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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 8

The Canals of Canada

by John P. Heisler

Canals, 1918-


By the end of World War I, Canada had been engaged in the construction, operation and periodic enlargement of canals for nearly 100 years and the canals and canalized waters of Canada open to navigation totalled 1,831 miles. Constructed to improve the natural means of communication offered by lakes and rivers, canals antedated the development of railway transport. However, after the 1850s climatic conditions and geographical considerations subordinated water transport to rail. Yet the canals continued to play an essential role in the development of the country, affording for the greater part of the year a comparatively low cost movement of bulk traffic and exerting a moderating influence on rail rates and charges generally. The provision of these canals, their maintenance and operation had, by 1918, cost the dominion between three and four hundred million dollars.1

At the conclusion of World War I, the following waterways formed an essential part of Canada's transportation system. First there was the through water route between Montreal, at the head of ocean navigation, and the Lakehead, on the west shore of Lake Superior. This comprised 74 miles of canal with 48 locks, and 1,155 miles of river and lake waters, or a total of 1,229 miles.2 The minimum dimensions of the locks on the route were: length 270 feet, width 45 feet, depth of water on sills 14 feet. The length of vessel to be accommodated was limited to 255 feet. At Farran's Point, in the canal of that name, the lock was 800 feet long. A similar lock was built at Iroquois on the Galops Canal, the object being to pass a full tow at one lockage. The lock at Sault Ste. Marie was 900 feet by 60 feet with 18 feet 3 inches depth of water on the sills at lowest known water level. Along this route the Lachine, Soulanges, Cornwall, Welland and Sault Ste. Marie canals were lighted throughout by electricity and electrically operated. The Farran's Point Canal was lighted by acetylene gas.3 Though the Murray, Trent, Rideau and Ottawa canals could be considered geographically as branches of the through east-west route, yet the operation of these canals served mainly a distinct local traffic.4 Two prominent waterways were isolated from the system just mentioned. The Richelieu River, flowing from Lake Champlain and joining the St. Lawrence at Sorel, was made navigable by means of the St. Ours lock and the Chambly Canal; while in the extreme east the St. Peters Canal provided communication between the Bras d'Or lakes of Cape Breton Island and the Atlantic Ocean.5


Since great difficulty was experienced in carrying on construction under war conditions, work on the Welland Ship Canal was discontinued in March 1917 and only resumed again two years later. As already noted the proposed ship canal left Lake Ontario at the mouth of Ten Mile Creek, about three miles east of Port Dalhousie, and followed an entirely new route from Lake Ontario as far as Allanburg, about half-way across the peninsula. From there it followed the old alignment to Port Robinson. Between Port Robinson and Welland a more direct route was taken than formerly, but beyond Welland to Port Colborne the old line was followed except at one place where a large bend was cut out. The old length of 26-3/4 miles would by these changes, by which objectionable bends were eliminated, be reduced to 25 miles and as the number of locks to be negotiated would be reduced materially, a great saving in the time of passage was anticipated. The difference in level between the two lakes, 325-1/2 feet, was to be overcome by only seven locks, each having a lift of 46-1/2 feet, in the new ship canal instead of 26 locks as in the old 14-foot canal.6 In the old canal, with electrical equipment, it took usually from 20 to 30 minutes to pass a vessel through a lock and the time of passage from lake to lake was from 15 to 18 hours. Under favourable conditions lockages had been effected in eight minutes but this was uncommon. The new ship canal would have locks capable of being filled in 8 minutes and lockages would be effected, it was estimated, in less than 40 minutes for large vessels. The higher speed possible in the canal reaches combined with the smaller number of locks would reduce the time of passage to something like one-half of that common on the old canal. On the new ship canal, locks 1, 2, 3 and 7 were to be simple chamber structures. Locks 4, 5 and 6 were in twin flight. The double construction had been chosen to escarpment to expedite the passage of vessels, one flight used for upbound and one for downbound traffic. In addition to the set of lift locks, a set of guard locks was located on the summit to protect lock 7 on the edge of the escarpment and a guard lock 8, 1,380 feet long between gates and the longest lock in the world, was located near Port Colborne. The need for this lock arose from the fact that the Lake Erie level was subject to considerable fluctuation due to the wind. The average lift in the guard lock would be about 3 feet. The width of the ship canal prism was to be 200 feet. A new breakwater was to be built at Port Colborne extending 2,000 feet further into the lake than the existing breakwater. Extensive harbour works were contemplated for the Lake Ontario entrance at Port Weller.

For construction purposes the canal was divided into nine sections of contracts numbered from the Lake Ontario end.7

Section 1. Extended from Port Weller a distance of nearly 3 miles inland in a southerly direction.

Section 2. Approximately 4-1/2 miles in length.

Section 3. Extended southerly from section 2 for a distance of about 2 miles.

Section 4. Extended about 2 miles from the end of section 3.

