Well I promised you guys a while ago I would write some more posts about the area I’m living. Today will be me first post about the canal that is running from my village to Wemeldinge. Had a lot of fun (and work) to search for all the data about the history of this canal.
The canal through Zuid-Beveland owes its existence solely to the interests of the harbor from Antwerp. Till the 15th century the Eastern Scheldt was THE most important connection to the sea for Antwerp. The Western Scheldt took over this role later from the Eastern Scheldt, and besides this direct connection to the sea the connection with the river called the Rhine. The route to the Rhine did run through the waters called Kreekrak en Eendracht. Where nowadays the kreekrak sluices have an important role in green energy with a windmill park. With 31 mills it’s the biggest from the province. The route runs in through another water called the Hollands Diep. With the waters silting the route became more difficult to be navigated. Because of this the ships were forced to navigate with a long detour by the water called Sloe. But Napoleon came to the rescue for the harbor of Antwerp. He said that the harbor of Antwerp was THE most important harbor of the north. By damming the area of the Kreekrak and the creation of the canal through Zuid-Beveland Napoleon wanted to improve the position of Antwerp.
A new kingdom
This plan of Napoleon ran aground because of the formation of the Kingdom the Netherlands in 1815. New plans in the era afterwards were put on ice because of the battle of separation with Belgium. In the year 1839 there was an Arbitration Treaty signed by Belgium and the Netherlands. And here my country made a huge mistake… we made a promise to Belgium that we (the Netherlands) would take care of proper pass-through over the water between Belgium and the Rhine. This promise costs my country a lot of money because we need to arrange that the Western Scheldt is navigable by ships to the harbors of Antwerp. So, we can dredge the Scheldt and the canals because the ships to Belgium needs to pass through these waters. But every year the ships get bigger and bigger nowadays, so the Scheldt needs to be deeper and deeper. An invention called the train is linked by the obligations from the Arbitration Treaty. This would ultimately lead to the creation of a new canal. The canal through Zuid-Beveland.
The train and some dams
31st of July in the year 1867 the first train would arrive in Vlissingen from Bergen op Zoom. To get this done there was a certain need to dam the waters Kreekrak and the Sloe. But before this could happen eventually the Netherlands needed to take care for an alternative connection so that Belgium was still able to navigate to the Rhine.
13th of June in the year 1857 the law got signed by Willem II for the creation of the canal through Zuid-Beveland. Not only the creation was arranged by this law but also the expropriation of the necessary lands. In the year 1863 the work for the canal started. Three years later in 1866 there was a big celebration by the opening of the canal. By this opening the road got clear for the passage of trains and ships could navigate till the Rhine.
By the opening of the canal in 1866 the Western Scheldt was reachable by a sluice located at the shores of the village Hansweert and the Eastern Scheldt by a sluice at Wemeldinge. The first year 4783 ships did use the canal. After one year the Kreekrak was locked out for passage the usage of the canal explodes. So, the decision was quickly made to build a new sluice next to the old one at both sides Both new sluices were finished in the year 1872. By that year there were already 20000 ships that did use the canal passage. By 1911 this number did arise till 60000 passages. This made the canal of the busiest of Europe. The excessive growth did show there was a need for a third sluice. The third sluice was called the Eastern sluice or the grand one. The one in Hansweert was finished in the year 1916, while Wemeldinge had to wait till 1928. Both sluices had a length of 140 meters by a width of 15.75m
Liveliness and action
The canal caused a lot of change fort he villages Hansweert and Wemeldinge. Especially in Hansweert the spirit changed a lot. The sluice and the traffic from ships passing by brings a lot of employment to the village. Personnel for the sluices, customs, police, freight forwarders, ship traders (so called Parlevinker in Dutch), maintenance personnel, technicians got attracted by this. Because there was no traffic on the canal by night, there is quite some hustle and bustle in the evening around the sluices. Right next to the sluices at the east side of the canal there is a new part of the village Hansweert created, called Hansweert-east. It was in this time that Hansweert got its nickname little Antwerp. Because of all this the spirit in Hansweert changed in a freethinking community with numerous facilities. The village formed the point of departure from the ferry to Zeelandic Flanders and the horse tram. Wemeldinge didn’t have a change like Hansweert had those years, but nonetheless it had an intimate relationship with the canal. In Wemeldinge there was a school for bargee children, that got extended with an boarding school in 1967.
