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Inland Navigation - Expo Liege 1939

Missing picture

Built in the axis of the main entrance and that of Bressoux, the Civil Engineering, Sea and Inland Navigation Palaces were the most prominent buildings at the Exhibition. They had a frontage of 270 metres and more than 5,000 m2 of usable surface area. They should have been, by their proportions and location, the most striking buildings. Unfortunately, this was not the case, but let us add, in all fairness, that the architects cannot be held responsible. They had presented the Architectural Advisory Commission with very well thought-out projects. It was the need to limit expenditure that prompted the authors of the project to simplify its execution. Subsequently, attempts were made to correct the excessive bareness of the facades by applying decorative motifs, but without success. Fortunately, the good architectural ensemble formed by the central tribune and its large staircases, by the flowered terraces and the upper gallery, united the three blocks somewhat. A sculpture by Puvrez, "The Goddess of Water", enhanced the façade facing the entrance to Bressoux.

The interior decoration was worthy of the importance of these palaces. Variously shaped canopies in gold, blue and white hues concealed the "Eternit" corrugated roof. The walls were decorated with high-quality frescoes by the painter Laforêt for the Inland Navigation Palace, by Mr. Van der Borght and Miss Jasinski for the Civil Engineering Palace, and by Gérardy for the Sea Palace, reminding us of the exhibition's purpose. The interior was very attractive.


It is understandable that the Administration des Ponts et Chaussées and the other public administrations dealing with navigation issues were largely represented there. Let us first mention the Office de la Navigation in Liège, which had put together a very important display, including a model and a diorama showing the effects of irrigating the arid lands of the Campine with canal water. A second stand highlighted the dangers to which the dykes are exposed, in particular by burrowing organisms such as the muskrat or the Chinese crab, whose wanderings in Europe are particularly curious.

Two other stands detailed numerous statistics concerning the waterways operated by this office and, in a neighbouring stand, there was a model of the electric equipment with hydraulic transmission of the Blue Stone locks in Lommel. Finally, a last compartment contained a model of a gate boat for rapid repairs at the locks of the Kempen canals.

The numerous departments of the Belgian Road Administration, which made a significant contribution to the Belgian participation, occupied the majority of the side stands. The three compartments of the Special Service of the Meuse highlighted, by means of maps and equipment, the importance of navigation on this canalized river and the recent progress made in terms of signalling, lighting of structures, recording of water levels, telephone links, flood forecasting and warning. Maps and statistical diagrams also formed the main part of the stands of the Special Services of the Coast, the Scheldt River Basin, the Maritime Scheldt and its Tidal Tributaries, the Borinage and the Sambre. The plates exhibited by the study service of the Antwerp Maritime Services summarised the tidal regime of the Scheldt and its tributaries. At the stands of the Special Service of the Coal Canals, attention was drawn to the plan of the telephone connections and the signalling of the Godarville tunnel, as well as to a device that warns and records the variations in the level of a reach, showing the importance of the waves caused by the locks.

This remarkable participation by the Administration highlighted, in a striking manner, its praiseworthy efforts over the last few years to improve the operating conditions of our waterways, both by improving the equipment of the old waterways (canalized Meuse, Sambre, Campine canals, Charleroi-Brussels canal) and by building new links. The visitor was left with the justified and comforting impression that our network is currently the object of attentive care and efficiently kept up to date with technical progress and traffic needs, to the great benefit of the national economy.

The interest shown in the waterways is not only manifested by the activity of the Administration des Ponts et Chaussées: local authorities, regional economic groups and even private initiative are acting in the same way.

However, both because of the general interests involved and because of the importance of the funds required for the establishment of new roads or for the improvement, maintenance and operation of existing ones, all these efforts ultimately tend to provoke considerable financial intervention by the State. This is a stumbling block that can only be overcome by time. It may be considered a satisfactory sign of vitality that future projects, some of which are hypothetical, supplement the statistical relations of the past and the picture of the present state of the waterways and their activity. This gives hope for further considerable progress and opens up vast perspectives for the work of engineers.

If the Bruges and Brussels Canal and Maritime Installations Societies could report on the results of their constantly improving installations, the Hainaut Canal Society is at the stage of active propaganda, which its stand illustrated in a striking manner, with a view to the creation of a large waterway intended to serve the industrial basins of Charleroi and the Centre. The new canal should make up for the inadequacy of the Charleroi canal, at least from Clabecq to the Sambre. On the other hand, the plan for a Visé-Aachen canal linking the Meuse to the Rhine without passing through Dutch territory was an anticipation of complicated problems that had been discussed for a long time.

The central part of the Palais de la Navigation Intérieure was occupied by a large number of stands dealing with the most diverse elements of inland navigation. Many of these related to river ports and have been described in the previous chapter. Others, also in number, were built by the construction and repair yards of inland waterway vessels: this will be discussed in connection with class 19. Transport, shipping and chartering companies showed, in a suggestive way, the size of their fleet, reduced specimens of their vessels and the traffic carried by their firm. Freight tables illustrated the commercial factor. Towing and salvage companies exhibited fine models of tugs, crane pontoons and bigues, as well as diving suits. The traction of boats by tracked vehicles, practised on certain Belgian routes, was represented.

Accessories for navigation: ropes, cables, chains, anchors, motor pumps, generators, lanterns and lights, buoys, waterproof fabrics and special clothing, equipment and 'special' parts, belonging to class 19 (shipbuilding) as well as to class 17, filled numerous stands, highlighting the value of national products. Several electrical equipment factories exhibited their applications relating to the equipment of ships and waterways (telephone, signalling, lighting, control and recording, electro-mechanical manoeuvring of structures, etc.) and thus proved how indispensable the resources of electrical technology are today for navigation. A large specialist mechanical engineering workshop had a stand dedicated to handling equipment for shipping. Even the exploitation of dredged material from certain waterways, such as the Meuse, was represented.

The legal and social aspects of inland navigation were highlighted by graphics by Professor Van Criekinge on inland waterway insurance and mortgages, and by the professional training of boatmen. The historical point of view was not neglected, as two large panels contained charts relating to inland navigation in past centuries. Finally, the scientific study of inland navigation was summarised in panels showing Professor E. Bogaert's experiments on the resistance of various types of boats to the advance of water.

The whole of the Palais de la Navigation Intérieure was completed, from the point of view of class 17, by the pavilions of the cities of Antwerp and Ghent and by certain objects exhibited in the Palais des Industries Lourdes, in particular the diesel engines so widespread today for the propulsion of self-propelled boats and whose Belgian types can support all comparisons.

It will be seen from this presentation that class 17 had the importance and completeness in the Belgian participation that the aim and purpose of the Exhibition required. As with classes 4 and 5, coordination and grouping produced the best results and showed that this formula deserves to be extended to similar exhibitions.

Finally, let us mention the happy decoration of the Palais de la Navigation Intérieure. The back wall, above the southern entrance, was decorated with a gigantic map of the waterways of Western and Central Europe. It showed all the existing waterways, those in the process of being built and others that are planned in the near future. This superb composition, enhanced by light points, revealed to the visitor the importance of the network of waterways enclosing the continent in a vast spider's web, from the eastern Baltic to the Pas-de-Calais and from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. The two long longitudinal walls developed in a picturesque armorial theory the course of the regions and localities of the great Rhine route (Germany-Netherlands) and the French waterways leading to the Albert Canal.

© General Report - International Water Technology Exhibition - Liège 1939