Section 5. Approximately 3-1/4 miles in length.

Section 6. Located between Port Robinson and Welland and slightly over 3-1/2 miles in length.

Section 7. Approximately 4 miles in length and extended from the town of Welland to the northerly limit of the village of Humberstone.

Section 8. Approximately 3 miles in length and extended from the north end of the village of Humberstone to the deep water in Lake Erie.

Section 9. This section was located at Port Colborne.

Throughout the decade of the 1920s work progressed steadily on the construction of the new Welland Ship Canal. When finally completed the locks were 829 feet long between the inner gates and 80 feet wide and provided a depth of 30 feet of water on the mitre sills.8 The width of the canal at bottom was 200 feet.9 There was an available depth of 25 feet throughout the canal though 17 miles of the canal were dredged to 27 feet.10 Lock 8 was placed in operation during the fall of 1929, and locks 1, 2, and 3 became operational with the opening of the 1930 navigation season.11 The twin flight locks 4, 5 and 6, together with lock 7 and the gate guarding the summit level were completed during the fail of 1930.12 The canal crossed the Niagara peninsula in an almost straight north-south line and was formally opened on 6 August 1932. Until the St. Lawrence canals were likewise enlarged, the effect of the new Welland Ship Canal was mainly to transfer the transhipment port from Port Colborne and Buffalo on Lake Erie to Prescott, which became the terminal on the Canadian shore of Lake Ontario, and Oswego on the United States side.13 Considerable landscaping was undertaken in connection with the new canal.14 There was an extensive planting of trees and shrubs for the protection and ornamentation of canal banks and lock areas. In addition, there was a greenhouse erected at Port Weller for the cultivation of plants to be used for the beautification of the lock areas.

The completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 meant an increased importance as well as new problems for the Welland Canal. It now served as a vital link enabling international shipping to pass through to the Great Lakes. However, this increased volume in shipping using the canal "necessitated 'twin-locking' of all its locks." By 1967 the volume had increased to such an extent that it became necessary to straighten certain sections of the canal. This work required the expropriation of land in order to construct a new canal around the city of Welland — an 8-mile channel east of the city which would eliminate six bridge crossings. Plans were made to construct a syphon culvert at Port Robinson to carry the river under the canal. Studies were also under way to find suitable terrain to reconstruct the entire Welland Canal by building four locks with a lift of 81 feet each. Work has been done immediately east of Thorold where certain parts of the old second and third canal lands have been converted into a scenic park area thereby "preserving some of the fine old stone locks for posterity."15


By the turn of the century the recent advancement of electrical science had given a new significance and importance to the waterpower possibilities of the St. Lawrence Waterway. Consideration was therefore given to the use of the water in the Soulanges section of the St. Lawrence River for the development and transmission of hydro-electric energy. This section of the river extends from the foot of Lake St. Thomas to the head of Lake St. Louis, a distance of 18 miles. The total fall in the section at main stage is 82.8 feet which, in the natural state of the river, was divided between the Coteau, Cedars, Split Rock and Cascades rapids. It has been previously noted that prior to 1914 the need for electrical power led to the construction of power projects on the Soulanges section. The oldest of these was the St. Timothee plant of the Canadian Light and Power Company with an installed capacity of 28,000 horsepower. This plant was brought into operation in 1911. It drew water from the abandoned Beauharnois Navigation Canal and operated under a head of about 50 feet. The Cedars Rapids plant of the Quebec Hydro-Electric Commission was the next one to be put into operation in 1914. This power house was located on the north shore of the river at the foot of the Cedars Rapids.

The largest power development in the Soulanges section was the Beauharnois Light, Heat and Power Company, owned and operated by the Quebec Hydro Electric Commission. By various Acts of Parliament this company enjoyed the right to divert from Lake St. Francis, through a power canal located on the south shore of the river, such quantities of water as the Governor in Council should from time to time determine, "up to but not exceeding all the surplus water of the flow of the said river not required for navigation or for the use of other persons holding water power rights heretofore acquired."16 Such water was returned to the river at the head of Lake St. Louis, north of the town of Beauharnois. In 1931, an Act of Parliament decided that the improvement of inland navigation by the development of a deep waterway required that the Beauharnois company's canal be made available for navigation purposes.17 Thereupon the canal was declared to be a work for the general advantage of Canada.

Construction of the Beauharnois project was commenced in 1929 and power was first developed in 1933. The power canal was 16 miles long flanked by embankments about 3,200 feet apart. The agreement with the government provided that the works "shall be located, constructed and operated by the Company in conformity with the requirement of the paramount rights and interests of navigation on the St. Lawrence River as determined by Order of the Governor in Council."18 The power house was located on the shore of Lake St. Louis, operated under an average head of about 80 feet, and had an installed turbine capacity of 184,000 horsepower. However, the demand for power increased rapidly and continued to increase. Shortages of energy were experienced in Ontario, Quebec, New York and New England. The Beauharnois power house was extended in order to provide for the installation of an additional 600,000 horsepower.19 Over the years Beauharnois has fully justified itself with its generating capacity being steadily enlarged.

