The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), Sept. 13, 1884

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Deepening The Canals

Deeper Canals and Tolls Better Than The Present Canal Free.

Mr. Robert C. Douglas, C.E., appointed by the Dominion Government to investigate the best means of dealing with the Canadian canal system, has submitted a report. The necessary appropriation for deepening the canals to fourteen feet will be asked for at the next session of parliament. Mr. Douglas concludes that for the conservation of trade and commerce an increased depth of water in the Welland Canal is an absolute necessity; that with tolls and deeper water the cost of transport would be less than with free canals and the present scale of navigation (12 feet); that the present tolls are of no moment and do not enter into the question either of cheap transportation, increased traffic, or the direction of trade upon the canals; and that there are other causes of greater potency influencing both the direction and volume of trade. It is considered necessary that the foot of inland navigation be extended from Buffalo and the east of Lake Erie to Montreal or Quebec so that the propellers with 2,000 tons of cargo will be enabled to steam alongside the ocean vessels.

Lake Vessels Of The Future.

The large class of vessels plying on the upper lakes is regarded as the principal cause of the failure of the St. Lawrence route to the seaboard. These vessels are unable to descend the Welland Canal. This disadvantage is seriously affecting the Canadian route, and every year the size and capacity of upper lake craft is increased, small vessels being forced to accept such rates as must soon drive them out of the business altogether. In 1882, 557 vessels, with an aggregate tonnage of 392,808 tons, were plying upon Lake Huron, Superior and Michigan that were unable to pass the Welland Canal. The average size of lake vessels is constantly increasing, and it is declared that the enlarged canal is now in much the same position as was the old one in 1860, when the Commissioner of Public Works stated that the cheapest way of carrying freight was by means of vessels of from 600 to 1,000 tons burden, a class too large to pass through the Welland Canal. There were in 1883 some 75,278 more tons of shipping unable to pass through the Welland Canal with 12 feet of water than there were in 1870 when the depth was only 10 feet. The causes of this remarkable increase in the size and carrying capacity of lake vessels are the general deepening of harbours, the dredging of the St. Clair flats, and deepening of the Detroit River by the United States Government. By improved machinery also it is found that a large vessel can be handled with greater facility and less cost in proportion to the cargo transported than a small one.

The Question of Freight Rates.

The cost of transportation between Chicago and Buffalo having been reduced by the construction of large vessels, freight rates have accordingly declined. The average freight upon a bushel of wheat from Chicago to Buffalo fell from 11.53 cents in1861 to 2.57 cents in 1882, and 3.40 cents in 1883. The purely American trade of the Welland Canal was 62 per cent of the whole in 1860, while in 1882 it had fallen to 29.7 per cent. A statement given by Mr. Douglas shows that while a sailing vessel with a carrying capacity of 21,000 bushels will clear but $103 ($193 ?) profits on a trip from Chicago to Buffalo, a vessel carrying 125,000 bushels will net $2,220 over and above all its expenses. On the round trip propellers of 1,500 and 2,000 tons will clear $250 and $600 respectively, while a propeller of 1,000 tons will lose $100. The average freight rate upon a bushel of wheat from Chicago to New York by lake and canal was in 1883 8.30 cents, the average for the decade ending with last year being 10.89 cents. The rate by lake to Buffalo and thence by rail was in 1883 12.10 cents, average for the decade 12.66. For all rail freights the rate was in 1883 16.50 cents, average for the decade 17.80 cents. From Chicago to Montreal the average freight and tolls upon a bushel of wheat were in 1883 9.81 cents divided as follows: Chicago to Kingston 6.96 cents; Kingston to Montreal, 2.85 cents. For the decade ending 1883 average freights were: Chicago to New York, 10.34 cents per bushel; Chicago to Montreal, 9.81. In favor of Montreal, .53. Average toll on Erie Canal, 1.34 cents; average toll on the St. Lawrence route .60. It is also remarked that during the decade ending with 1883 Montreal had the advantage of nearly five cents a bushel toll on the Erie Canal, but this heavy toll, continued for many years, did not tend to increase traffic on the St. Lawrence route, though it is now asserted that the abolition of six mills a bushel tolls on our own canals will now effect that object. In the '73 to '83 decade the rates on the St. Lawrence route fell with the reduction of tolls on the Erie Canal and generally reduced charges for transport. During 1883 the average net freight per bushel from Chicago to New York by water was 8.30 cents, and from Chicago to Montreal 8.21. It is considered remarkable that with six railways running in opposition to the Erie Canal, that purely artificial waterway of small capacity, restricted water supply, and other disadvantages has sustained its traffic. The New York railways have done their utmost to kill off canal competition. They have lately been making contracts for yearly shipments, with 30 to 50 per cent reduction from the traffic rates, on the express condition that no goods shall be shipped by canal during the season of navigation. It is also found that shippers by canal, who own canal boats and storehouses are obliged to pay large advances because they cannot contract to ship by railway. The railways, having a monopoly of the winter traffic, can afford to cut rates during the navigation season, and thus take traffic from the canals.