Everything has to come to an end
For a certain period of time the increasing passages can be dealt with by the help of a width expansion till 35m. Although Belgium has a different point of view and argued for a direct connection through Moerdijk since 1920. Political bargaining en World War II delay the taking of a decision. With the arrival of the Delta works they obtain more clarity about the Scheldt connection with the Rhine. With the agreement of building this passage as the result in 1963. De Scheldt-Rhine canal opened in 1975, and as a result the average number of passages decreased 50% in the canal through Zuid-Beveland. Long waiting queues and dangerous situations because of the high flushing rates at the Western Scheldt decrase a lot since then.
In 1976 it was decided that an open passage remains between the Eastern Scheldt and the North Sea. To prevent tidal variations they locked down the connection between the Scheldt-Rhine canal and the Eastern Scheldt by the Oysterdam. Not only does this affect the passage because the canal can only be reached via the harbor of Antwerp or the Volkerak but high ships can’t make use of this route anymore because of the fixed bridges and the lifted doors by the Kreekrak sluice. These are the main reasons there was still a certain need for the canal through Zuid-Beveland. But with a side-node the canal needed to be future proof for the modern era of shipping. They designed the canal more suitable for push towing with 4 barges, gets a direct connection with the Eastern Scheldt and the sluices by Hansweert will be replaced by modern bigger sluices. Striking about this is the choice to not replace the sluices at Wemeldinge. This created the problem that the dikes around the canal needed to be made at Delta heights. The reason behind this choice is the Arbitration Treaty singed I mentioned before. The agreement mentions that only three sluices may be passed in total. So with the Volkerak and Krammer sluices there was only space left for one.The choice was made for a sluice at Hansweert.
A huge undertaking
Works will progress in phases splitted between a north and southern part. They started with the southern part of the project. Here at this place the new sluices will be built at the east side of the current sluices. One problem… the new project needs the ground where Hansweert East is located. So the eastern part of this village will disappear under water. So, this will mean that the community working and living at the canal will end here.
The opening-ceremony for the new sluice took place at December 2nd 198. The new sluice will be 280m long and 24m in width. But at the same time the width of the canal is widened from 35 to 100m. Because of budgetary reasons they start building the northern parts in the year 1989. Even here the canal width is adapted to the new era and will be 100m wide. But they even created a new side arm for the canal at the east from Wemeldinge. In 1993 the construction works are done. They demolished the old sluice in the middle. The other two still remain nowadays. They serve as an entrance to the yacht harbour.
Nowadays there are 50000 passages of ships by the sluice in Hansweert, 80% of this is for the commercial vessels.
Along the canal through Zuid-Beveland
My oldest memories from being a child go back till the times my dad took me to the sluice to watch the ships passing by. Those where the old sluices by Hansweert. Few years later this area was a forbidden area because of quicksand formed at the former canal. So the area was of course kinda attracting young children to go out on an adventure on these grounds. My parents where always mad at me when they discovered we played there. But the area was to interesting to ignore. While I got older the quicksand disappeared and the grasses started to grow here at the former canal. The sluices always attracted me somehow, even nowadays. It is very strange to see them at the dry inland where actually water should be flowing.
The green sluices
Although the canal has abandoned the village, the former sluice still is the best point to start an adventure along the shores of the canal. It can be difficult to imagine how lively and vibrant it has been here once a long time ago. Nowadays it very quit and desolated. Nowadays we have a ANWB bike-route that is passing by the former sluice. But actually this is a unique place in the Netherlands. The old complex is now part of some sort of a park. The former smallest sluice is still there. But where the water was running once there is now grass growing above the walls of the sluice. From the middle and the western sluice only the harbor mouths are still visible. But even the former seesaw with the nickname de Krabbenkraker (crab cracker), is still there. This crab cracker they used to replace the sluice doors. I really like this area, they tried to combine history and nature together. I think they did well. You can imagine yourself pretty well (with the help of pictures here and there) how it must have been in those days long forgotten. Only now you can daydream here in complete silence.
Commercial and accessible
Where once the former outport was, there is now a grassy field with gazing sheep and horses on it. Back in those days this was the dangerous place where ships could run into trouble while entering or leaving the canal. The so called Deltadyke is taking away those breathtaking views you once had from the village looking over the Western Scheldt. Nowadays you’ll only see the mighty container ships on their way to Antwerp harbor. Although I’m used to the size of these giant ships the views stay breathtaking. They rise high above the dyke and you can see them from miles in the distance. Bigger than any church in the area.
