St. lawrence seaway

St. Lawrence Seaway
Logo of the St. Lawrence Seaway
Construction began 1954
Date of first use April 25th
Date completed 1959
Maximum boat length 740 ft 0 in (225.6 m)
Maximum boat beam 78 ft 0 in (23.8 m)
End point Atlantic Ocean
Locks 14
Length 2,500 miles (4,000 km)
Maximum height above sea level 2,000 ft (610 m)
Status Open

The Saint Lawrence Seaway (French: la Voie Maritime du Saint-Laurent), is the common name for a system of locks, canals and channels that permits ocean-going vessels to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, as far inland as the western end of Lake Superior. The Seaway is named for the Saint Lawrence River, which flows from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean. Legally, the Seaway extends from Montreal, Quebec, to Lake Erie, and includes the Welland Canal. This section downstream of the Seaway is not a continuous canal, but rather it consists of several stretches of navigable channels within the river, a number of locks, as well as canals along the banks of the St. Lawrence River to bypass several rapids and dams along the way. A number of the locks are managed by the Canadian Saint Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation and others are managed by the American Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.


The Saint Lawrence Seaway was preceded by a number of other canals. In 1871, locks on the Saint Lawrence allowed transit of vessels 186 ft (57 m) long, 44 ft 6 in (13.56 m) wide, and 9 ft (2.7 m) deep. The Welland Canal at that time allowed transit of vessels 142 ft (43 m) long, 26 ft (7.9 m) wide, and 10 ft (3.0 m) deep, but was generally too small to allow passage of larger ocean-going ships.

The first proposals for a binational comprehensive deep waterway along the St. Lawrence came in the 1890s. In the following decades the idea of a power project became inseparable from the seaway - in fact, the various governments involved believed that the deeper water created by the hydro project were necessary to make the seaway channels feasible. American proposals for development up to and including the First World War met with little interest from the Canadian federal government. But the two national governments submitted St. Lawrence plans, and the Wooten-Bowden Report and the International Joint Commission both recommended the project in the early 1920s. Although the Liberal Mackenzie King was reluctant to proceed, in part because of opposition to the project in Quebec, in 1932 the two countries signed a treaty. This failed to receive the assent of Congress. Subsequent attempts to forge an agreement in the 1930s came to naught as the Ontario government of Mitchell Hepburn, along with Quebec, got in the way. By 1941, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister King made an executive agreement to build the joint hydro and navigation works, but this too failed to receive the assent of Congress. Proposals for the seaway were met with resistance from railway and port lobbyists in the United States.

In the post-1945 years, proposals to introduce tolls still could not induce the U.S. Congress to approve the project. Growing impatient, and with Ontario desperate for hydro-electricity, Canada began to consider "going it alone." This seized the imagination of Canadians, engendering a groundswell of St. Lawrence nationalism. Fueled by this support, the government of Louis St. Laurent decided over the course of 1951 and 1952 to construct the waterway alone, combined with the Moses-Saunders Power Dam (which would prove to be the joint responsibility of Ontario and New York: as a power dam would change the water levels, it required bilateral cooperation). Congress in early 1954 approved an American seaway role via the Wiley-Dondero Act.

In the United States, Dr. N.R. Danelian (who was the Director of the 13 volume St. Lawrence Seaway Survey in the U.S. Department of Navigation (1932-1963)), worked with the U.S. Secretary of State on Canadian-United States issues regarding the Seaway and worked for over 15 years on passage of the Seaway Act. He later became President of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Association to further the interests of the Seaway development to benefit the American Heartland.

The seaway opened in 1959 and cost C$470 million, $336.2 million of which was paid by the Canadian government.[1] Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada and President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally opened the Seaway with a short cruise aboard Royal Yacht Britannia after addressing the crowds in St. Lambert, Quebec.

The seaway's opening is often credited with making the Erie Canal obsolete, thus setting off the severe economic decline of several cities in Upstate New York. It should be said, however, that by the turn of the 20th Century the Erie Canal had already been largely supplanted by the railroads, and that the economic decline of Upstate New York was precipitated by numerous factors, only some of which had to do with the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Locks in the Saint Lawrence River

There are six locks in the Saint Lawrence River portion of the Seaway. From downstream to upstream they are:[2]

  1. St. Lambert Lock - Saint Lambert, QC
  2. Côte Ste. Catherine Lock - Sainte-Catherine, QC
  3. Beauharnois Locks (2 locks) - Melocheville, QC - at 45°18′12.6″N 73°55′36.5″W / 45.303500°N 73.926806°W / 45.303500; -73.926806 and 45°19′0.1″N 73°55′6.6″W / 45.316694°N 73.918500°W / 45.316694; -73.918500

    1. Snell Lock - Massena, NY
    2. Eisenhower Lock - Massena, NY
    3. Iroquois Lock - Iroquois, ON - at 44°49′48″N 75°18′46.8″W / 44.83000°N 75.313000°W / 44.83000; -75.313000

      Locks in the Welland Canal

      There are 8 locks on the Welland Canal.

