Between 1913 and 1932, the WELLAND CANAL, between Lakes ERIE and ONTARIO, was rebuilt, but the US was reluctant to enter a larger scheme, that is, to rebuild the Montréal-Lake Ontario channels. A threat by the Canadian government in 1951 to build a seaway entirely within Canadian territory resulted in a final agreement in 1954. Construction on the St Lawrence Seaway and Power Project began on 10 August 1954. In addition to the building of 7 locks and deepening navigation channels to a depth of 8.2 m, the project also included the construction of the 2090 megawatt Moses-Saunders Powerhouse near CORNWALL, Ont. The Seaway was opened to commercial traffic 25 April 1959 with the official opening 26 June 1959, attended by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II.
The waterway, some 3774 km long from ÎLE D'ANTICOSTI to the head of Lake Superior, permits vessels of up to 225.5 m long, 23.8 m wide and a maximum draft of 8.2 m to sail from Montréal to Duluth, Minn, on Lake Superior.
The St Lawrence Seaway Authority, a federal crown corporation, was established by Act of Parliament in 1954 to construct, operate and maintain the Canadian portion of the waterway between Montréal and Lake Ontario, including the locks in Canadian territory (5 of the 7) and also the Welland Canal. In 1998, an Act of Parliament allowed for the Canadian part of the Seaway to be operated by Seaway users and other stakeholders, as a not-for-profit corporation (St Lawrence Seaway Management Corp) under contract to the Canadian government.
The US government formed the St Lawrence Seaway Development Corp to operate the 2 locks near Massena, NY. The 4 US locks on the ST MARY'S RIVER are operated by the US Corps of Engineers.
The Seaway System
Construction of the Seaway was a monumental engineering and construction feat. The Montréal-Lake Ontario section, which is often thought of as the whole Seaway, naturally divides into 4 sectors. The Lachine section includes the 33 km South Shore Canal, with the St Lambert and Côte Ste Catherine locks bypassing the Lachine Rapids. The 2 locks provide a total lift of 13.7 m to the level of Lake St Louis. The Soulanges section, comprising the 25.7 km Beauharnois Canal, includes the 2 Beauharnois locks, which provide a total lift of 25 m to overcome the Beauharnois hydroelectric power dam. The Lake St Francis section stretches 46.7 km from the western end of the Beauharnois Canal to a point just east of Cornwall.
The fourth section, the International Rapids Section, stretches 70.8 km from Cornwall to PRESCOTT. It includes the 16 km long Wiley-Dondero Ship Canal and the 2 US-owned Snell and Eisenhower locks near Massena, NY. These 2 locks provide a lift of some 26 m to the level of Lake St Lawrence. At the west end of this lake the Iroquois lock, located at Iroquois, Ont, and adjacent to the Iroquois control dam, provides for control of the level of Lake St Lawrence relative to that of Lake Ontario. West of the Iroquois lock additional dredging was required to complete the Seaway to Lake Ontario. Together, all the locks between Lake Ontario and Montréal lift a westbound vessel about 69 m.
In addition to the primary works required to create the Seaway, ancillary works, such as major bridge and tunnel construction, were carried out in Montréal, Beauharnois, Cornwall and Massena. In addition, the creation of Lake St Lawrence resulted in the flooding of 15 400 ha and necessitated the relocation of highways 9 small communities and parts of the towns of Iroquois and Morrisburg, Ont. In all over 525 dwellings and 6500 people, 64 km of railway track and 56 km of highway were relocated and 2 new communities in Ontario, Ingleside and Long Sault, were created.
Between Lakes Ontario and Erie, the Welland Canal circumvents NIAGARA FALLS. Its 8 locks lift a westbound vessel 99.4 m over a distance of 43.5 km. Between Lakes Erie and HURON, the US deepened the DETROIT RIVER, the ST CLAIR RIVER and Lake ST CLAIR. The St Marys River Canal links Lakes Huron and Superior. Each of its 4 parallel locks, on the US side, lifts a westbound vessel the required 6.4 m to bypass the St Marys rapids. A 274 m long Canadian lock was open to commercial navigation from 1895 to 1987, when a structural fault in the lock wall forced its closure. This lock was reconstructed as a smaller lock (77 m) within the original lock structure and reopened to navigation in 1998. It is operated by Parks Canada as part of the Sault Ste Marie Canal National Historic Site, and is only open to small sightseeing and pleasure craft.
The expenditure of public funds on the Seaway was not without opposition. The construction of the Seaway was considered by the railways and East Coast ports to be unfair subsidized competition. Shippers, although in favour of the Seaway, opposed implementation of tolls. The original St Lawrence section of the Seaway cost Canada $330 million and the US $130 million. Canada paid a further $300 million to improve the Welland Canal.
Repayment of capital debt, interest and operating costs could not be covered under the original financial arrangements, and in 1977 a change in legislation converted the Canadian Seaway Authority debt to equity held by Canada but required that revenues cover all operating and maintenance costs; this change has been successful. An additional $600 million, spent by the 2 countries for hydroelectric development, has been recovered by electricity sales.
The Seaway has a major economic impact on Canada and the US. It provides economical freight rates for bulk commodities and makes an important contribution to the basic industries of both countries. The Seaway made possible the exploitation of the vast IRON ORE deposits of Québec and Labrador, and turned Canada from an importer to an exporter of iron ore.
Approximately 44 million t of cargo moves through the Seaway annually, in contrast with the annual average of about 11 million t in the 1950s. About 27% of the cargo moving through the Seaway is grain and other agricultural products; 47% is iron ore, coal and other mine products; and 26% is other bulk cargo (petroleum products and cement), general cargo or finished goods (iron and steel).
Author GORDON C. SHAW and VIKTOR KACZKOWSKI
Links to Other Sites
The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System
Features maps, data and current environmental conditions for key locations along the Seaway.
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Library and Archives Canada
The website for Library and Archives Canada. Offers searchable online collections of textual documents, photographs, audio recordings, and other digitized resources. Also includes virtual exhibits about Canadian history and culture, and research aids that assist in locating material in the physical collections.
Sault Ste Marie Canal National Historic Site of Canada
A fascinating look at the many Canadian engineering innovations built into the original canal that provided safe passage between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. From Parks Canada.
Thunder Bay Port Authority
The website for the Port of Thunder Bay, part of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway System. Provides information about port facilities and cargo.
Musée des Deux-Rives
Comprising close to 24,000 artefacts and archival photographs, the permanent collection of the Musée des Deux-Rives focuses on the social and industrial history of the Beauharnois-Salaberry region.
Lost Villages Historical Society
The website for the Lost Villages Historical Society, an organization dedicated to preserving the history of the St. Lawrence River communities that existed prior to the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project in the late 1950s.
Glossary: Ports and Shipping
A glossary of technical terms related to ports and shipping. From the website for the Saint John Port Authority.
An article about the 50th anniversary of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Click on the links in the right sidebar for an interactive map and related features. From the Canadian Geographic magazine.