To compensate for the diversion of water from the river, the Beauharnois Company dammed the river at two points. A series of dams in Coteau Rapids provided for the complete control of the levels of Lake St. Francis and dams at Ile Juillet in Cedars Rapids permit the regulation of the headwater level of the Cedars powerhouse and of the river above Cedars Rapids.20 The Beauharnois development provided both the basis for a full development of power and a power canal that could serve navigation as part of the deep waterway.


Before discussing the enlargement of the entire St. Lawrence Waterway following World War I, let us consider briefly some of the improvements made to other waterways and canals after 1918. The completed Trent Canal system was opened in 1919 and the heaviest traffic recorded on it was for the year 1922 when the total lockages numbered 15,388.21 The original scheme for the western division of this waterway, which extended from Lake Simcoe to Georgian Bay, and which included that portion of the route of the canal which lies between the navigable waters of Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching and Georgian Bay, provided for a lock and tunnels at Honey Harbour on Georgian Bay connected to Gloucester Pool via Go Home Bay and Lake.22 This scheme, however, was not carried into effect. Instead, the navigation of the western division was effected by means of a lock at Washago and Lake Couchiching; the two marine railways located at Swift Rapids and Big Chute on the Severn River which provided for the transportation of 15- to 20-ton boats of 13-1/2 foot beam and a length of 55 feet and draught of 4 feet; and the small lock at Port Severn on Georgian Bay.23

36 Plans and sections showing the dimensions of the smallest lock on each of the Canadian canal systems excluding superseded locks. (The Canals of Canada [under the jurisdiction of the Dept. of Railways and Canals], Ottawa, 1931.) (click on image for a PDF version)

37 St. Peters Canal, Nova Scotia, connecting the Bras d'or Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. (Public Archives of Canada.)

The Trent Canal system could accommodate only vessels of very limited size. This was due to the small dimensions of the old lock at Buckhorn. This lock restricted the maximum size of vessels moving from Trenton to Swift Rapids on the Severn River or passing from Peterborough to Swift Rapids to one of 6 feet draft and 127 feet in length if the beam did not exceed 21 feet. Square-built scows of 31-1/2 foot beam or less could be accommodated to a length of 110 feet only. A vessel passing from Lake Ontario to Peterborough was restricted in size to 8 feet draft and 162 feet in length if the beam did not exceed 21 feet. Square-built scows of 32-1/2 foot beam or less could be accommodated to a length of 145 feet. At Port Severn the small lock could accommodate only vessels limited to 6 feet draft and 85 feet in length, if the length of the bean did not exceed 24 feet. Square-built scows of 24-1/2 foot beams or less could be accommodated to a length of 75 feet only. At the same time the largest motor boat which could be passed over the marine railways at Swift Rapids and Big Chute on the Severn River was one of 56 feet in length, 13-1/2 foot beam, 4 foot draft and weighing not more than 15 tons.24

Of the two inland waterways between Canada and the United States, the St. Lawrence Waterway and the Richelieu-Champlain Waterway, the second offers the shortest way between Montreal and New York via the Richelieu River, Lake Champlain and Hudson River, a total distance of 452 miles.25 This waterway also connects with the Great Lakes via the Erie Canal. In 1918 the New York State Canal System, which constituted a major part of the Richelieu-Champlain Waterway to and from important centres in New York state, was improved. Whereupon Canadians became very concerned about improving their own section of the Richelieu-Champlain Waterway in order to facilitate trade along this international route. For this reason the Richelieu River was deepened to 12 feet in 1928-30 between Sorel and St. Ours and in 1930 the construction of a new lock at St. Ours was commenced on the sane dimensions as those of the New York state canal system. When finally completed in 1933 this lock was 339 feet long and 45 feet wide with a depth of 12 feet over the sills. This was the period of the great depression which hit Canada's forest industries early. Lack of adequate transportation facilities on the Richelieu tended to aggravate the economic situation for those Canadian industries requiring cheap transportation. Hence we find that the pulp and paper industries of Ontario and Quebec, the Canadian Lumbermen's Association, the textile and chemical industries, interested boards of trade and chambers of commerce in the province of Quebec, all made strong representations to the Canadian government pointing out that though Canadian-American trade had increased enormously the total tonnage carried on the Richelieu had dropped from a maximum of 750,000 tons a year to less than 100,000 tons. It was pointed out that because of the depression, low-priced materials moving in either direction could not afford to pay high rail rates. Such goods should, therefore, be allowed to move freely by water between points in the Hudson and St. Lawrence rivers and tributaries. But this was becoming more difficult because of the old fashioned facilities in the Canadian portion of the route making for a very slow transit time between New York and Three Rivers of from 14 to 16 days. Moreover, the use of the route was further restricted by the scarcity of small vessels.