      1. St. Catharines, Ontario
      2. St. Catharines
      3. St. Catharines
      4. Thorold, Ontario
      5. Thorold
      6. Thorold
      7. Thorold
      8. Port Colborne, Ontario

      Lock and channel dimensions

      The size of vessels that can traverse the seaway is limited by the size of locks. Locks on the St. Lawrence and on the Welland Canal are 766 ft (233.5 m) long, 80 ft (24.4 m) wide, and 30 ft (9.14 m) deep. The maximum allowed vessel size is slightly smaller: 740 ft (225.6 m) long, 78 ft (23.8 m) wide, and 26.5 ft (8.1 m) deep; many vessels designed for use on the Great Lakes following the opening of the seaway were built to the maximum size permissible by the locks, known informally as Seawaymax or Seaway-Max. Large vessels of the lake freighter fleet are built on the lakes and cannot travel downstream beyond the Welland Canal. On the remaining Great Lakes, these ships are constrained only by the largest lock on the Great Lakes Waterway, the Poe Lock at the Soo Locks, which is 1,200 ft (365.8 m) long, 110 ft (33.5 m) wide and 32 ft (9.8 m) deep.

      A vessel's draft is another obstacle to passage on the seaway, particularly in connecting waterways such as the St. Lawrence River. The depth in the channels of the seaway is 41 ft (12.5 m) (Panamax-depth) downstream of Quebec City, 35 ft (10.7 m) between Quebec City and Deschaillons, 37 ft (11.3 m) to Montreal, and 27 ft (8.2 m) upstream of Montreal. Channel depths and limited lock sizes mean that only 10% of ocean-going ships can traverse the entire seaway. Proposals to expand the seaway, dating from as early as the 1960s, have been rejected as too costly, and environmentally and economically unsound. Lower water levels in the Great Lakes have also posed problems for some vessels in recent years.

      While the seaway is currently (2010) mostly used for shipping bulk cargo, the possibility of its use for large-scale container shipping is under consideration as well. If the project goes ahead, feeder ships would take containers from the port of Oswego on Lake Ontario in upstate New York to Melford International Terminal in Nova Scotia for transfer to larger ocean-going ships.[3]


      To create a navigable channel through the Long Sault rapids and to allow hydroelectric stations to be established immediately upriver from Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York, Lake St. Lawrence was created through the flooding on 1 July 1958 of six villages and three hamlets in Ontario, now collectively known as "The Lost Villages."[4] There was also inundation on the New York side, but no communities were affected. The creation of the seaway also led to the introduction of invasive species of aquatic animals, most notably the zebra mussel into the Great Lakes Basin.

      The seaway provides significant entertainment and recreation such as boating, camping, fishing, and scuba diving. Of note, The Old Power House near Lock 23 (near Morrisburg, ON) became an attractive site for scuba divers, the submerged stone building covered with barnacles and home to an abundance of underwater life.[5]

      The Seaway also provides a number of divable shipwrecks within recreational scuba limits (shallower than 130 ft (40 m)) The region also offers technical diving with some wrecks lying at 240 ft (73 m). Surprisingly, the water temperature can be as warm as 75 °F (24 °C) during the mid to late summer months. The first 10 ft (3 m) of Lake Ontario is warmed and enters the St. Lawrence river as the fast moving water body has no thermocline circulation.

      On 12 July 2010, Richelieu (owned by Canada Steamship Lines) ran aground after losing power near the Côte-Sainte-Catherine lock. The grounding punctured a fuel tank, spilling an estimated 200 tonnes of diesel fuel, covering approximately 500 m2. The seaway and the lock were shut down to help contain the spill.[6]

      International trade

      The seaway is important for American and Canadian international trade. Annually the seaway handles 40 to 50 million tons of cargo. About 50% of the cargo carried travels to and from international ports in Europe, Middle East and Africa. The rest comprises coastal trade between various American and Canadian ports.[7]

      The Saint Lawrence seaway (along with ports in Quebec) is the main route for Ontario grain exports to overseas markets.[8]

      See also


      Further reading

      • Seaway Handbook issued by the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, (Head Office, 202 Pitt Street, Cornwall, Ontario, Canada K6J 3P7) 2006.
      • Macfarlane, Daniel. . PhD dissertation, University of Ottawa, 2010.

      External links

      • Tommy Trent's ABC's of the Seaway, a brochure for young people
      • Great Lakes St Lawrence Seaway System web site
      • The St Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation
      • "Stairways to the Seas." Popular Mechanics, January 1959, pp. 97-103. Detail article with illustrations of lock system.
      • St. Lawrence Seaway April 25, 1959
      • Documents and Photographs relating to the St. Lawrence Seaway, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library
      • The Lost Villages Historical Society
      • Excerpt from the Illustrated London News, January 11, 1862 describing the .
      • The Great Waterway: a site dedicated to tourism along the waterway from Lake Ontario to Cornwall and the Seaway Valley
      • Exchange of Notes, amending 1959 Agreement of Application of Tolls
      • CBC Digital Archives — The St Lawrence Seaway: Gateway to the world
      • Bibliography on Water Resources and International Law See Great Lakes; St. Lawrence River and Seaway. Peace Palace Library
      • Channel Depth and Width and Length
      • A film clip ]
      This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
      Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
      By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.