Information about the 20km of the Canal de Roubaix from the Canal de la Deûle to the Canal de l’Espierres (Belgium)


The Canal de Roubaix connects the Canal de la Deûle north of the regional capital Lille with the Canal de l’Espierres in Belgium, which leads to the Escaut (8.4 km and three locks beyond the border). It is a fascinating waterway with a complex history, and today presents remarkably contrasting landscapes, from the intensely urban to unbelievably rural towards the Belgian border. The canal is like a ‘back door’ into France, but it is presented here starting from the Deûle. It was closed for nearly 30 years until its restoration and reopening throughout from the Deûle to the Scheldt in 2010.

The length of the canal from the junction with the Deûle at Marquette-lez-Lille to the border at Leers is 20km. The first 3km on the Deûle side is used daily by barges unloading at the Lesaffre yeast factory in Marcq-en-Barœul, and remains in the VNF-managed national network. The rest of the canal has been transferred to the Métropole Européenne de Lille (MEL), which now owns and operates the canal and its structures.

Thanks first to a determined campaign (in which the international waterways movement played a part, alongside local associations), then to strong political support both locally and in the EU, a project for complete restoration of the cross-border canal link was submitted for EU funding in 2003 and approved the following year. The ‘Blue Links’ programme of works, for a budget which finally reached €50 million (including the cost of an initial phase of works carried out in 1999-2002), was completed and the canal reopened to navigation for the ‘Blue Days’ event in September 2009.


There are two branches, both with abandoned sections. Navigation extends from the main line to the port de plaisance at Wasquehal (0.6km) and to the fixed-deck former lift bridge in Tourcoing (0.9km) respectively. It is worth noting that the first section of the Tourcoing branch is a deep tree-lined cutting.
History – In 1821 local manufacturers and merchants promoted a canal to link France to Belgium. The wool and textile industries were developing rapidly in the Roubaix-Tourcoing area, and needed secure supplies of water and coal, both essential to their activity. The first section, canalising the river Marque from the Deûle to Croix, was completed In 1831, to Freycinet dimensions. In 1843, the section linking Roubaix to the Belgian border was opened, at the same time as the Espierre Canal in Belgium. The project was then delayed by the difficulty of tunnelling under the watershed in Roubaix. New plans were made for the watershed section, routed further north, thus serving Tourcoing, and the connection was made in January 1877, when the first barge loaded with coal, ‘La Décidée’, reached Roubaix from the Deûle. The Tourcoing branch was completed In 1893. The canal was closed after structures failed in 1985, but it was not long before the campaign to save the heritage was started. Restoration was completed in 2009 and the canal reopened in 2010 under new management by the Lille metropolitan authority MEL.

Key Waterway Dimensions

  • Max Beam: 5.05m
  • Max Height: 3.30m
  • Max Draught: 1.60m

Local Waterway Links


This is a ‘navigation on demand’ waterway, with staff dispatched to all locks and movable bridges to accompany boats in their transit. It will facilitate organisation of your cruise if you discuss your intentions in advance. Some boat owners are keen to make the whole transit in one day, while others are keen to stop in Roubaix to visit the town and its attractions, including the art museum in the former Art Déco swimming pool (‘La Piscine’). The natural location for a port de plaisance, on the summit level, is likely to remain undeveloped for some years, as the major urban regeneration project is gradually implemented. The mooring for Roubaix will be

Locks – There are 2 locks on the canalised river Marque (or Marque Urbaine). Five more climb from the Marque to the summit level, while the remaining five fall towards the Scheldt. The lock dimensions are 39.40 by 5.18m.
The lock on the Croix branch, just before Wasquehal basin is now permanently open, following construction of a weir beyond the harbour and lowering of the intermediate section. All locks (and bridges, see below) have been mechanised and are operated by staff of the Métropole Européenne de Lille.RoubaixMusselBoat-Vermaut

Draught – The maximum draught is 1.80m from the Deûle junction up to the industrial quay at KP 3.3. Over the remaining length, the dredging was completed to a depth of 1.90 m, for a draught of 1.60 m. However, the back-pumping system at each lock means that there is a slight drawdown during busy days, so the full depth may not be available later in the day.

Headroom – The minimum headroom is 3.30m (3.60m above normal water level). There are eight lift bridges and one swing bridge, all operated by MEL staff, although it is planned to install remote control and monitoring equipment at the operations control centre beside Union lock.

Towpath – There is a good towpath throughout, which has been attractively developed for use by pedestrians and cyclists.

