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Amélie Febvre
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Napoleon and the canal from Nantes to Brest

The States of Brittany realized the navigability of the Vilaine from 1585, towards Redon and the "Bay of Biscay".

The Commission of Inland Navigation, newly created in 1783, imagines the first projects of navigation between Nantes and Brest.

The construction of this canal only began in 1804 under the Empire. The hostilities with England, the continental Blockade, and the English superiority over the seas obliged Napoleon to ensure the supply of the arsenals of Brest and Lorient by an inland waterway linking it to the Loire by Nantes.


It is then an enormous task of joining four river basins (Loire, Vilaine, Blavet, Aulne), eight rivers (Erdre, Isac, Oust, Blavet, Kergoat, Dore, Hyeres, and Aulne) (Bout-de-Bois, Hilvern, Trench of Glomel) which has 236 locks for a 360 km ...

Spanish prisoners of war, soldiers deserters and convicts of Brest and peasants, women and children of the region were widely employed and exploited during this work.


The canal from Nantes to Brest was delivered in its entirety to navigation in 1842.

Then it had a predominantly commercial life within the province. But by the end of the 19th century, road and railway development brought about the decline of transport activities on the canal.

The construction of the Guerlédan hydroelectric dam in the 1930s cut it into two non-communicating parts, despite plans for boat and fish ladders that, because of their cost and low economic interest, will never come into being.


The canal seems condemned, but its tourist vocation takes over in an economic, social and environmental dynamic.