The St. Lawrence Project

Section 1

It was July 1st, 1958, Canada's 91st birthday. On that historic day, Canadians gathered coast to coast for the usual rounds of parades, memorials, fireworks and general revelry. There was much to celebrate. The economy was booming, times were good and there was an exciting sprit of optimism in the air. In Ontario, Canada's most populous province, residents had even bigger things to celebrate. They were about to be treated to a spectacle of huge magnitude - the opening of one of the most amazing engineering feats ever undertaken by man - the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Long Sault RapidsLong Sault Rapids [ca. 1849]

The years following the Second World War had brought a huge wave of prosperity to all of North America. For those still struggling with the all too recent memories of war rationing and the great depression, pent-up demand along with the baby boom unleashed a torrent of spending, the likes of which had never been seen before. Manufacturing was at an all time high and to keep up with the seemingly endless demand for more and more products, the need for an abundant source of hydroelectric resources was essential. The vast St. Lawrence River was targeted to fulfill that need.

During Ontario's early days, the St. Lawrence River was the earliest navigable route or 'highway' into the Great Lakes, its smooth flow broken only by the mighty Long Sault Rapids just west of Cornwall. Once into the Great Lakes system, ships could travel onward into the interior of Canada or southward into the United States. Navigators had been wrestling with the Long Sault for hundreds of years. Fierce and formidable, they dropped thirty feet over a span of three miles. At the end of the drop, the water poured into small channels that encircled a group of islands, shooting up a plume of spray a hundred feet into the air. Only a highly skilled mariner would dare to challenge the mighty Long Sault.

Cornwall CanalDigging the Cornwall Canal [ca. 1840s]

Although the rapids couldn't be tamed, they could be circumvented. The first series of canals to bypass the rapids began to open in 1783. In 1834, construction began on the Cornwall Canal. When it was finally completed in 1842, the canal extended inland from Cornwall to Dickinson's Landing and could handle vessels up to 186 ft. long. Between 1876 and 1904, the canal was enlarged even further. By 1900 Lake Superior was finally connected to Montreal through a series of shallow canals via the Welland canal. Improvements to the canal were ongoing and continued until around 1940.

The arrival of the twentieth century brought escalating demands for greater sources of power and the newly formed Ontario Hydro began to take a more serious look at the St Lawrence River. If it could only be dammed and harnessed, it had the potential to become a vast source of seemingly unlimited hydroelectric power. Exploration of the project began as early as 1913. In 1924 a Joint Board of American and Canadian engineers embarked on a two-year study, which culminated in a recommendation for bilateral Canadian-American development. An International Treaty was signed in 1932 but the U.S. Senate refused to ratify it. In 1941 there was another attempt to get the project rolling. Once again it was stymied, this time by the U.S. Congress. The project was put on the backburner until after the end of the Second World War.