These representations from business interests were favourably received by the Canadian government. In June, 1930, the Department of Railways and Canals announced that it had been authorized to spend $600,000 for the construction of a new lock at St. Ours and that this work should be finished by the autumn of 1931. This lock would be similar to the one at Whitehall, New York, and it would have 12 feet of water on the sills. It was also announced that the Department of Public Works would dredge the river to a depth of 12 feet between Sorel and Champlain Basin, and that a joint committee of engineers from the Department of Railways and Canals and the Department of Public Works were to study the cost of obtaining a navigable draught of 12 feet between Chambly Basin and Lake Champlain which would include the construction of another canal at Chambly deeper than the existing one. It was clear to government and industry that the obsolete locks at Chambly and the shallow navigable depth of the Richelieu were hindering the efforts of Canadian industry and American enterprise in connection with the development of business and shipping between the important cities and towns of the Ottawa, St. Lawrence and Richelieu rivers, Lake Champlain and the Hudson River. The Canadian government, therefore, was prepared to follow the example of the Americans in the standardizing of their portion of the Richelieu-Champlain Waterway.

The mid-1930s found the Canadian and United States governments instructing the International Joint Commission to investigate the advisability of a deeper waterway from Montreal through Lake Champlain to connect with the Hudson River. The International Joint Commission instructed the engineers designated by both governments to prepare a report to include estimates of the cost of a 27-foot ship channel (with a depth of 30 feet for all lock sills) via all proposed routes between the St. Lawrence River and the Hudson River, and also estimates for the cost of a 14-foot channel and a 12-foot channel on whatever route should be considered the most economical.

In its interim report, which appeared in 1937, the International Joint Commission declared

That it is pertinent to note that the Government of Canada may decide to deepen the Richelieu River to 12 feet throughout its length from the international boundary down to the St. Lawrence. If that should be done, it would only be necessary for the Government of the United States to carry out small dredging near Rouses Point in order to ensure a 12-foot navigation from the St. Lawrence to the Hudson by this route.26

In 1938 the Canadian government undertook the construction of a control dam and completed its construction the same year at Fryer's Island on the Richelieu River, 8 miles below St. John, in order to regulate the water levels. In the following year, 1939, protection works on the river banks, in view of the operation of this dam, were commenced between Fryer's Island and Lake Champlain. All these works and the expropriations necessitated by the dam were suspended in 1940 due to war conditions.

The year 1943 marked the centenary of the Chambly Canal. Executives of many companies interested in the improvement of the Richelieu River planned a celebration to mark the occasion and seized the opportunity to stress the importance and urgency of the immediate completion of 12-foot navigation on the Richelieu River. By this time the United States had spent millions of dollars to provide 12-foot navigation on the entire American section of the route. Canada had spent one and a half million dollars for the same purpose on the Canadian section by dredging to 12 feet the channel between Sorel and St. Ours, rebuilding the St. Ours lock for 12-foot navigation and building a control dam at Fryer's Island. Canada also did some intermittent dredging to 12 feet in different sections of the river between St. Ours and the United States boundary. Yet a 66-mile incomplete section in Canadian territory continued to hinder Canadian international trade from obtaining any benefit from the millions of dollars spent in modernizing 386 miles of canals along this waterway.27


A word must now be said about the extreme easterly St. Peters Canal in Cape Breton. Improvement works, which were begun on this canal in 1912 and which consisted in the construction of a new lock and entrance at the Atlantic end of the canal, were finally completed in November, 1917. The new lock was 300 feet long, 48 feet wide with a depth of 18 feet of water on the sills at extreme low water. It was, therefore, 100 feet longer than the old lock and the new work was a vast improvement on the old canal. St. Peter's continued to be used largely in connection with coal shipments from Sydney and in the transportation of farm produce from Prince Edward Island to the interior of Cape Breton. Between 1,800 and 2,000 vessels a year continued to make use of the canal during the open season.28


Prior to the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway the canals on the St. Lawrence, as built, controlled the size of vessel that could traverse the through route and the limiting lock in this respect was lock No. 17 situated at Cornwall. This lock had the following dimensions: length between gates 270 feet; width at bottom 43 feet 8 inches; width at coping 45 feet 3 inches; depth of water over mitre sills 14 feet. It would accommodate vessels having the ordinary perpendicular and pointed bow and rounded stern up to an over-all length of 255 feet.29

The upper entrance of the Galops Canal, the last of the St. Lawrence canals, was 113 miles above Montreal. Five miles above this point the Lower Lakes Terminals, generally referred to as the Prescott Terminals, were situated. These terminals, completed in 1930, consisted mainly of a reinforced concrete elevator of 5.5 million bushels capacity equipped with the necessary facilities for the unloading and the storing of grain received from upper lake freighters and the forwarding of such grain either by St. Lawrence canal-sized vessels or by rail as required. The wharves at the terminals would accommodate vessels drawing up to 24 feet.30

