories. The frantically busy, plugging a hole in a major transportation artery. And the quiet, low-key service like this ferry, filling a local need and unknown to anyone outside the immediate area. Pointe-Fortune has a location right by the Ontario border, and to reach the village you pass along roads that give a pleasant feeling of heading nowhere. On the north shore, Carillon is just a small village on Hwy 344 which wiggles along the north shore of the Ottawa. If you want to go somewhere big you are likely going to take autoroute 50 or Hwy 417. But ferries also have a long history and tend to be located at natural crossings—
a compromise between somewhere on the river which is easy to cross and a location that forms part of a useful route. In fact back in the optimistic days of the 1960s and 70s there were plans to extend autoroute 50 across the Ottawa at Carillon to join up with the 40/417 and produce a fast route between the northern suburbs of Montreal and Ottawa. But that didn't come to pass.
So now you can still do that trip, but at a slower pace, taking in the Le Passeur ("The Ferryman") ferry. This ferry has served us several times as a practical route back from the Laurentians via Lachute returning to Montreal's West Island. And it is another variation on the Montreal–Ottawa trip for when you're not in a rush and want to show your visitors a few more sights rather than the flat land surrounding the 417.
The ferry docks on the south shore in the quiet village of Pointe-Fortune just inside Quebec, but yards from the Ontario border. The approach to the ferry turns off the main road with barely room for 4 cars to wait before hitting the loading ramp. On our last visit those 4 spots were filled by two recycling trucks waiting to cross, so we parked nearby to check out the view. There was no rush, the crossing takes barely 5 minutes and it's better to enjoy the crossing without begin squeezed between two trucks. The small restaurant beside the ferry was closed on that visit due to the 2017 spring floods and other buildings close to the dock were under repair. Photos in the press had shown the level of the Ottawa had risen way above the ferry docks during the floods that year. But fortunately the ferry was back in business for our September visit.
Pointe-Fortune does have a few interesting places to wander. The Macdonell-Williamson House on the Ontario side is supposedly well worth a visit. And immediately upstream is the enormous Carillon dam and hydro-electric generating station, with a few docks for local power boats in between, jutting out from the shore. The water immediately downstream from the dam is deep and rich in oxygen, meaning the fishing is good, and Pointe-Fortune has outfitters and docks to support this.
On the north shore the ferry dock sits almost on Hwy 344, right next to the old Carillon barracks building. Carillon has now been absorbed into the nearby town of Saint-André-d'Argenteuil (birthplace of Canada's third prime minister John Abbot back when the place was known as St. Andrews in the 19th century). There is plenty of history related to this area. It was here in 1660 that the French, under Adam Dollard des Ormeaux were defeated by the Iroquois Confederacy in the Battle of Long Sault. The rapids at Long Sault were the trigger for the battle taking place in this spot, but these disappeared in 1959 when the dam and generating station were built, raising the upstream water level by 62 ft. There are several Parks Canada sites around Carillon—
a worthwhile stop to explore the old and current canals, and views across the Ottawa, and the Carillon Barracks.
On the far shore there was not much more than the ferry dock and slipway, next to the Carillon Barracks. The ferry itself is a conventional end-loading diesel powered ferry. It was originally build in 1959 and served the Cumberland–Thurso
route further upstream. In 1992 it was rebuilt, on-site here at Carillon, and has served this route ever since as the "Anik".
As the ferry crosses it is clear there is a strong current coming from the dam spillways. The few minutes it takes to cross the river is barely enough time to look at the dam, generating station, the modern canal and lock, and the remains of the original canal that bypassed the Long Sault rapids before the dam was built. Next to the ferry ramp at Carillon is a slipway with a second ferry pulled up onto dry land. There is more to operating a ferry service here than just having a boat and a loading ramp. Many ferries have a slipway on one bank or the other where the ferry can be pulled ashore during winter or for maintenance. And often, like here, there is a previous generation ferry moored beside or on the slipway, ready, just in case...
If you drive along Hwy 344 west, upstream, from the Carillon dock you pass around the campsites and parkland at the end of the dam and rise up to the level of the lake behind the dam. The height of this is nominally 62 ft above the base of the dam where the ferry crosses. This shore drive up from the ferry marks a major change in "feel" for the river. The lake behind the dam is wide and still, and the road runs straight for a couple of miles along an artificial levee right next to the water.
In winter there is an ice bridge that crosses the river about a mile downstream from the ferry. Prior to the dam and generating station being built the location was close to where the ferry crosses, but the currents from the dam prevented this, and eventually the service was established further downstream.
Winter—the ice bridge
Before the Carillon dam and generating station, ice bridges were used on much the same route as the ferry. But the dam now produces a fast and warm current downstream that keeps the northern side of the river from freezing.
About 30 years ago the ice bridge was revived a couple of kilometres downstream, linking Saint-André-d'Argenteuil with Pointe-Fortune.