Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, incorporated as a city in 1897, population 95,114 (2016 census), 92,394 (2011 census). The city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu is located on the west bank of the upper portion of the Richelieu river, some 40 km southeast of Montreal.

Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu is located on the traditional territories of the Kanyen’kehà:ka and Abenaki. The land remains unceded and is considered Indigenous territory.

Settlement and Politics

Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu originated as one of a series of forts along the Richelieu during the French regime. After the American Revolution, numerous Loyalists joined the local families. During the 19th century, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu became increasingly French Canadian and Catholic.

Politically, it was a Liberal stronghold in the 19th century. Félix-Gabriel Marchand from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu notably became premier of Québec in 1897 as head of the Liberal party.


Railways and canals were introduced early on in the region to facilitate commercial trade between Canada and the US. In 1836, the first railway line in Canada, the Champlain and Saint Lawrence Railroad, connected Saint-Jean and La Prairie. The Chambly Canal was finished in 1843. These allowed people to bypass the cumbersome rapids just below Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. However, due to railway competition and a failure to achieve industrial growth, the town declined in the latter 19th century.

A parade celebrating the 100th anniversary of the train line between Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and La Prairie

In the 20th century, several large industries (notably American multinationals) were attracted by generous incentives and the rail lines. However, since the early 1980s, a decline in secondary manufacturing has increased the region’s unemployment.

Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu Town Hall, June 1965
Armour Landy | (Fonds Armour Landry/ BAnQ Vieux-Montréal/P97,S1,D6154-6154)

A nearby military base provides some employment as most Canadian Armed Forces recruits undergo their basic training there. A military college also opened its doors in 1952. Moreover, Agriculture Canada has a horticultural research centre in the city.

Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu has experienced physical growth in recent years. Tall buildings have begun to dot an otherwise flat landscape. The original town, "Vieux Saint-Jean," is experiencing a cultural rejuvenation. Since 1984, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu hosts a hot air balloon festival every year.

Further Reading