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Canal de l’Ourcq

Canal de l’Ourcq

This waterway, which has three distinct sections, comprises a rich technical and historical heritage in a varied environment. It is 110 km in length, and features ten locks.

This waterway, which is 110 km in length, has ten locks and three distinct sections.

Plan canal de l´Ourcq

 The Bassin de la Villette and the wide-gauge canal

With the exception of the rapidly-changing Bassin de la Villette, this lock-free stretch of more than 10 km is largely industrial in nature, with four freight posts (Port Sérurier, Pantin,  Bondy and Les Pavillons-sous-Bois) and much commercial traffic.

The narrow-gauge canal, from Les Pavillons-sous-Bois to Mareuil-sur-Ourcq


In days gone by, this section, which is more than 90 km in length, was plied by flûtes d'Ourcq and demi-flûtes d'Ourcq, specially-designed boats which could carry 90 tonnes and 45 tonnes of freight, respectively. In 1962, however, the last of the flûtes, which were no longer economically viable, ceased operations. Since 1983, individual pleasure craft have become increasingly common.
Upstream of Aulnay-sous-Bois, the landscape ceases to be industrial, and the canal flows through the Parc forestier de Sevran. The rows of trees along this stretch sustained severe damage during the storm of December 1999. Further along, the canal meanders through lush rural territory, providing an ideal environment for leisure and relaxation.

 The canalised river, from Mareuil-sur-Ourcq to Port-aux-Perches

The section of the river Ourcq, which has been canalised since the 17th century, constitutes the last 10 km of the canal, and features four locks. This is the most picturesque stretch, particularly near La Ferté-Milon, where 17th-century French playwright Jean Racine was born. Four kilometres further on, at Silly-la-Poterie, two terminal arms complete the Paris canal network. 
 An exceptional canal

The installations have been upgraded, and the locks at Fresnes-sur-Marne, Vignely, Villenoy and Meaux in the Seine-et-Marne département are now mechanised and operated on a self-service basis. The bridge at Congis-sur-Thérouanne in the same département is also easy to operate, and the impressive 19th-century pumping stations at Trilbardou and Villers-lès-Rigault are now listed buildings. All in all, the Canal de l’Ourcq is an ideal destination for all kinds of tourism.


Construction work for the creation of the Canal de l'Ourcq started at the downstream end, in Paris. The Canal was to serve two functions – i.e. supply Paris with water and enable the transport of freight. By 1813, the stretch between Paris and Claye-Souilly was open, using water from the river Beuvronne.
The story of the canal reads like a history book, and a variety of gems have been preserved and highlighted.
Two-thirds completed when the First Empire came to a final end, it was finished only in 1821. In order to ensure an adequate supply of water for the canal, it was decided to divert water from the Clignon, a tributary of the river Ourcq. However, the Clignon and the Canal being situated on opposite sides of the river, the additional water had to be brought across the Ourcq via a canal aqueduct.
The supply of water to the Canal de l’Ourcq was still inadequate, which was causing major problems for traffic and damaging the canal’s banks.
The Emperor Napoleon III and the Prefect of the then Seine département, Haussmann, therefore gave the City of Paris permission to take water from the river Marne in order to maintain constant water levels in the Canal de l'Ourcq. To this end, two pumping stations were built, at Trilbardou and Villers-les-Rigault, respectively.
In 1876, following the purchase by the Paris municipality of the parts of the network not yet in its possession, repair work commenced on the canal, changes having already been made at the new Paris city limits when the La Villette slaughterhouses and fortifications were created.

A fire and a swing bridge…

In 1871, the Communards torched the stores and warehouses at the Bassin de la Villette and the wooden bascule bridge at Rue de Crimée, which was replaced by a metal swing bridge.
Between 1880 and 1883, the Bassin de la Villette was rebuilt entirely and deepened. The channel between the basin and the T-junction where the Canal Saint-Denis meets the Canal de l'Ourcq was also widened to 24 metres and deepened to 3.2 metres. In 1885, the swing bridge at Rue de Crimée, being then too narrow, was replaced by the vertical-lift bridge which is still in use today. The stores were rebuilt alongside the Bassin de la Villette.

In 1895, further work was conducted to widen the Canal de l'Ourcq within Paris, the aim being to render it fully compatible with the newly-widened Canal Saint-Denis and allow 1,000-tonne boats to use it.
The capacity of the Trilbardou pumping station was increased using new pumps driven by a steam engine and installed in new buildings.

In 1920, the authorities of the Seine département started work to make the Canal de l'Ourcq a wide-gauge waterway as far as the town of Les Pavillons-sous-Bois, which was located at the edge of the département. A connection was also planned between the canal and the river Marne at Annet-sur-Marne.
This work, which was completed in 1930, modified the canal’s hydraulic gradient, requiring the construction of an additional lock at Sevran, in the Seine-Saint-Denis département.

Bassin de la Villette – 75019 Paris
Metro: Stalingrad(line 2, 5, 7)

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