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1959: The St. Lawrence Seaway is completed

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?

On April 25, 1959, a dream is realized with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The St. Lawrence River, tamed at last, is a bustle of activity as it is lined with scores of ships ready to make the voyage that Jacques Cartier never could. A day after the icebreaker D'Iberville makes the maiden voyage the CBC's Norman DePoe takes viewers on a guided tour of the Seaway.

DePoe travels along the curvaceous canals, visiting all the major city ports along the St. Lawrence. He stops and talks to harbourmasters in Hamilton and Toronto, who say they are ready for the influx of ships coming in from Montreal. The sheer scientific marvel of the Seaway is realized when the thousands of pounds of counterbalanced steelwork that make up the locks and lift-bridges spring into action, allowing ocean freighters to continue on in their voyage to the Atlantic Ocean undeterred.
• Considered one of the greatest manmade arteries of commerce, the St. Lawrence Seaway connects the industrial heartland of North America and its 90 million residents (2003) to the Atlantic Ocean and foreign markets in the Middle East, Europe and Africa. It also links the Great Lakes together as far as Duluth, Minn. on Lake Superior -- a distance of 3776 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean. It covers 245,750 square kilometres of navigable waters.

• The Seaway is one of the most crucial trade routes in the world, bringing several Great Lake metropolises (such as Chicago) closer to European markets than ports located on the Eastern seaboard (such as Boston). The Seaway provides an economical outlet for farmers in the west, and became a vital link for Canada's most important export crop -- grain. Vessels can load up at Thunder Bay and deliver to ports along the Great Lakes or sail directly overseas.

• The Seaway is connected by six canals (South Shore, Beauuharnois, Wiley-Dondero, Iroquois, Welland and St. Mary's Falls) and is comprised of 19 locks. All but two of the locks (Snell and Eisenhower located in Messina, N.Y.) are Canadian. The Welland Canal boasts the most locks with eight. It takes the average ship 45 minutes to pass through a lock.

• Because Lake Superior is higher than the Atlantic Ocean, artificial canals and locks had to be built to raise and lower ships. This marvel of modern engineering allows ships of all sizes to pass through the entire Great Lakes system via the Seaway.

• According to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System web site, the locks allow ships up to 225.5 metres in length and 23.8 metres in width to be raised via a beam more than 180 metres above sea level. Each lock measures 233.5 metres in length, 24.4 metres wide and 9.1 metres deep over the sill. It takes between seven to ten minutes to fill the lock with the 91 million litres of water required to lift the ships.

• Although the icebreaker D'Iberville made the first trip, the St. Lawrence Seaway did not "officially" open until June 26 when Queen Elizabeth II and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower travelled through the St. Lambert lock on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

• On the eve of D'Iberville's voyage, the CBC's Kingsley Brown reported that, outside of shipping circles, there was little excitement over the opening of the Seaway. A railway dispute and Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution pushed the first day of Seaway traffic completely off the front pages. Most people were waiting for the Queen to "officially" open the Seaway in June.

Also on April 26:
1860: The Second Battalion, Volunteer Militia Rifles of Canada is formed from six independent militia units. It later becomes the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, the oldest regiment in Canada's regular army.
1898: John Grierson, the founding head of the National Film Board of Canada, is born in Deanston, near Doune, Scotland.
2005: Five explorers, including Hugh Dale-Harris from Thunder Bay, reach the North Pole using huskies and wooden sleds. They made it in record time.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: April 26, 1959
Guest(s): Harold Snelgrove
Host: Norman DePoe
Duration: 14:23

Last updated: November 21, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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