The Ardennes canal is the link between the Aisne and the Meuse rivers as it joins the lateral canal of the Aisne and the Meuse canal. Navigation has always been a key economical component for the prosperity of the communities living in the region. For many centuries, the segments of the Bar river which were navigable, a tributary of the Meuse, were both the main waterway and a major means of communication and transportation. The Ardennes canal flows parallel to the Bar for most of its course.
Many projects were imagined over the centuries to create such a canal. Engineer Hugues Cosnier, to whom we owe the Briare canal, had plans. However, the lack of funding, feasible plans and ambition from local and national authorities hindered any project from coming to life. In the 1770s, a plan was almost put together as an important nobleman was granted the right to build a canal and enjoy its benefits. Any construction dragged on and nothing had begun when the French Revolution started. The political and military turmoil of the following decades again prevented any real project to come into fruition. Claude Deschamps, a notable engineer who had submitted ideas for a canal to the government in 1800, was given more funds than any of the previous projects and asked to build the new canal. Construction began in 1823 and was completed in 1831.
The Ardennes canal was part of a vast development plan of the Eastern waterways. The construction of the Marne-Rhine canal began in 1838 and others followed in the second half of the 19th century, like the Eastern canal. There were many difficulties to this endeavour, as the terrain was often swampy and the rivers narrow, roughly landscaped by centuries of navigation on some segments. The purpose of this surge to develop the region’s waterways came from industrial needs. Small but prosperous industrial centres were scattered across the region. Thus, these waterways were made to serve the growing centres by easing good transportation and facilitating market openings. Improvements and modifications were made over the following decades to remedy the weaknesses of the canal. The creation of lake Bairon to ensure the canal was sufficiently supplied with water was one of the most important modifications made after the inauguration. This lake, which is also a biosphere reserve, is only a kilometre away when cruising through the village of Le Chesne. The transformation of the locks to the Freycinet gauge was equally as important and ensured the survivability of the canal. Another highlight of this canal is the valley of the 27 locks over 9 kilometres, near the territory of the Montgon village.
The Eastern waterways did not meet the same fate as the Southern ones. Freight remained consequent well into the 1970s, although they suffered from over means of transportation. Soon after, the Ardennes département shifted its focus to making the canal pleasant for leisure cruising. In 2018, the ageing infrastructure led to the collapse of lock 21 at Neuville-Day after a particularly violent thunderstorm. The canal was closed until May 2021 when it came to welcome leisure boats once again. The Ardennes canal offers an interesting and beautiful rural setting with dense forests, meandering rivers and valleys. It is a perfect opportunity to relax, and enjoy the historical and natural sights. Considerable improvements to welcome tourists have been made recently with a focus on restaurants, housing, boat hire, as well as leisure activities such as cycling roads.