Boatloads of Fun!

In the blink of an eye, children become longshoremen and go back in time, to the Port of Montreal of the 1920s.


-- What is a longshoreman?

-- Why, sir, it’s someone who longshores!

The Boatloads of Fun! activity leader smiles when he hears the youngster’s perfectly logical response. He then proceeds to introduce himself to the group of students gathered at the end of King Edward Pier in the Old Port of Montreal on this sunny day in June. “My name is Daniel,” he says. “My great-grandfather, Félix, was a longshoreman in the Port of Montreal. As one of his descendants, I would like to talk to you today about his job and see if you would make good longshoremen.”

Over the next 90 minutes, 28 students from Saint-Noël-Chabanel school in the St. Michel district will see what it was like to be a longshoreman back in 1920. They will learn where ships carrying goods such as exotic fruits, coal, wine and luxury items, some in bulk and others in bags or in boxes, came from. They will discover that it took a lot of men – gangs of men working together – to “longshore” or load and unload ships and transport all of these goods to and from berths. 

To their left, the children can see a huge laker docked at Alexandra Pier. Farther upstream are the giant blue container cranes at Bickerdike Terminal. In front of them is the tip of Cité du Havre, which separates the calm waters of the basin from the strong St. Mary’s Current. The view of the river from here is spectacular. The sun is shining brightly, but the wind off of the river is refreshing and it is cool in the shade. This was the environment in which longshoremen toiled.


Don't fall off of the gangway !

After identifying various goods, where they came from and how they were transported, the students were ready for the big relay race. Two teams were ready to compete. Which one would be the most efficient when it comes to loading a ship? The goods were in a big red container: boxes of cheese, bags of sugar, cases of wine, boxes of clothes, bananas, axles, etc. The students had to move them into a ship’s hold (an enormous wooden box) without stepping off of the gangway they were walking across; that would be like falling into the water!

On your mark, get set, go!

The young longshoremen rush toward the goods and quickly organize a chain of workers. They smile as the excitement mounts. One team is catching up to the other. Everything must be loaded into the hold without damaging fragile items, such as bananas. The students finally finish the race.

The cargo hold doors cannot close because goods are
not stowed properly. Time to start over.

The Boatloads of Fun! program has created unforgettable memories for these children.

Launched by the Montreal Science Centre in April, Boatloads of Fun! already had welcomed about a dozen groups by the beginning of June. It is part of the Grade 3 social studies program. “The Montreal Science Centre’s objective is to diversify its content and offer science and history programs,” says Cybèle Robichaud, heritage project leader at the Old Port of Montreal Corporation.


Ouch ! Longshoremen faced
many on-the-job risks.


At the end of the session, the children were asked what they liked best. Most hands went up for the relay race. “I liked this game because if you fell off of the gangway while transporting goods, you could drown,” says Rita, still excited from the contest. She most certainly understood the significance of the occupational hazards associated with being a longshoreman.