Canada – Canal Systems

In the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, Canada possesses apart from other navigable rivers, a magnificent system of waterways which have been rendered more valuable as a means of communication and transportation by an elaborate system of canals. The importance of establishing such a canal system can be readily seen from the fact that through water navigation with a minimum depth of fourteen feet is possible from the Atlantic Ocean to Port Arthur and Fort William on the western shores of Lake Superior, as well as to Duluth and Chicago. The distance from the Straits of Belle Isle to the two first named places is 2,233 statute miles, to Duluth 2,357, and to Chicago 2,289 miles.

The Lachine Canal, which was opened in 1825, overcame the obstruction caused by the Lachine Rapids, and thereby established a commercial route between Montreal and the Great Lakes, but it was seen from the first that an improved channel was required in the St. Lawrence to enable large vessels to use this important natural route with safety. The work of deepening the channel, first undertaken by local authorities, is now being continued by the Dominion Government. The channel was gradually improved between 1850 and 1888 when the government stepped in and decided to complete the work as a national undertaking, at the same time assuming a debt of some 3,000,000 dollars.

The depth of the channel at that time was 27 feet at ordinary low water from Montreal to Cap a la Roche, and from that point to Quebec the tide was available. There is now a thirty-feet channel at extreme low water from the two first named, and to Quebec by taking advantage of the tide.

The total cost of dredging of the ship channel from 1851 to 1909 including plant, ships, survey, etc., was 10,709,993 dollars.

By the work of deepening the channel of the St. Lawrence the port of Montreal has been opened to ocean navigation, and the various rapids obstructing the channel above Montreal have been overcome by means of the St. Lawrence canals.

The through route from Montreal to Port Arthur and Fort William embraces 73 miles of canal with 48 locks and 1,167 miles of lake and river making a total of 1,240 miles.

The Welland Canal, which overcomes the difficulty of navigation at Niagara Falls, and gives access from the St. Lawrence system by way of Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, was begun in 1824 and completed in 1842. It was enlarged in 1841 owing to the increased size of the vessels passing through, but this enlargement was succeeded by another in 1859. The length of the main line of the canal from Port Dalhousie on Lake Ontario to Port Colborne on Lake Erie is nearly twenty-seven miles, and the number of locks twenty-six. For a distance of over eleven miles from Port Dalhousie two distinct lines of canals are in operation, the old and the enlarged or new line. The rest of the distance (fifteen miles) consists of the old canal which was enlarged.

During the year ended March 31st, 1901, over 2,000,000 tons of freight passed through, of which 921,866 tons were agricultural products.

Deep water navigation exists from the Welland Canal through Lake Erie, the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, Lake Huron and the Sault Ste Marie River to the Sault Ste Marie Canal which was constructed through St. Mary’s Island, and with the river of the same name, affords a connection between Lakes Huron and Superior on Canadian territory. The total cost of building the Canadian canal (there is another at the same point passing through United States territory) was 4,216,529 dollars. It is operated by electricity, which permits of great facility in handling traffic.

During the year ended March 31st, 1909, the number of vessels passed through was 19,204, the registered tonnage of these being 46,751,717, the total freight tonnage was 57,895,149, and the estimated value of the freight was 626,104,173 dollars, and the number of passengers passing through was just on 60,000.

In addition to the St. Lawrence Canal system dealt with above, there are other canal routes, namely, those from Ottawa to Lake Champlain, the Rideau Canal from Ottawa to Kingston, the Trent Canal (not yet completed) from Trenton on Lake Ontario to Lake Huron, and St. Peter’s Canal connecting St. Peter’s Bay on the south of Cape Breton to the Bras d’Or lakes.

Of these minor systems the first named commences at Sorel, forty six miles below Montreal, at the point where the Richelieu joins the St. Lawrence, and extends along the Richelieu River until it reaches Lake Champlain, the distance from Sorel to the International Boundary being eighty-one miles.

The Rideau Canal extends from Ottawa to Kingston at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, the length of navigation being just over 126 miles. A branch of this canal affords communication between Beveridge’s Bay on Lake Rideau to the town of Perth.

The ” Trent Canal ” is a term applied to a connected water way consisting largely of a chain of lakes and rivers which will in time afford through communication between Lake Ontario and Lake Huron, but is at present only used locally in sections. It commences at the mouth of the River Trent on the Bay of Quinte.

St. Peter’s Canal in Cape Breton Island is about 2,400 feet in length, and connects St. Peter’s Bay on the south of Cape Breton, thus giving access from the Atlantic to the Bras d’Or lakes in the interior of the island.

There is a project to establish a system of navigation between Georgian Bay, a branch of Lake Huron, and the St. Lawrence at Montreal, which is at present known as the Georgian Bay Ship Canal scheme. The object is, by taking advantage of the natural channels which can be made to form 80 per cent. of the distance, to open up a route for navigation 440 miles in length, and thus effect a saving of 282 miles between Port Arthur and Fort William and the west coast of Lake Superior, as compared with the present St. Lawrence route, and 424 miles as compared with the route via Buffalo to New York.

The cost of the project is estimated at from ninety three to ninety nine million dollars, according to the route which may be adopted.

