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Grande-Terre - 8 262 Hab.

Petit-Canal:  Land of Excitement

During the 17th century, the area of northwestern Grande Terre now known as Petit-Canal was named Mancenillier (“Manchineel”), after a tree, whose fruit and sap are poisonous, that grew abundantly here. In 1730, it was re-named Canal—modified to Petit-Canal in 1750—for the canal dug by local residents around which the settlement developed in the 18th century. The history of Petit-Canal is a painful one, for this commune, a 19th-century sugar-growing hub, was also a slave market. The settlement of Petit-Canal was established at the base of a hill at the terminus of a 300-meter channel connecting it to the sea. This channel, or “small canal,” was used by rowboats to ferry full loads of human cargo from slave ships anchored offshore. Once on land, the slaves were taken to the town square, where there is said to have been a slave market. 
As was the case throughout northern Grande Terre, the sugar industry developed rapidly in Petit-Canal. Many vestiges remain:  windmills, railroad tracks, factory remnants, and the Beautiran landing stage all testify to the scope of this industrial activity in the commune, which once was home to 47 sugar plants. One of the island’s first centralized refineries—the Duval plant—was built here in 1844 at the start of the Industrial Revolution. At that time, the colonists were fighting competition from beet sugar, which would come to dominate the world market, and other sugar-producing colonies. They realized that the plantation era was coming to an end, and were looking for ways to increase productivity so that they could sell their product more cheaply to Europe. At the urging of engineer Gabriel Daubrée, dispatched to Guadeloupe by the French government, radical changes were made in the way sugar was produced:  the plantations abandoned their mills and sold their cane to centralized refineries instead, thereby increasing productivity. After the destruction of many mills by the earthquake of February 8, 1843, even the most reluctant colonists hastened to adopt this radical new practice.
The abolition period was marked by major uprisings, but also by the erection of two monuments. The first, across from the church (now missing its cross), commemorates the definitive abolition of slavery in 1848. It bears a marble plaque engraved with a single word:  “Liberté.” The second, known as the “Marches des Esclaves (“Slave Steps”) consists of a monumental stairway of 54 dressed stone steps. According to local lore, construction was begun on the steps as soon as the slaves were freed. The “Monument de la Flamme Eternelle à l'Esclave Inconnu” (“Monument of the Eternal Flame to the Unknown Slave”) is more recent. As the lower part of the town became less sanitary, the center of activity was relocated to the upper part of town, which was developing rapidly. The newer part of town was reached via these famous steps overlooking the church. From the late 19th century to the early 20th, the large sugar operations of Cluny and Duval were absorbed by that of Beauport, which was located in Port-Louis, the neighboring commune. When the sugar recession hit, the region’s refineries and distilleries began to gradually disappear.
Petit-Canal continues to rely on agriculture—sugar cane is still grown here—and its cattle-raising sector to drive its economy. To these it is also adding tourism. In addition to a number of buildings designed by Ali Tur (Saint-Philippe and Saint-Jacques Church, the Town Hall, Sainte-Geneviève primary school), the commune possesses significant attractions worthy of inclusion on any cultural tour of the island, among them:  the Slave Steps, the ruins of the Duval refinery, and a small fishing port said to have been the landing stage for co-commander Jean Ignace and his troops in their May 1802 armed struggle against the re-imposition of slavery. The commune adopted a robust environmental policy some time ago, establishing structures to raise awareness of the need for environmental protections and the preservation of natural sites. The Parc Paysager (“Nature Park”) and the Maison de l'Environnement (“Environment House”), located in the heart of town, offer various ways to explore Petit-Canal’s natural heritage, including excursions (tours of the mangrove swamp and natural and historical sites such as Beautiran, Macou Islet, Pointe Sable Beach, and more). Forest management efforts (at Deville Mahogany Forest for example) also bode well for ecotourism.
The commune is proud of its home-grown celebrities, including the poet Jeanne De Kermadec; Doctor of Letters and Professor of History and Geography Raymond Boutin; writer, poet, and novelist Georges Cocks; philosopher Jacky Dahomay; and the famous cycling brothers, Gibrien and Alain Pauline.

Tour of Petit-Canal

Petit-Canal covers an area of 72 km² crossing the northern section of Grande Terre east to west from the Atlantic to the Caribbean Sea. National Highway N6 leads directly to the town of Petit-Canal. Reminders of the commune’s slave-port past include the Monument of the Eternal Flame to the Unknown Slave, a former prison, and the monumental, 54-step, dressed stone stairway leading to Saint-Philippe and Saint-Jacques Church. From the church promontory there is a breathtaking view of the picturesque fishing port and Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin bay. Tours are available from the bay to nearby islets and the mangrove swamps (thickets of primarily woody plants that develop in tropical coastal wetlands that are flooded at high tide). Stop in town to view several examples of the architecture of Ali Tur, who was dispatched by the French government to Guadeloupe following the hurricane of 1928.  Explore Guadeloupe’s cultural heritage through current exhibitions at the Musée de la Vie d’Antan (“Museum of Days Gone By”). The town also features a number of shady squares, public spaces, and well-preserved traditional houses. Don’t miss the Parc Paysager (“Nature Park”), which contains over 300 species showcasing the flora of Grande-Terre for visitors’ educational and cultural edification.
Rising in the midst of cane fields stretching as far as the eye can see, a few windmills may be seen:  Dévarieux and Girard, on Departmental Highway D123; and Lubeth, on Departmental Highway D121. The old railroad tracks once used to transport cane, along with the ruins of old refineries, bear witness to the commune’s sugar cane past. Take Route de Port-Louis to visit the former shipping port of the Beauport sugar refinery in Beautiran and the Godet windmill. In 1862, the Godet plantation, a property now owned by INRA (the French agricultural research institute), adjoined the Clugny refinery, whose steam mill produced 800 metric tons of sugar per year. The refinery was connected by rail to the Beautiran shipping port, of which a few remnants may still be seen. Just beyond this stands the Gaschet Hindu Temple, adjacent to the Ravine of the same name.
Agriculture is the driving force of Petit-Canal’s economy, with farmlands taking up 90% of the commune. In the center of the commune, the area of Les Mangles (which straddles National Highway N8) is also showing economic promise. The commune hopes to take advantage of the well- structured farming and cattle raising activity here to develop a transitional agricultural hub. Note the small chapel and the church of Christ Roi (“Christ the King”). Travel toward Gros Cap to visit the extensive Duval site (factory ruins, memorial, and international Ka center). The eastern part of the commune is home to the boroughs of Gros Cap and Sainte-Geneviève. In the Grand-Maison sector, a huge wind park has been installed. The coast features several small coves. Overlooking Savane Brûlée cove, Sainte-Anne Chapel stands as pilgrimage site. The road continues to magnificent Anse Maurice beach, which is very popular with families for weekend outings. In the southern part of the commune, a thirty-hectare mahogany forest has been planted (lovely hikes). Chemin Bleu tourist maps of Guadeloupe and city street maps are available at the Office of Tourism.

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