Being married to a canals and steam trains enthusiast I have long outgrown any slight enthusiasm for muddy banks and distant canals but Strepy-Thieu is a wonder to be experienced. Some of the technical information, below, I have had to borrow from elsewhere but the delight in the experience is all my own.
The boat lift was designed during the Canal du Centre's modernisation program in order to replace a system of two locks and four 16-metre lifts dating from 1888 to 1919. The canal itself began operations in 1879 and its locks and lifts were able to accommodate vessels of up to 300 tonnes. By the 1960s, this was no longer adequate for the new European standard of 1350 tonnes for barge traffic, and a replacement was sought.
Construction of the lift commenced in 1982 and was not completed until 2002 at an estimated cost of € 160 million (then 6.4 billion BEF), but once operational, permitted river traffic of up to the new 1350-tonne standard to pass between the waterways of the Meuse and Scheldt rivers. The lift increased river traffic from 256 kT in 2001 to 2,295 kT in 2006.
The four older lifts, now bypassed on the original line of the Canal du Centre to the south, are still in use, but are limited to recreational traffic only. Their architectural and historical value has led them to be placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
You get to go up to the top of the huge lift, see informative displays and experience the boat lift for yourself. The view from the top is pure magic, even on a rainy day such as we experienced. I say, if you are in Belgium, it's an attraction not to be missed, the cost is modest and the parking ample and free. Go for it.