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Saint Lawrence Seaway

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Saint Lawrence Seaway

St. Lawrence Seaway
Logo of the St. Lawrence Seaway
Length 370 miles (600 km)
Maximum boat length 740 ft 0 in (225.6 m)
Maximum boat beam 78 ft 0 in (23.8 m)
Locks 15
Maximum height above sea level 570 ft (170 m)
Status Open
Construction began 1954
Date of first use April 25
Date completed 1959
Start point Port Colborne, Ontario
End point Montreal, Quebec

The Saint Lawrence Seaway (French: la Voie Maritime du Saint-Laurent) is the common name for a system of locks, canals and channels that permit 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 upstream of the Seaway is not a continuous canal; rather, it consists of several stretches of navigable channels within the river, a number of locks, and 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, which together advertise the Seaway as part of "Highway H2O".[1] The section of the river downstream of Montreal, which is fully within Canadian jurisdiction, is regulated by the offices of Transport Canada in the Port of Quebec.


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 Franklin Delano Roosevelt to get the President's support of the Seaway concept. Beukema and St. Lawrence Seaway proponents were convinced that such a nautical link would transform the communities and economies of the Great Lakes. The negotiations on the treaty resumed in 1938 and by January of 1940 substantial agreement was reached between Canada and the United States. 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; primary opposition came from interests representing existing harbors on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and internal waterways as well as from the railroads associations.

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. The statement by the Canadian Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent on September 28, 1951 to President Truman, advising that Canada was unwilling to wait for the United States and would build a seaway alone, led to the formation of the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority by the Canadian Legislature on December 21 of that year. 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). This prompted the International Joint Commission to issue an order of approval for joint construction in October of 1952. Senate debate on the bill began on January 12, 1953, and the bill emerged from the House of Representatives Committee of Public Works on February 22, 1954. It received approval by both the Senate and the House by May of 1954. The first positive action to enlarge the seaway was taken on May 13, 1954 when President Eisenhower signed the Wiley-Dondero Act to authorize joint construction and also to establish the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. The need for cheap haulage of Quebec - Labrador iron ore was one of the arguments that finally swung the balance in favor of the seaway. Ground breaking ceremonies took place on August 10, 1954, and in May of 1957, the Connecting Channels Project was begun by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. John C. Beukema continued work on the Seaway, being appointed in 1954 to the five-member St. Lawrence Seaway Advisory Board by President Dwight Eisenhower. By 1959, Beukema was on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maple for the first trip through the U.S. locks that opened up the Great Lakes. On April 25, 1959, large, deep-draft, ocean vessels began streaming to the heart of the North American continent through the seaway that had been supported by every administration from Wilson through Eisenhower.

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 was heavily promoted by the Eisenhower administration, who were concerned with the its locus of control.[2]

The seaway opened in 1959 and cost C$470 million, $336.2 million of which was paid by the Canadian government.[3] 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. 22,000 workers were employed at one time or another on the project, a 2,300-mile-long superhighway for ocean freighters.[2] Port of Milwaukee director Harry C. Brockel forecast just before the Seaway opened in 1959 that "The St. Lawrence Seaway will be the greatest single development of this century in its effects on Milwaukee's future growth and prosperity," while Milwaukee Association of Commerce president Lester Olsen saw "The magnitude and potential of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the power project stir the imagination of the world."[2]

The Port of Montreal, which is officially the Eastern inlet to the Seaway, has welcomed ships year-round since 1964.[4] The first modern container vessel was launched in 1956, and by the 1970s, container ships that dominate today had begun to change the shipping industry.[2]

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.