With the opening of the Welland Ship Canal in 1932, along with the successive American programs of deepening the navigation channels in the St. Marys River between Lakes Superior and Huron and in the St. Clair and Detroit rivers between Lakes Huron and Erie, as well as the opening of the large American MacArthur lock at Sault St. Marie in 1943, the existing navigation facilities provided, by the end of World War II, a 25-foot navigation throughout the Great Lakes from the Lakehead to Prescott, Ontario. The great fleet sailing the inland waters — some vessels capable of carrying 20,000- to 25,000-ton loads — provided the cheapest transportation in the world. But between Montreal and Lake Ontario the outmoded 14-foot canals with their small locks still constituted a bottleneck permitting only small vessels to pass which carried little more than 2,500 tons.31


Agitation for the enlargement of the entire St. Lawrence Waterway originated in the United States immediately following World War I. The sudden expansion of grain shipment to Europe at that time taxed all transportation routes including the St. Lawrence River with its outmoded 14-foot canals. Official investigations were, therefore, undertaken by Canada and the United States regarding this matter. Actually the St. Lawrence Waterway and international power development had been the subject of discussions and negotiations between Canada and the United States from before the turn of the century. The first co-operative action of the two governments leading toward the seaway development may be said, however, to date from 1905, at which time a Joint International Waterways Commission was established to deal with all matters pertaining to international waters between the two countries.32 In 1920 the feasibility of improving the St. Lawrence for deep-draft vessels was referred to the International Joint Commission by the two governments. The commission was asked to report on improvements necessary (1) for navigation interest alone, and (2) for the combination of a navigation and power interest "to obtain the greatest beneficial use of the waters of the river." A board of engineers was created to assist the commission by submitting plans for the development of a deep waterway together with an estimated cost thereof.

In December, 1921, the commission submitted a report recommending a treaty for a joint project from Montreal to Lake Erie to deepen the waterway, but no official action was taken to implement the recommendation.33 Three years later, in 1924, President Coolidge appointed the St. Lawrence Commission under the chairmanship of Secretary Hoover to advise the United States on the economic feasibility of the proposed deep waterway. At the same time Canada appointed the National Advisory Committee to report to the Canadian government on the project. Thereupon a Joint Board of Engineers on the St. Lawrence waterway project, consisting of three Canadians and three Americans, was appointed to review the engineering report of 1921 and to consider certain further questions submitted to it. Late in 1926, after both completing its study of the proposed deep waterway and obtaining the views of the Joint Board of Engineers, the St. Lawrence Commission made its report. This favoured the immediate improvement of the St. Lawrence for navigation and power purposes provided a suitable agreement could be made with Canada for the joint undertaking.34 The commission considered that the improvement of the St. Lawrence route for transportation would act as a relief measure for agriculture since an enlarged ship canal would reduce transportation costs to a vast agricultural area in the interior of the continent.35

38 Construction of the Welland Canal, about 1927. (Public Archives of Canada.)

But, though the interests of navigation on the St. Lawrence were considered paramount, the beneficial use of the flow of water for power generation received careful consideration. It was agreed that the improvement of the rapid sections of the river for the joint benefit of navigation and power afforded better navigation than could be secured by an improvement in the interests of navigation alone.36 On 13 April 1927, the United States Department of State transmitted the conclusions of the St. Lawrence Commission to the Canadian government which in return asked for a short postponement of further discussion.37 On 31 January 1928, the Canadian government transmitted its views on the waterway project to the Department of State. In this communication Canada made known the conditions under which it would be prepared to enter into negotiations for drafting a treaty for the development of the St. Lawrence. At the same time Canada indicated that her transportation problem differed sharply from the United States. For example, Canada's rail transportation facilities had been developed in advance of needs, her rail rates were generally lower than those in the United States which probably meant that an improved St. Lawrence navigation offered a greater reduction in transportation costs for United States shippers than for Canadian shippers; and "as the greater part of Canada's railway mileage is now owned and operated by the State, the St. Lawrence proposals, in so far as they may possibly affect the revenues of the railways, present considerations as to which Canada's point of view is necessarily somewhat different from that of the United States."38 And there for a time the matter rested.

In 1932 Canada and the United States signed the St. Lawrence Deep Waterway Treaty which provided that the governments of the two countries would construct jointly all the works — power as well as navigation — the power facilities to be turned over on completion to an appropriate agency within each country.39 Two years later this treaty was rejected by the United States Senate, in the years following 1932, engineers of the Department of Transport carefully examined the St. Lawrence River in the vicinity of Iroquois Point and designed a project for the improvement of the International Rapids Section called the "Controlled Single Stage Project." In 1938 attempts were made to negotiate a new treaty but without success.

