The Great Lakes, which term must be understood to apply to those belonging to the St. Lawrence system, are of such dimensions that they might well be termed inland seas. Lake Superior has a length of 420 miles, and its average breadth is 80 miles, the total area being 31,420 square miles. Lake Michigan is 345 miles in length, with an average breadth of 58 miles, and Lake Huron 400 miles with an average breadth of 70 miles. These figures relating to the three largest expansions will serve to recall the extensive area covered. by the lakes and surrounded as they are by fruitful territories, it can be readily imagined that there is an enormous and rapidly growing fleet of trading vessels carrying cargoes of grain and merchandise to and from Canadian inland ports, and between Canadian ports and inlands ports of the United States, not to speak of the through transportation from the head of Lake Superior to the St. Lawrence.
Port Arthur and Fort William, towns in close proximity to each other in Thunder Bay, are two of the most important ports on Lake Superior, and are the outlets for the volume of grain exports from the fertile areas of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, which though huge are still only at their beginning. The Canadian Northern Railway Company owns two grain elevators at Port Arthur with a capacity of between three and four million bushels each. There is another, ” King’s Elevator,” in the same town owned by a private company on the line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, with a capacity of 800,000 bushels. The Canadian Pacific Railway, also owns and operates three elevators at Fort William, all of which are of large capacity, and others there are owned by the Ogilvie Flour Mills Company (500,000 bushels), the Empire Elevator Company (1,750,000 bushels), the Consolidated Elevator Company (1,000,000 bushels), and Davidson, Smith & Company (75,000 bushels). At Keewatin, Ontario, the Lake of the Woods Milling Company have two large elevators of 750,000 and 550,000 bushels respectively, and at Kenora there is one owned by the Maple Leaf Flour Mills Company of 400,000 bushels capacity. These two latter are milling elevators as distinct from terminals. For the most part the grain collected by the 1,469 smaller or gathering elevators and warehouses in the three prairie provinces is eventually forwarded to these terminal points and is shipped eastward by the Lake route, the bulk going to Georgian Bay and Lake Huron ports, Montreal, Kingston, and Prescott, although in the crop year 1908-9, seventeen and a half million bushels went to Buffalo and other United States ports. In 1908-9 a total of 65,237,160 bushels of grain was shipped by vessel from Fort William and Port Arthur.
The number of Canadian vessels carrying grain is eighty-one, and the quantity of grain carried in them to Canadian and American ports during the crop year 1908-9 was 60,000,000 bushels. Sixty-six foreign-owned vessels were also engaged in the trade, carrying a total of nearly 19,000,000 bushels. Of these total quantities 54,695,214 bushels of grain were carried in Canadian vessels to Canadian ports.
Next in importance to Port Arthur and Fort William comes Sault Ste. Marie (commonly known as The Soo “) at the point where Lake Superior connects by means of the St. Mary’s River with Lake Huron. To over-come the obstruction to navigation caused by the river rapids and a fall of twenty-two feet in three-quarters of a mile there are two canals, one on the American side, and the other constructed through St. Mary’s Island on the north side of the rapids, which gives communication on Canadian territory between the two lakes. In the year 1909 the total movement of freight on the Canadian canal was nearly 28,000,000 tons, carried in 6,331 passages of vessels, the number of lockages being 5,046. This tonnage is more than twice that passing through the Suez Canal.
The cost of the canal was between three and four million dollars, but as will be seen by the figures given above its importance to Canadian navigation cannot be over-estimated.
Major George W. Stephens, the President of the Montreal Harbour Commissioners, is authority for the statement that the magnitude of the inland business carried to and from the Lake terminals (Port Arthur and Fort William) has created a water-borne commerce aggregating 225 billion tons per annum, carried in craft valued at 233,000,000 dollars, and costing to transport less than one-twelfth of one per cent. per ton per mile. He has further stated that to move this vast volume by rail would probably cost not less than nine times the water rate and urges that this is an unanswerable argument for the wise ‘development of the Canadian water routes and termini.
Other Canadian ports of importance on the lakes besides those already mentioned, to which grain shipments are made, and where there is elevator accommodation, are Owen Sound, Midland, Depot Harbour, Collingwood, Point Edward, Meaford, Goderich, Port Colborne, Thorold, Port Stanley, Tiffin, Toronto, Prescott and Sarnia.
With the excellent railway facilities existing in eastern Canada and in the adjacent States of the American Union, it will be readily understood that there are many connections by ferry across the lakes, and there are besides many steamship services for general freight and passenger traffic. These are too numerous to specify, but mention must be made of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company’s Lake service between Owen Sound and Sault Ste Marie, and the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation steamer service.
The Great Lakes are open for navigation from about the middle of April until about the middle of December, and their waters do not freeze in winter except at shallow points along the shores. The Dominion Department of Marine and Fisheries enters into contracts with local firms to keep open the harbours of Port Arthur, Fort William and West Fort William until December 17th in each year by ice-breakers, and to open these harbours each spring so as to admit upward bound vessels to enter as soon as the Sault Ste Marie Canal is open for navigation.
Contracts are also made to keep open the harbours at Midland, Tiffin, Parry Sound, Depot Harbour and Collingwood until the close of navigation in each year.
Tidal and current surveys, and the provision of aids to navigation in the form of lights, buoys, etc., are also undertaken by the Government in the interests of Lake shipping.