There is also a commercial side at the canal nowadays apart from the romantic abandoned old sluice complex. It isn’t that far away from Hansweert (approx. a 1000m) in the northeast. It has two sluices next to each other. The sluice nowadays is build with functional concrete, which has its own kind of beauty. In between the sluices there is a giant building rising high above the road in between the sluices. The sluice is accessible for cyclists, hikers, but no cars here. So you can easy wander around the complex and watch the ships go in and out of the sluice. Too bad the former shipyard disappeared because some of the residents from Hansweert (external people actually, the village is quit cheap to live so many people from city’s around find a place to live here) because you had a great look from one of the sluice doors at the docks where they worked on the giant ships.
The great waters
At the outpost of the canal there is a giant building looking out over the great waters of the western Scheldt. This building is a radar tower, and it is build at one of the most prominent places in the area. No wonder they placed some benches here to look out over the Western Scheldt. The views while sitting here are breath-taking. What you see here is truly a estuary and with its dept and tidal streams a water that can’t be underestimated. The channel winds through the estuary and the canal crosses it. The ships on their way to Antwerp are passing by meters from the shore. It provides some breath-taking views while sitting here on a bench and a giant ship sailing by 10m from the coastline.
From bridges to pipelines
Extending the shores from a canal is usually not a job to underestimate. But just above Hansweert at the height of Vlake this job was extra ordinary. At this spot, the main road, highway, railway, high voltage grid and a piping system come together. When you look at this spot from a distance, you’ll only see the bridges. But the tunnel and the piping system are hidden in the ground. When they created the tunnel, they took into account that the canal could extend in the future. The piping system was a different kind of job to re-arrange that. The railway bridge and the road bridge were recreated and compared to the old situation relocated a few hundred meters north. While both of the bridges are high above the canal water, they both have a moving part, so ships with a cargo higher than the bridge itself or sailing ships can cross these bridges.
After these bridges the canal is one long straight line directing at the Postbridge in the far distance at Wemeldinge. At both sides of the canal they have a cycling path right at the shores of the canal. But the delta dikes obscure the views at the surrounding area. This is a typical view from canals in the Netherlands. The best views you’ll have at the Vlakebridge or at the Postbridge.
While standing at the Postbridge, you’ll notice what a loss it has been that the cycling path is at the bottom of the dike instead of on top of it. The most boring part of the canal is surrounded by one of the most beautiful areas from Zuid Beveland. Or maybe even Zeeland. The area I mention is called the Kapelle Moer and the Yerseke Moer (both sides of the canal have their Moer areas). It’s a more and meadow landscape with creeks where the salt and peat soil extraction created a up and downwards going landscape. The views from the Postbridge are beautiful while looking over both sides surrounding the canal. But when you look up north (following the canal) you will see that the canal makes a small bend on its way to the Eastern Scheldt. That small bending is the new part of the canal at the side of Wemeldinge. You’ll notice that here is not a new sluice but there is a radartower just like in Hansweert. At the east side of the canal you can cycle till the end of the canal. The road is blocked by a gate. But at the western counterpart you can made it for real to the outlet in the Scheldt.
At this outlet the views aren’t as breathtaking as we have seen at Hansweert but you can see the differences between the Eastern and Western Scheldt. The Eastern Schelt is a little less rough, and you will see a more recreational use of the waters here. During the summer kids wil play everywhere in the water, and at the formal sluices teenagers will jump from the bridges in the water
The usage of the landscapes did change when you compare it to the past. But the formal sluice at Wemeldinge is almost fully preserved. Although with a different kind of usage. Wemeldinge has a protected village view. Two windmills dominate the sky from the small village. Nowadays it is the complete opposite, where it is quit in Hansweert it is alive and kicking in Wemeldinge with lots of tourists. So it look likes Wemeldinge did a better job compensating the downfall of the sluice. But if this is because of the more recreational usage of the Eastern Scheldt I don’t know? But compared to Hansweert its visible that Hansweert lost the crown to Wemeldinge when it comes to liveliness.
In the following list you can find the sources I've used for my story. I even asked my parents about the stories they know.
- Cats, J., Kanaalverhaal. Kanaal door Zuid-Beveland tussen toen en straks,
- Gorp, J. van, Kanaal door Zuid-Beveland
- Stens, B.I., Architectuur en stedebouw in Zeeland
- Kok J., Knooppunt in West-Europa
- Van Geyt PRoductions, De Bevelanden van Weleer
- Bovenkamp van den, C., Uitgebeeld verleden van Hansweert en Schore
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