The wartime need for power brought representatives of Canada and the United States together to re-open negotiations in January 1940. These negotiations led to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Basin Agreement of 1941, containing the same provisions as the St. Lawrence Deep Waterway Treaty of 1932, but it, too, failed to receive the ratification of the United States Congress.40 At the same time a board of engineers representing the two countries concluded that the "Controlled Single Stage Project" was in their opinion "the best from an engineering and economic point of view, bearing in mind the requirements of navigation and power and the protection of down river interests."41 Finally, after more than 11 years of uncertainty in this matter, Canada, on 4 November 1952, ended the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Basin Agreement of 1941.42

On 3 January 1944, the Canadian Temporary Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Committee and the United States St. Lawrence Advisory Committee submitted a joint report to the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada recommending that should the governments decide to proceed with the development the work ought to be undertaken in general accordance with the plan of the "Controlled Single Stage Project."43 The main features of the "Controlled Single Stage Project" as included in the Annex to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Basin Agreement of 19 March 1941, were:

1. A control dam in the vicinity of Iroquois Point.

2. A dam in the Long Sault Rapids at the end of Barnhart Island and two powerhouses, one on either side of the international boundary at the foot of Barnhart Island.

3. A side canal, with one lock on the United States mainland to carry navigation around the control dam and a side canal, with one guard and two locks, on the United States mainland south of Barnhart Island to carry navigation from above the main Long Sault Dam to the river south of Cornwall Island. All locks to provide 30-foot depth of water on the mitre sills and to be of the general dimensions of those on the Welland Ship Canal. All navigation channels to be excavated to 27 feet depth.

4. Dykes, where necessary, on the United States and Canadian sides of the international boundary to retain the pool level above the Long Sault Dam.

5. Channel enlargement from the head of Galops Island to below Lotus Island designed to give a maximum velocity to the navigation channel south of Galops Island not exceeding four feet per second at any time.

6. Channel enlargement between Lotus Island and the control dam and from above Point Three Points to below Ogden Island designed to give a maximum mean velocity in any cross-section not exceeding two and one-quarter feet per second with the flow, and at the stage, to be permitted on the first of January of any year, under regulations of out-flow and levels of Lake Ontario.

7. The necessary railroad and highway modifications on either side of the international boundary.

8. The necessary works to permit the continuance of 14-foot navigation on the Canadian side around the control dam and from the pool above the Long Sault Dam to connect with the existing Cornwall Canal.

9. The rehabilitation of the towns of Iroquois and Morrisburg, Ontario.44

Following World War II, elaborate studies in transportation economics were made in relation to the proposed St. Lawrence Seaway. The expansionist forces inherent in the project were stressed as well as how much a deep waterway permitting end-to-end traffic to develop along it would mean to the Canadian national economy and hence to the national income.45

In 1951 Canada proposed that separate agencies be authorized to construct the power works on the St. Lawrence River on the understanding that Canada would thereupon complete a 27-foot waterway from Montreal to Lake Erie. This would involve building the two canals in the International Rapids Section of the river previously planned for the United States side as well as the other canals in the Canadian sections. It would also involve deepening the Welland Canal but not the channels linking the upper lakes, which had always been a United States responsibility.46

In December an agreement was reached between the federal government of Canada and the provincial government of Ontario concerning the international power development.47 Under this agreement the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario was to undertake the development of power in the International Rapids Section along with a United States agency to be designated later. In the same month, December 1951, legislation was passed providing for the creation of a Crown company, the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority, to build and operate the Canadian canals.48 Since any development of power in the International Rapids Section required the approval of the International Joint Commission, under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, the Canadian and United States governments initiated, in an exchange of notes on 11 January 1952, the preparation of joint submissions to the commission.49 On 30 June 1952, these submissions were made to the International Joint Commission, which issued an Order of Approval on 29 October 1952.50 On the same day as the two countries made their submission they formally agreed to the new plan which set out in detail the whole Canadian undertaking. Canada made known her intention to go it alone in developing navigation facilities on the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Lake Erie and to provide for a 27-foot depth throughout the waterway.

On 15 July 1953, the United States Federal Power Commission issued a licence to the Power Authority of the State of New York to develop the United States share of the power. The licence was challenged in the United States courts but it was upheld by a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on 29 January 1954. The decision in turn was appealed to the United States Supreme Court which, on 7 June 1954, announced it would not entertain an appeal. The decision by the Supreme Court made American co-operation possible in the St. Lawrence Seaway project. Meanwhile the United States Congress enacted the Wiley-Dondero Act authorizing and directing the St. Lawrence Development Corporation to join the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority in constructing on United States territory all the navigation facilities necessary in the International Rapids Section of the river.51

The United States Supreme Court's decision of 7 June 1954 was an historic one for Canada and the United States for it erased any impediment to the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and power development. In May 1954 Congress passed and the President approved legislation creating a St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation "and ordered it to construct the two United States canals in the International Rapids Section of the St. Lawrence River as part of the Seaway system."52

Meanwhile during July and August discussions took place in Ottawa between Canadian and American representatives leading to modifications of the agreement of 30 June 1952. Canada now agreed to give up "its undertaking to build one of its canals on the International section near Cornwall and at the same time declaring its intention to proceed with the construction of a canal at Iroquois."53 In September the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority followed by the United States St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation called for the first tenders for construction of the navigation works. This construction began before the end of the 1954 season.

