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St. Lawrence Seaway: 'Get out of the way and let us get on with the job'

In 1535, Jacques Cartier stood on Mount Royal looking down in despair at the Lachine Rapids that barred his further progress inland along the St. Lawrence River. It wasn't until 1954 that a formal agreement between Canada and the U.S. finally made the St. Lawrence Seaway possible. Heralded as a marvel of engineering when it opened in 1959, the Seaway has been hit by environmental problems and hard economic times over the last two decades. What lies ahead for the Seaway?

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For 30 years, Canada and the U.S. have tried to come to an agreement about building a huge inland seaway that reaches from the Atlantic Ocean throughout the five Great Lakes. But Washington's decision to shelve the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project appears to have doomed the proposed joint-construction project. Canadians are growing increasingly impatient and are urging Ottawa to proceed on its own. In this CBC Radio clip, Don O'Hearn reports from Toronto where Ontario Premier Leslie Frost lends his voice to the cause.

Frost, in a typically Canadian, polite and understated way, asks the U.S. to step aside so that Canada go it alone. O'Hearn says the usually mild-mannered Frost is emphatic when he declares "our good neighbours to the south had decided in their wisdom not to come in with us. They have made that decision. Now we ask them to please, get out of the way and let us get on with the job."
• Canada's decision to go it alone worked. Weeks later, Ottawa passed the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority Act and the International Rapids Power Development Act. These acts allowed Canada to begin navigation works on the Canadian side of the river that extended from Montreal to Lake Ontario, as well as the section near the Welland Canal that would join Lakes Erie and Ontario. At the same time, a joint U.S.-Canadian project began power works in the International Rapids section of the river, thus marking the beginning of co-operation on the Seaway between Canada and the U.S.

• Canada and the U.S. had a long history of fruitless negotiations over the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The first joint U.S.-Canadian Deep Waterways Commission was formed in 1895 to study seaway feasibility, and in 1909 an International Joint Commission was convened to look into the matter. In 1932, Canada and the U.S. signed the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Deep Waterway Treaty, and in 1941, they signed the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Basin Agreement. None of these acts and treaties resulted in the commencement of construction.

• Both World Wars played a major role in stalling the start of proposed joint projects on the Seaway between Canada and the U.S. Public pressure in 1949 led to the formation of the Canadian-U.S. Deep Waterways Commission to study the plan, but again, no action was taken. It wasn't until 1951 when Washington shelved the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project that Canada, tired of waiting for the U.S., finally decided to go it alone.

• The joint construction of the Seaway was delayed for decades because influential and powerful rail and industrial companies in the U.S. vehemently opposed the project. They believed the Seaway would hurt and cripple several cities and industries in the U.S. As it turned out Buffalo, once a major railway centre for grain, was decimated as grain shipments bypassed the city via the Seaway. Detroit was also hurt because the Seaway allowed for the importation of cheap European cars.

• On Jan. 24, 1952, CBC Radio held a live citizen's forum from Convocation Hall at Queen's University in Kingston. John L. McDougall, a commerce professor at Queen's, and economist Gordon McLeod debated the pros and cons of Canada building the Seaway on its own.

• Born Sept. 20, 1895, Leslie Frost was Premier of Ontario from 1948 to 1961. After serving in the First World War, Frost became a lawyer and was an active member of the Conservative Party. He was elected to the legislature in 1937, and was appointed to Premier George Drew's cabinet in 1943. Six years later he became Conservative leader, inheriting the premiership. As premier, he led the Tories to three sweeping electoral victories before resigning in 1961. He died May 4, 1973.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC News Roundup
Broadcast Date: July 26, 1951
Reporter: Don O'Hearn
Duration: 2:35
Photo: National Archives of Canada / C-034867

Last updated: September 16, 2013

Page consulted on April 9, 2014

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