Opening of the Boat Lift

A unique industrial heritage
Abf 2023 Tourisme En Pays De Saint Omer 8 1L'Ascenseur à bateaux des Fontinettes

The Ascenseur à bateaux des Fontinettes is an ingenious late 19th century structure, a legacy of France’s great industrial era, located in Arques, on the Neuffossé canal linking the Lys and Aa rivers. After periods of work, the elevator will reopen its doors exceptionally from August 1 with guided and dramatized tours, then open to the general public with audio guidance during the European Heritage Days on September 16, 2023.

Published on 21 July 2023
The story

From Elevator to Boats

River trade began in the Audomarois region as early as the Middle Ages, with an important crossroads between Saint-Omer and Aire-sur-la-Lys. Between 1753 and 1774, the Neuffossé canal was dug, linking the two cities for defensive purposes, then economically via the link with Lille from 1825. The route passes through the town of Arques, where a 13-meter slope must be crossed to climb the slope of the Aa valley. A series of locks with several successive sluices was installed, but the growth in traffic led to waits of 5 to 6 days, i.e. 100 boats!

To remedy this, it was decided to build an elevating machine. Although the initial plan was to double the number of lock chambers, the introduction of the Freycinet plan in 1879 pushed up the construction budget, and a new call for projects was launched. The elevator was built in 1887 by engineer Bertin, using a counterpart across the Channel, Edwin Clark, who had built a similar model at Anderton, one of the oldest in the world.

Practical info

On this unique site

August 01 to September 17

Guided tours (rate: €5.90/person) daily: 11am – 2:30pm – 3:30pm – 4:30pm: visit the repair workshop, stroll along the towpath and discover the bargemen’s way of life aboard a Freycinet barge.

Theatrical tours will be scheduled during this period too.

From September 17

Guided tours (rate: €9/person)

Audio guided tours (rate: €5.90/person): welcome to the Fontinettes boat elevator, it’s August 16, 1967. You’re about to meet Jacques, the janitor, who’s off on his last tour before the elevator gives way to the big lock. Immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of this unusual place, relive the inauguration and climb aboard a Freycinet barge.



Our focus on Elevator

“There’s a place where trains pass under barges…” (Re)discover the Boat Lift in Arques, a landmark of the Pays de Saint-Omer’s industrial heritage.

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