To the Dominion of Canada the Georgian Bay Canal is a work of as extreme importance as the building of the Suez Canal was to the commerce of Europe, or as the Panama Canal is to the United States. There are very evident signs that the deep waterway from the St. Lawrence to the great Lakes has now emerged from the realms of romance, or mere theory, and is one of those great public works of Canada which the people and the Government have made up their minds to construct. The problem before the country is not whether the Georgian Bay Canal should be built ; but whether the present is an opportune moment for the commencement of a work of such magnitude and cost.

The charter for the construction of a waterway from the St. Lawrence to Lake Huron was granted in 1894 by the Dominion Parliament to a Canadian Corporation. The original project was one for a twelve feet barge canal, entering the Ottawa River above Montreal, through the Lachine Canal, traversing to Ottawa and the Mattawa Rivers, passing through three small lakes to the east of the little town of North Bay, where the Canadian Pacific and the Grand Trunk Railways converge, and passing thence across Lake Nipissing down the French River into Georgian Bay. The idea of a barge canal was soon abandoned. The sentiment of Canada was manifestly against so modest, and as many alleged so useless a project. Already there was a shallow waterway to the great Lakes from the St. Lawrence through the Welland Canal. The Canal Company consequently revised its scheme completely, employing as their chief engineer the late Mr. Wisner, of Chicago, who stood in his day at the head of the hydraulic engineers of America.

The Company’s plans now provide for a canal 460 miles long, of which only thirty-two miles will be new canal cuts. There will be thirty locks, each 800 feet long. The depth of the waterway will be twenty-four feet. At the summit level the Company’s designs provide for cutting through the summit at an additional cost of 10,000,000 dollars, so as to use the inexhaustible waters of Lake Nipissing as the reservoir for feeding the canal. The estimated cost of the canal according to the Company’s plans is 150,000,000 dollars. They have under their amended charter power to issue 100,000,000 dollar bonds and 50,000,000 dollars stock. They also have statutory power to erect electric power stations, construct all necessary dams and sell current. It is estimated that at the different falls upon the route at least one million horse power of current will be available for the new industries which will be created and the new towns served.

The Canadian Government in 1905 began with the authority of Parliament a survey of the Canal scheme upon which a sum of nearly £200,000 has been expended. The final report of the Government engineers was presented in January, 1909, and is a work of great detail and importance. Indeed it may be safely said that no government has ever had more exact plans and data concerning any public work than the Canadian Government possesses concerning the Canal. The route recommended by the government engineers is practically the same excepting at the Georgian Bay entrance as that adopted by the Company’s engineers. Both designs provide for the use of the Back River on the north side of Montreal Island.

One of the most important points which the Government will have to decide, and concerning which the Minister of Public Works recently stated at St. John, no decision has yet been arrived at, is whether this great enterprise is to be a Government work constructed like the Transcontinental Railway by the Government : or whether the Canal is to remain a public company working under the statutory limitations imposed by the Charter. It is quite evident that if this work is constructed the Government will be called upon to render substantial financial aid.

The Company have submitted to the Government a scheme which they contend combines all the advantages of private construction and ownership with those of Government control. They offer to accept Government representation on the Board ; to appoint as joint engineer one of the Government staff ; to submit all tolls and charges for Government approval ; and to share the profits of the undertaking equally with the Government after providing a moderate interest on the bonds. They are also prepared to furnish guarantees that the works will be completed within eight or ten years ; within the estimated amounts ; and that the entire capital needed for the work will be provided year by year.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier needs no urging upon the Georgian Bay Canal. Speaking in the Dominion Parliament in February, 1910, the Prime Minister said : ” If I were to tell you my own thought I would say that the financial condition of this country would warrant the commencement of the building of the Georgian Bay Canal this very year. But we must above all things be careful of our credit, and it would be prudent to complete the immense undertaking that we have now under way before starting out on this other giant work. But I hope the day is not far distant when we will begin. I will make a little confession. I would like to have my name and the name of the Laurier Government connected with this enterprise. You know I am getting to be an old man. I have not many years to live and I want to make the best possible use of them.”

Briefly stated, the commercial advantages claimed for the Canal are first a saving of 906 miles in the distance between Fort William and Liverpool via Montreal over the American route via Buffalo and New York. Secondly, a saving of at least 1j days in time from the head of the great Lakes to an ocean port with a reduction of 50 per cent. in the present grain rates. The whole of the Ottawa valley would be converted into an active industrial centre for the development of the immense mineral and natural resources of North Ontario. The Canal would supply the cheapest form of transit and the most economical form of power. The Canal would bring in coal, lumber and the heavy raw materials of trade, the railways would carry away the finished products which will bear a higher rate. It is perhaps for this reason that the Canal has the support of the far-sighted president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Sir Thomas Shaughnessy.

The Canal will turn the Lake cities into Ocean ports. The day when an Ocean Liner from Liverpool steams up the Ottawa River to Chicago that day will usher in a new era for Canadian commerce. Ottawa, as well as Montreal and Quebec, will become an Ocean port, and the Ottawa valley will become one of the busiest and richest districts of the world.