Since 1970 a new foreign Ballast Water Management Convention, but 10 years after the Convention was approved, it had been ratified by only 40 nations which accounted for 30% of world shipping tonnage, and was still not in force.[6]

The Canadian portions of the Seaway were pseudo-commercialised with a non-profit corporate structure in 1998 by the Canada Marine Act, which also introduced changes to the federal Ports.[7]

Great Lakes and Seaway shipping generates $3.4 billion in business revenue annually in the US. In 2002, ships moved 222 million tons of cargo per year. Overseas shipments, mostly of inbound steel and outbound grain, accounted for 15.4 million tons, 6.9% of the total cargo moved.[2] In 2004, seaway grain exports accounted for about 3.6% of the nation's overseas grain shipments, according to the U.S. Grains Council. In a typical year, Seaway steel imports account for around 6% of the U.S. annual total. The toll revenue obtained from ocean vessels is about 25-30% of cargo revenue.[2] The Port of Duluth shipped just over 2.5 million metric tons of grain, which is less than the port typically moved in the decade before the Seaway opened Lake Superior to deep-draft oceangoing vessels in 1959.[2] Europe is no longer a heavy grain importer; big shipments are now going to South America, Asia and Africa. That makes Gulf and West Coast ports much more critical. "It probably did make sense, at about the time it (the Seaway) was constructed and conceived, but since then everything has changed," says a retired Iowa State University economics professor who specialized in transportation issues.[2]

Certain Seaway users were concerned about the low water levels of the Great Lakes that were experienced in the decade since 2010.[8]

Expansion proposal

Comparison of bounding box of Panamax and Old SeawayMax.

Even though the Panama Canal had been completed in 1914, Seaway designers opted not to build the locks to match the Panama size, 1,000 feet long by 110 feet wide. Instead, they built them to match the smaller locks of Welland Canal, which opened in 1932, and are 766 feet long by 80 feet wide.[2] The Army Corps of Engineers did a study to expand the St. Lawrence Seaway in the near future but it was scrapped in 2011 due to tight budgets.[9][10]

In the long term, the Seaway is planned to be expanded in 2030. The expansion would allow container ships to traverse into the Great Lakes. The maximum height clearance would be 150 feet because of the Mackinac Bridge, Ambassador Bridge, Blue Water Bridge, and in 2015 the New International Trade Crossing. Maximum water draft would be 35 or 36 feet compared to 27 feet now. The Port of Montreal at the end of the St. Lawrence River allows 36 foot drafts in the Estuary. The locks would be 1000 × 105 feet.

Compared to the Panama Canal or the Panamax the ship sizes wouldn't be as big on the New SeawayMax. The Panamax allows for ships that are 190 feet above the water line (air draft) and a water draft of 41.2 feet max. Ship length is 50 feet shorter and width is the same size as the expansion proposal.

Locks Panamax Third locks [n 1] New Panamax[n 1]
Length 1,050 ft (320.04 m) 965 ft (294.13 m) 1,400 ft (427 m) 1,200 ft (366 m)
Width 110 ft (33.53 m) 106 ft (32.31 m) 180 ft (55 m) 161 ft (49 m)
Draft[n 2] 41.2 ft (12.56 m) 39.5 ft (12.04 m) 60 ft (18.3 m) 50 ft (15.2 m)
TEU 5,000 12,000
  1. ^ a b New Panamax sizes are published in the metric system[11]
  2. ^ Draft in Tropical Freshwater (TF)

Locks in the Saint Lawrence River

Iroquois Locks

There are seven locks in the Saint Lawrence River portion of the Seaway. From downstream to upstream they are:[12]

  1. St. Lambert Lock—Saint Lambert, QC
  2. Côte Ste. Catherine Lock—Sainte-Catherine, QC
  3. Beauharnois Locks (two locks)—Melocheville, QC at and
  4. Snell Lock—Massena, NY
  5. Eisenhower Lock—Massena, NY
  6. Iroquois Lock—Iroquois, ON at

Locks in the Welland Canal

There are eight locks on the Welland Canal.