The following is a brief description of the navigation picture of the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes Waterway in 1954 when work commenced on the seaway:

a. From the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Montreal, a distance of about 1,000 miles, controlling navigation channels were 35 feet in depth.

b. From Montreal to a location 4 miles below Prescott, Ontario, controling navigation channels were 14 feet in depth.

c. From just below Prescott, Ontario, through Lake Ontario and the Welland Canal to Lake Erie, controlling navigation channels were 25 feet in depth.

d. From Lake Erie to the head of the lakes, a distance of 70 miles, controlling navigation channels were 25 feet deep in the downbound channel and 21 feet deep in the upbound channel.

Basically the seaway plan was designed to break the bottleneck formed by the 114-mile international section of the St. Lawrence River navigable only through a chain of outmoded 14-foot canals capable of handling ships with a maximum capacity of but 3,000 tons. The seaway would thus extend deep-sea facilities into the heart of industrial North America.54 But there was another more compelling reason for the construction of the seaway. According to Mr. Pierre Camu, president of the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority, "The major benefit of the Seaway contrary to public opinion, was not to open the Great Lakes to ocean shipping — although this was indeed an important factor — but to free the lakers for service into lower St. Lawrence River ports."55

39 Aerial view of Locks 4, 5 and 6 of the Welland Canal looking north, taken before the canal was finished in 1932. (Public Archives of Canada.)

The St. Lawrence River above Montreal divided naturally into five sections: the Thousand Islands section, the International section, the Lake St. Francis section, the Soulanges section and the Lachine section. One might also add to these a sixth section — from the Welland Canal to Lake Erie. In three of these sections major works were required. The International Rapids section was to be the location of the major works; there the hydro-power installations were undertaken jointly by the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario and the Power Authority of the State of New York. Construction here consisted of (1) a dam in the Long Sault Rapids and two power houses a short distance below the rapids, one on the Canadian side and one on the American side, each capable of developing 1,100,000 horsepower; (2) a control dam near Iroquois Point to control the level of the pool and to protect the down-river interests of Montreal; (3) side canals on the United States mainland to carry navigation around the Long Sault dam and a side canal on the Canadian side to circumnavigate the control dam at Iroquois, and (4) dykes where necessary in order to raise the average elevation along the front from Cornwall to Prescott from 220 feet above sea level to between 238 and 242 feet. The St. Lawrence Seaway Authority undertook to construct a canal and lock at Iroquois required to by-pass the control dam.56

In the Soulanges section the existing canal for the Beauharnois Quebec power development incorporated a 27-foot navigation channel along one side. Work to be done here included the construction of two locks separated by a three-quarter mile intermediate pool and three bridges.57

The Lachine section was the most costly and most complicated part of the whole seaway in Canadian territory. Here was to be built an 11-mile canal with considerable channel enlargement extending from above Caughnawaga in Lake St. Louis to the entrance of Montreal Harbour. Two locks were to be built, one at St. Lambert near Victoria Bridge and the other at Côte Ste. Catherine opposite the Lachine Rapids. Three turning basins were to be constructed, one in Montreal Harbour and two in Laprairie Basin, to permit the free movement of ships. It was held that a combined development for power and navigation was possible in the Lachine section but it was decided that for the present the plan would be for navigation only.58

In the remaining two sections, Lake St. Francis and Thousand Islands, only comparatively minor channel dredging was required. Within the Great Lakes area the Welland Canal was to be deepened to 27 feet while, in order to reach the standards laid down for the completed seaway, considerable dredging needed to be done in the St. Clair-Detroit passage into Lake Huron and in the St. Marys River to Lake Superior.59


The major part of the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway was completed by April 1959. The Welland, Cornwall, Lachine and Sault Ste. Marie canals were then transferred from the Department of Transport to the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority for operation and maintenance in accordance with Order in Council P.C. 1957-204, effective 1 April 1957. A deep-water channel now connected the Great Lakes and the sea. Whereas previously six canals and twenty-two locks were required to raise shipping to the level of Lake Ontario during the passage from Montreal, now four canals and seven large locks, two of them in the United States, sufficed to do the job. The locks in the new seaway measured 859 feet by 80 feet and had a depth of 30 feet.60 A channel dredged to a depth of 27 feet allowed ships with a draught of almost 26 feet to make the complete passage from the ocean to the Great Lakes.61 The complicated system of hydraulics worked out for the seaway allowed for the regulation of a flow of water through the canals by means of a network of dams and weirs. This system operated to prevent flooding, to maintain power and navigation levels, and to provide sufficient quantities of water for power generation, municipal water supplies and other leased water rights.62

