Montague library series to showcase Canal District’s past, present

  • A woman and child walk along Migratory Way and the power canal in Turners Falls. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/8/2022 5:03:35 PM
Modified: 9/8/2022 4:59:49 PM

MONTAGUE — While the town’s master planning efforts seek to shape the future of the Canal District, Montague Public Libraries has organized a series of events to examine its past and present.

The series, held in partnership with the town, the Great Falls Discovery Center, RiverCulture and local historians, will consist of seven installments over the course of roughly one month. Each event, ranging from canalside tours to presentations on the area’s history, is geared toward educating residents about one of their town’s signature landmarks.

Library Director Caitlin Kelley, who moved to Montague after she was hired last fall, said she came to town knowing very little about the community’s history.

“I walk in the same spot (along the canal) pretty much every week and realized I don’t really know any of the history,” Kelley explained. “So, I thought that if I don’t know about the history, odds are that a lot of people don’t know about the history.”

To her fascination, she said, her inference was confirmed. She found that even many longtime residents she would speak with knew very little about the canal’s past. With this in mind, she approached town officials and relevant historians with hopes of addressing this knowledge gap.

Town Planner Walter Ramsey said that Kelley initiating such a dialogue “worked out serendipitously” with the timing of this year’s ongoing Canal District master planning workshop series. Kelley said other people she approached for help expressed similar enthusiasm and worked to bring the concept to fruition. According to RiverCulture Director Suzanne LoManto, who also serves as a Historical Commission member and assistant town planner, the “calendar came together almost instantly.”

“That’s because people in Montague always care about history,” LoManto said.

The series kicks off on Sept. 22 with the “Canal Draw-Down History Stroll” from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Beginning at the Great Falls Discovery Center at 2 Avenue A, attendees are invited to view the annual draining of the Turners Falls canal, take a stroll along the Canalside Rail Trail and absorb some local history.

The next event is Turners Falls’ chapter of the annual Connecticut River Conservancy Source to Sea Cleanup, which will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Sept. 24. More information and a portal to register can be found at

Sept. 24 also marks the launch of the Peskeomskut Audio Tour, which received a $20,000 Mass Humanities grant in January. Beginning on the Canalside Rail Trail in Unity Park and continuing through the Canal District, tourists will initially be able to immerse themselves in eight stories via the “STQRY” app, with hope that the number of stories will grow over time.

When applying for the grant last July, Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz wrote to Mass Humanities that the project will specifically include “Indigenous perspectives and fact-based archeological evidence.” It will also include “narratives ranging from ancient maritime fishing traditions to the impact of the lumber industry in the development of Montague,” according to LoManto.

The next installment in the series, to be held Oct. 1, Oct. 2 and Oct. 9 at the Great Falls Discovery Center’s Canalside Rail Trail entrance, is a “Canal Investigation Station.” Here, locals can come to a Department of Conservation and Recreation station to visit with staff and walk away with a better sense of place and who came before them.

A presentation, titled “Indigenous Lifeways, Loss and Renewals at the Falls” will be held in the Great Falls Discovery Center’s Great Hall on Oct. 6 from 6 to 7 p.m. This presentation provides information on local Indigenous history, the recovery of Native American place names and recent efforts to heal from the 1676 Great Falls Massacre. Recent research and archaeology associated with the National Park Service Battlefield Study will also be reviewed.

The third and final community workshop for the Canal District Master Plan will be held in the Great Falls Discovery Center’s Great Hall from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 27. Ramsey said residents “can come to this one and learn everything that they need to know,” arguing that the workshop series, in tandem with Kelley’s emphasis on the district’s history, is vital background when considering the town’s next steps.

“It’s important to consider your historical context when coming up with the plan for the future,” Ramsey said.

The final event, a multimedia presentation titled “The Genesis of the Turners Falls Community,” will be held on Oct. 29 in the Great Falls Discovery Center’s Great Hall. Ed Gregory and Chris Clawson of the Montague Historical Society will present a pictorial exhibit, as well as a new documentary detailing the post-colonial creation of Turners Falls. Attendees will also learn how power drawn from the Connecticut River impacted the Industrial Revolution.

Kelley is optimistic that the canal series will draw considerable interest from a community that harbors “a feeling of responsibility to be civically engaged.” As Turners Falls approaches the next major phase of the Canal District’s development, Kelley argued that investing in learning such history can provide a scaffolding for public engagement.

“I think it’s interesting to learn the industrial history, but what I hope to do with this series is to create a more holistic knowledge that includes the local wildlife … and Indigenous history,” Kelley explained. “When you have that holistic view, you might have a better sense of what approaches might need to be taken in the future.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or


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