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

Lock, channel dimensions and other useful data

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.[13]

A useful website hosts measurements of wind, water levels and water temperatures,[14] and a real-time interactive map of Seaway Locks, Vessels and Ports may be of assistance.[15] The NOAA funded Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard compiles statistics on water depth at various points along the Seaway.[16]


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".[17] 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.[18]

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.[19]

International trade and tourism

The seaway is important for American and Canadian international trade. The seaway handles 40 to 50 million annual 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, or short sea shipping, between various American and Canadian ports.[20] Among international shippers are found:

The Saint Lawrence seaway (along with ports in Quebec) is the main route for Ontario grain exports to overseas markets.[31] Its fees are publically known, and were limited in 2013 to an increase of 3%.[32] A trained Pilot is required for any foreign trade vessel,[33] and the employment of these skilled personnel follows the law of supply and demand. A non-extensive set of rules and regulations are available to help transit.[34]

Commercial vessel transit information is hosted on the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation website.

Since 1997, international cruise liners have been known to transit the Seaway. The Hapag-Lloyd Christopher Columbus hosted 400 passengers to Duluth, Minnesota that year, and since then, the number of annual Seaway passengers has increased to 14,000.[35]

Every year, more than 2,000 recreational boats, of more than 20 ft and one ton, transit the Seaway.[36] The tolls have been fixed for 2013 at $30 per lock, except for the Welland Canal, where $30 pays for all eight locks between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.[37] Lockages are scheduled between the hours of 07:00 and 19:00 from June 15 to September 15.[38]

A list of organisations that serve the Seaway in some fashion, such as Chambers of Commerce and Municipal or Port authorities, is available at the SLSDC website and a 56-page electronic "Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System" Directory is published by Harbor House Publishers.[39]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Sinking treasure" 30 Oct 2005
  3. ^ "History of the Saint Lawrence Seaway". Infrastructure Canada. Archived from the original on 2008-06-25. Retrieved 2010-03-27. 
  4. ^ Fednav, PR Newswire: "Port of Montreal welcomes first ocean-going vessel of 2014" 1 Jan 2014
  5. ^ a b "Noxious cargo" 31 Oct 2005
  6. ^ "Ballast Water Management", consulted July 2014
  7. ^ "Canada Marine Act (1998, c. 10)".  
  8. ^ "Great Lakes low water levels could cost $19B by 2050" 27 Jun 2014
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Manuel E. Benítez, ACP (2009-01-19). "Dimensions for Future Lock Chambers and "New Panamax" Vessels" (PDF). ACP. Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  12. ^ Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System Map, accessed 2009-07-05
  13. ^ "Oswego Considered For Major Container Port: Plan calls for $3M facility to create first Great Lakes site handling global container shipments", by John Doherty. Syracuse Post-Standard, Wednesday, October 22, 2008
  14. ^ Great Lakes St Lawrence Seaway System: "Environment Information"
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard", accessed July 2014
  17. ^ "The Lost Villages". The Ottawa Citizen. June 28, 2008. Retrieved Feb 28, 2013. 
  18. ^ "A Glimpse of Morrisburg’s History". 
  19. ^  
  20. ^ "Introducing the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway System".  
  21. ^ Quebec Commercial Certification Inc: "Fednav"
  22. ^ Fednav schedules
  23. ^ Bloomberg Businessweek: "Transportation Infrastructure - Company Overview of World Shipping, Inc."
  24. ^ World Shipping home page
  25. ^ Canfornav - About Us
  26. ^ American Steamship Company company overview
  27. ^ Rand Logistics "About" page
  28. ^ McKeil Marine Ports of Call
  29. ^ Groupe Desgagnes - Operations
  30. ^ Quebec Stevedoring Limited
  31. ^ "Wheat Export". Grain Farmers of Ontario. 
  32. ^ SLSMC: "Commercial Shipping Tolls Schedule"
  33. ^ p.4 of "Cruising the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway"
  34. ^ SLSMC: "Commercial Shipping: Transiting the Seaway – What You Need to Know"
  35. ^ p. 1 of "Cruising the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway"
  36. ^ SLSMC: "Recreational Boating"
  37. ^ SLSMC: "Pleasure Craft Tolls"
  38. ^ SLSMC: "Recreational Boating: Lockage Schedule"
  39. ^ "Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System" Directory, Harbor House Publishers

Further reading

External links

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