To understand better the navigation route of the seaway it might be useful to trace briefly the passage of a ship through it. Upbound from Montreal, the ship first enters the St. Lambert Lock, at the southern end of Victoria Bridge, which lifts the ship some 15 feet from the level of Montreal Harbour to the level of Laprairie Basin in an 8-1/2-mile-long channel. Next the Côte Ste. Catherine Lock lifts the ship 30 feet from the level of Laprairie Basin to the level of Lake St. Louis. The ship bypasses the Lachine Rapids on the other side of which the channel extends 7-1/2 miles before reaching Lake St. Louis. The Lower Beauharnois Lock at the west end of Lake St. Louis allows the bypassing of the Beauharnois Power House and lifts the ship 41 feet, enabling it to pass through a short canal to the Upper Beauharnois Lock where again it is lifted 41 feet to reach the level of Lake St. Francis. Following a passage of roughly 13 miles in the Beauharnois Canal the ship enters Lake St. Francis. Continuing to move westward the ship then passes through two United States locks; the Snell Lock lifts the ship 45 feet into the Wiley-Dondero Canal (10 miles long) and the Eisenhower Lock lifts it another 33 feet into Lake St. Lawrence. At the western end of this lake is the Canadian-built Iroquois Lock to allow the ship to bypass the Iroquois Central Dam. The ship then navigates the channel through the Thousand Islands to Lake Ontario.

As of 31 December 1959, contracts awarded for construction work and for lock machinery and equipment totalled approximately $274,852,500.63 This capital expenditure was financed by loans to the Seaway Authority from the Canadian government. Interest rates charged by the Department of Finance varied, being influenced by the cost of government borrowings. The St. Lawrence Seaway Authority Act required "That there be established a tariff of tolls under which there would be recovered the expenditure by Canada for Seaway operation and maintenance, interest and amortization of capital within a 50-year period."64 During the first year of operation the volume of traffic making use of the new facilities provided by the seaway between Montreal and Lake Ontario totalled 20,590,000 tons, representing an increase of 75 per cent or 8,830,000 tons as compared with the traffic carried by the 14-foot canals during the year 1958.65 At the same time traffic on the Welland totalled 27,530,000 tons, an increase of 6,260,000 tons or 29 per cent over the 1958 season.66 In 1964, 4,998 ships carrying more than 21,402,000 tons of cargo moved upbound through the seaway and 5,038 vessels carrying 34,377,000 tons moved downbound.67 Ocean-going ships carried 19.1 per cent of the total cargoes; lakes ships carried 80.8 per cent, and other craft carried one per cent.68 There was still, however, an imbalance of loading with 38.9 per cent of the gross registered tonnage of all vessels up-bound being in ballast compared with only 12.8 per cent of the vessels down-bound.69 Of the total tonnage carried upbound in 1964, 18,111,000 tons were domestic cargo and 3,291,000 tons were foreign traffic; downbound 27,310,000 tons were domestic freight and 7,066,000 tons were foreign.70

As previously noted, the International Rapids Section of the seaway is the site of the St. Lawrence Power Project which was undertaken jointly by the Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario and the Power Authority of the State of New York. The construction of the seaway and the harnessing of the St. Lawrence for the expansion of hydro-electric power, therefore, are the concerns of different authorities both in Canada and the United States. However, the two projects, navigation and power, are integral. They were undertaken at the same time. The power pool for the electric generators provides the necessary depth of water for navigation. The power pool was formed by damming the river just above Cornwall to form the new artificial St. Lawrence Lake which is 28 miles long and has a maximum breadth of about 4 miles. This lake came into existence on 1 July 1958 when the area above the newly constructed 145-foot high Long Sault Dam and the power dam was allowed to flood.71

Stretched between Barnhart Island and the Canadian mainland and standing squarely across the international boundary is "the 3,300 foot long power dam surmounted by its 32 generating units." Sixteen of these units are in Canada and sixteen in the United States while "the 2.2 million horsepower is divided equally between the two countries."72

Thus the development of the natural Great Lakes-St. Lawrence water system into a superb water highway and source of much needed electrical power has been achieved and has become a vital integral part in the economy of both the United States and Canada.

The St. Lawrence Seaway represents a successful venture in international co-operation. The planning, designing and building of it presented challenging problems in technique, organization and management. It seems probable that in the near future an increasing pressure of population in the Great Lakes area will necessitate further Canadian-American co-operation in establishing the part of the continent as "a natural planning area."73 Such co-operation might lead to the possible integration of present and future canals, in the area of the Great Lakes basin, to form international waterways.

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