Le Canal d'Entreroches, Orny. Foto/Photo: TES.

Dutch glory in the canton of Vaud

Élie Gouret (1586-1656) was a Huguenot who lived in the Republic of the Seven United Provinces.

In 1636 he submitted to the government (der Grosse Rat) of canton Bern a project to connect the Rhine via the river Aare, the lake of Biel and the lake of Neuchâtel to Lake Geneva. He wanted to achieve his goal by connecting Yverdon with Morges (canton of Vaud) and thus connecting the Rhine with the Rhone.

He also wanted to make the Rhone navigable between Geneva and Lyon by digging a side channel along the Rhone to the Mediterranean Sea. In this way, he even intended to connect the North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

The Republic, especially cities in the province of Holland, were interested in this project. These ships could avoid the dangerous sea route (storms, pirates, hostile countries).

Moreover, the Rhine flows through friendly (i.e. Protestant) regions of German principalities and Swiss areas (the cantons of Bern (including Vaud) and Basel, the sovereign city of Geneva and the (French, but Protestant) principality of Neuchâtel). The Rhone valley and the south of France were largely protestant before the lifting of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

The Société du Canal comprised 19% Dutch, 10% French, 16% Geneva and 55% Bern capital. On 10 February 1637, the Bern government authorised constructing and exploiting the Entreroches Canal (le canal d’ Entreroches).

Dutch engineers developed the project. The work began in 1638, and two years later, on 12 April 1640, the first part, between Yverdon and Orny (canton Vaud), was completed.

In 1648, the second part from Orny to Eclépens was ready, and Cossonay was reached in 1656. There remained 12.5 km to Morges, but this part of the canal was never completed, and transport to Lake Geneva took place by road.

For almost 190 years, this unfinished canal from Yverdon to Cossonay, with a length of 25 km, was successfully operated.

The ships of Dutch design were manufactured in Thun (canton of Bern) and Yverdon. The ships were pulled by horses.

Thousands of ships carrying tons of freight moved through the canal until 1829. The canal played a positive role in the economic development of Switzerland and trade with the Netherlands.

The exploitation of the canal stopped in 1829. Since then, large parts of the canal have dried up. The track can still be followed between Orny and Éclepens, and stones and foundations of locks mark the canal’s route.

(Source: documentary: Pierre-André Vuitel, La fabuleuse avonture du canal d’Entreroches, 2014; Lexicon Historique de la Suisse, Le Canal d’Entreroches (hls-dhs-dss.ch).