Authority – VNF – Direction territoriale Nord – Pas de Calais – 113 avenue – Max Dormoy, Bâtiment 1, BP 56, 59004 Lille (PK 0-3.7).
Métropole Européenne de Lille – Espace Naturel et Voies d’Eau – 1 rue du Ballon,
CS 50749, 59034 Lille (PK 3.7-20)
Click to enlarge

Route description

PK 0.0     Junction with liaison Bauvin-Lys (Canal de la Deûle), bridge
PK 0.3     Bridge (Épinette), D108
PK 0.4     Lock 1, Marquette
PK 2.1     Bridge
PK 2.6     Bridge (Marcq-en-Barœul), D617
PK 3.3     Lesaffre fertiliser works and loading quay r/b
PK 3.7     Lock 2, Marcq-en-Barœul, footbridge, mooring to landing stage 200m u/s r/b
PK 4.1     Footbridge (Risban)
PK 4.3     Bridge (Risban)
PK 4.6     Marcq-en-Barœul public library (Médiathèque) gardens and moorings r/b (for 4 boats)

Informal moorings, water may be supplied on request.

PK 6.0     Bridge (Collège)
PK 6.2     Motorway bridge (A22)
PK 6.3     Overhead power lines
PK 6.5     Bridge (Château-Rouge), tramway line T
PK 7.4     Motorway bridge (D656)
PK 7.6     Junction with embranchement de Croix, access to former Port du Dragon harbour in Wasquehal

No access pending dredging and redevelopment of basin, planned in 2016. The ugly weir will eventually be removed and the former branch ‘downgraded’ to a narrow free-flowing arm of the river Marque. A whole new écoquartier is to be built here, and boats will be able to navigate a short distance up the river.

PK 7.8     Lock 3 (Trieste), bridge (Marie-Curie)
PK 8.2     Lock 4 (Plomeux), bridge (Molinel)
PK 8.5     Lock 5 (Noir Bonnet)
PK 8.9     Lock 6 (Cottigny), bridge
PK 9.2     Lock 7 (Mazure), beginning of summit level
PK 9.5     Bridge (Mazure)
PK 9.8     Skew road bridge (D656 express road)
PK 10.1     Bridge (access to expressway)
PK 10.2     Footbridge
PK 10.7     Pipeline crossing and lift bridge (Blanc-Sceau)
PK 11.1     Footbridge
PK 11.5     Bridge (Fresnoy)
PK 11.7     Junction with embranchement de Tourcoing 
PK 12.1     Bridge (Pont de la République), Roubaix centre 1500m south
PK 12.4     Railway bridge (SNCF Roubaix-Tourcoing)
PK 12.5     Swing bridge (Fontenoy)

A sediment-laden barge pushed by a small Ghent Dredging push-tug passes through the new Grimonpont lift bridge during the dredging works in the autumn of 2008. PK 12.5 © LMCU

The bridge is in middle of the ‘Union’ urban regeneration area, where the ‘Blue Days’ rally was organised in September 2009 to celebrate the canal’s restoration. At that time, pending development, the site was regularly occupied by travellers and appeared unwelcoming. Despite the completion of some industrial buildings, the Union site is still a long way from becoming the welcoming port de plaisance that it could be.

PK 12.9     Lock 8 (Union), bridge, end of summit level
PK 13.6     Two lift bridges (Couteaux) on roundabout, headroom limited to 1.50m with bridges closed
PK 13.8     Footbridge (Hutin)
PK 14.2     Modern lift bridge (Daubenton), limited headroom in closed position
PK 14.3     Lift bridge (Vigne)
PK 14.7     Lock 9 (Nouveau Monde), bridge
PK 15.0     Lock 10 (Calvaire)
PK 15.1     Lift bridge (Wattrelos)
PK 15.2     Lock 11 (Galon d’Eau), bridge
PK 15.3     Bridge (Nyckès)
PK 15.6     Footbridge (Soies)
PK 16.1     Disused railway bridge

Scene at the Union rally site during the ‘Blue Days’ event in September 2009 © LMCU

PK 16.4     Bridge (Sartel)
PK 16.5     Lock 12 (Sartel)
PK 17.2     Disused railway bridge
PK 17.6     Footbridge (Sainte-Marguerite)
PK 18.0     Bridge (D700)

PK 18.7     Lift bridge (Grimonpont), public quay, restaurant ‘La Guinguette’ r/b
PK 20.0     Border, junction with Canal de l’Espierres in Belgium (8km and 3 locks to junction with canalised river Escaut)

Embranchement de Croix

PK 0.0     Junction with main line (PK 7.6)
PK 0.1     Footbridge and pipeline crossings
PK 0.4     Railway bridge (SNCF Lille-Roubaix)
PK 0.4     Wasquehal bridge, former lock, boat moorings projected in basin u/s as part of urban regeneration scheme, town centre l/b
PK 0.6     Fixed weir (to be demolished, free-flowing landscaped stream to replace former canal)


Embranchement de Tourcoing

PK 0.0     Junction with main line (PK 11.7)
PK 0.1     Towpath bridge
PK 0.4     Entrance to short tunnel (former railway viaduct)
PK 0.5     End of tunnel (Carliers)
PK 0.9     Lift bridge (Halot)
PK 1.2     Former lift bridge (Tourcoing tramway), fixed, no through navigation, Tourcoing basin, former terminus of navigation and town centre, 400m