Cora Eva Archambault

Cora Archambault.  In McLaughlin, Scott.  Canalers Afloat, The Champlain Waterway?s Unique Maritime Community, 1819-1940.  Vergennes, Vermont: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 2005, Vol II.
Cora Archambault. In McLaughlin, Scott. Canalers Afloat, The Champlain Waterway?s Unique Maritime Community, 1819-1940. Vergennes, Vermont: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 2005, Vol II.

Time Period

1910-1940

Notable Facts

Grew up on a canal boat on Lake Champlain, recorded an oral history of area.

Personal Information

Date of Birth

1904

Primary Residence

Unknown

Religion

Catholic

Ethnicity

Franco-American

Historical Significance

Cora Eva Archambault was born in 1904 to a canal boat family from Whitehall, New York. With her parents, Elisabeth "Isabella" (St. Jean) and Frank Archambault, and four siblings, she spent her early years traveling aboard the family canal boat.

Like most canalers in the early twentieth century, the Archambaults were Franco-American. Both of Archambault's parents spoke French, traveled frequently into Quebec, and sang traditional Franco-American songs on the boats.

Like many children who lived on canal boats, Cora was born into a family of canalers. Her grandfather, Onesime Archambault, was a shipwright in Whitehall, New York, and her father became a canal boat captain. The family traveled with two canal boats: the Henry Neddo, built in 1900 in Whitehall, New York, and the W.S. Slingsby, built in Whitehall in 1909. The family traveled throughout the northern canalways from New York City to Montreal, via the Champlain Canal and up and down Lake Champlain. In the wintertime, they docked in Whitehall, New York. Their boat carried loads of grain, ice, iron ore, sugar, and many other cargoes from port to port. Like most other canal boat families, they occasionally smuggled goods into the United States from Canada for their personal use to avoid paying tariffs. Many canalers also smuggled alcohol during Prohibition. Archambault's father smuggled woolen clothes for his children, provisions for winter, and once, a pig hidden in the boat's hold through the border at Rouse's Point.

As a child, the experience of growing up on a canal boat was unusual. Archambault's family owned two boats that traveled linked together. The family lived in a main cabin in the stern of one boat, which was furnished cozily with curtains, rugs, and the family beds. The main cabin on the second boat was a playroom where Archambault and her siblings were allowed to play as noisily as they liked. Families waited expectantly for the "bumboat," a boat loaded with groceries and other provisions that serviced the canalers on the water. There were few opportunities for children to run around and play on the boats. In the nineteenth century, canal boats were towed through the Champlain Canal by mules, and the slow pace meant that families could get off the boats to walk, explore, and ride the mules.

However, when Archambault lived on the boats during the early 20th century, canal boats were increasingly towed by tugboats.

Life on canal boats could also be dangerous. In a radio interview in 1950, Archambault's mother, Isabella Archambault, described how the family's boat, the Henry Neddo, began taking on water while docked at Montreal after a large ferry boat passed too close. Archambault was just able to climb to the family's other boat with her five young children when the sinking boat broke loose and was swept down the Lachine Rapids.

Archambault, her sisters, and her mother were only a few of the many women who lived and worked on canal boats on Lake Champlain and the Champlain Canal. For example, Lucy Emeroy Brown (1844-1896) was a third generation canaler who worked on her parent's canal boats until 1873. These women often faced the challenges of cooking and raising their children in small and occasionally dangerous locations, as well as doing much of the work of steering and maintaining the boats.

Archambault was one of the last women to live and work on canal boats in Lake Champlain. As rail transportation increased in the late nineteenth century, the need for canal boats to transport cargo through waterways diminished gradually in the early twentieth century. Mainstream America had viewed canaling as a romantic activity in the late nineteenth century, but in the twentieth century the occupation came to be seen as outdated and standing in the way of a modern economy. By 1940, the era of canal boats on Lake Champlain was over. Cora Archambault spent the rest of her life in Whitehall, New York,

Occupations

  • Canal boat worker

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • McLaughlin, Scott. Canalers Afloat, The Champlain Waterway's Unique Maritime Community, 1819-1940.