The Chemin Royal

Before the Royal Road (Chemin Royal) was opened, roads in New France were just dirt trails going from houses to houses and leading towards the mill or the parish chapel.

The road system in New France crisscrossed only a minute part of the sprawling territory. There were short stretches of road here and there, but no thoroughfare linking the capital city of Quebec to Montreal.

In 1706, the Conseil supérieur (Supreme Council) of New France decreed that a road be built along the river shoreline.

The work began in 1731 and  construction was completed in 1737. The new road was 7.4 metres wide and stretched over 280 kilometres from Quebec City to Montreal. It became thus the longest road in existence north of Rio Grande. The Chemin royal was the first excellent way of communication.

For most part, it follows the shore of the St. Lawrence, and all along, the Chemin Royal offers a breathtaking view on the river.

For a century and a half, the Chemin du Roy would convey mail and travellers by chaise, stagecoach, mail coach and sleigh in winter. There would be up to 29 relay stations along the way. The road had all the facilities. With the opening of the Chemin du Roy also came public transportation by land in the form of relay stations.

Every fifteen kilometres or so where there was a semblance of a village, travellers would find a relay station maintained by the local postmaster. After the Conquest, regular mail service was organized and it ran twice a week, leaving Quebec City on Mondays and Thursdays and arriving in Montreal on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The Canada-United States and England postal convention was signed in March 1792. Bags of mail were shipped by coach in mail coaches that could accommodate passengers. Sleighs were the main method of conveyance in winter. Today Route 138 follows the old road, for the most part, from Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures to Repentigny, passing through Trois-Rivieres.

At the busiest stations such as Berthier, Trois-Rivieres or Deschambault, lunch was always served. The trip could be made in two days. In the beginning of the 19th century number of travellers increased and companies began offering stagecoach services. But in 1815, during the summer, passengers began preferring travel by steamboat. Mail coaches continued to run year round, but passengers used them mostly in winter.

After the 1850’s the railway emerged as another direct contender to travel by road. In 1854, the line between Levis and Richmond opened with a connection to the Grand Trunk towards Montreal. The stagecoach vanished. Only the mail coach continued to carry mail and passengers during all seasons.

However, it also ceased to operate in 1879 with the advent of the railway on the north shore of the river linking Quebec City, Montreal, Outaouais and Ontario.

Mail runs between Quebec and Montreal ended, but the road still exists and the section between Montreal and Quebec City is one of the busiest highways in Canada.

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