Deeper Canals A Necessity.

Mr. Douglas quotes the opinions of the Oswego Board of Trade and authorities from Toledo, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and other American cities in favour of deepening the Canadian canals to 18 to 20 feet if possible, and placing the Welland on the same basis as the Sault Ste. Marie Canal. The tonnage through the Welland Canal between ports in the United States has decreased from 1869 to 1882 - in vegetable food from 337,500 tons to 64,000 tons; in heavy goods, 236,000 to 177,000 tons. The Oswego Board of Trade report that the lowering of tolls and freights on the Erie Canal worked against the Ontario and Oswego route to New York, because the reductions were from Buffalo on 365 miles of canal, whereas from Oswego it was on 205 miles. The small vessels that could use the Oswego route could not compete with the larger vessels on the Buffalo route, and consequently Oswego lost her entire western transit traffic. The Oswego men assert that if the Welland Canal had 16 feet of water and locks 300 x 45 feet it would it would soon control the entire western trade during the season of navigation, in spite of railway competition and a free Erie Canal. The largest craft is what is wanted. Twelve feet of water is about 40,000 bushels, fourteen feet would be about 60,000. Give the trade the large craft and tolls are of little consequence. "Canada," says another authority, "had the opportunity to control the entire western trade for export had the Welland Canal been altered and enlarged so as to pass 100,000 bushels cargo when completed. Then the route to New York via Erie Canal and railways could not have competed with the Welland and the St. Lawrence route when completed via Montreal for the transport of produce." As to the carriage of grain for consumption in the Eastern States that trade must go via Oswego. It is remarked that if grain is diverted from Buffalo to Ogdensburg and elevator, and storage capacity provided at Prescott it would be easier to change across the river than to divert from Buffalo direct, and the same rule applies to Kingston and Oswego. The shippers of Toledo assert that fourteen feet navigation in the Welland is indispensible, as they object to the lightening of cargoes. To navigate the upper lakes in safety vessels calculated to withstand the heaviest sea will be required.

Montreal's Present Advantages.

Montreal, Mr. Douglas thinks, cannot obtain any great benefit from the shipment of grain eastward to the New England States for domestic consumption, and her business must continue to be that of exporting. Canal tolls cannot affect Montreal in so far as this business is concerned, because under the present international relations she cannot engage in it. In connection with this subject Mr. Douglas remarks that: "As the gods help him who helps himself, it would seem reasonable that before laying such stress upon canal tolls, and crying for their abolition, Montreal should exert herself to obtain her proportion of the major quantity exported, unaffected by canal tolls, before asking for a bounty or subsidy from the general public to obtain a proportion of the minor quantity, which, it is asserted, free canal tolls will attract down the St. Lawrence." The tonnage entering and clearing annually at Buffalo is more than four times as great as that of the harbor of Montreal. The forwarding charges between Montreal and Kingston are regarded as excessive, and experience has shown that any reduction in canal tolls does not benefit the general trade, but simply adds to the profits of forwarders, warehouse men and elevator companies. The charges per bushel are greater from Kingston to Montreal than from Buffalo to New York, though the St. Lawrence barge has treble the capacity of the Erie Canal boat. The charges by water per ton-mile between Chicago and Montreal are also heavier than between Chicago and New York. Mr. Douglas' conclusions seem to be that Montreal's greatest disadvantage is a lack of genuine enterprise among her shippers. The grain exports of Montreal, comparing 1873 with 1883, have decreased 7.60, and those of Baltimore 6.55. Baltimore exports wheat and corn to France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Turkey, while Montreal's business is nearly all with Great Britain. But after pointing out the great national advantages of Montreal as a grain market and exporting centre, Mr. Douglas concludes that: "at present there does not appear much hope of attracting any proportion of the shipments from western parts to the river St. Lawrence. Money or capital and enterprise appear to be greater levers in attracting trade than little differences in cost of transportation or small taxes such as canal tolls."



The strs. Prince Arthur and Rothesay have been laid up at Gananoque.

The prop. Armenia, Chicago, lightened 9,590 bush. corn at the M.T. Co.'s wharf.

The tug Bronson clears tonight for Montreal with five barges, having 100,000 bush. grain and 600 tons coal.

The schr. B.W. Folger is loading phosphate at Richardson's for Fairhaven. The mineral will be sent to Philadelphia.

The str. Sir Leonard Tilley is in port from Chicago with 21,000 bush. of wheat and 20,000 bush. of corn. This is her second entrance to the harbor. She is the largest Canadian steamer afloat.

Velocity Of The Long Sault Rapids - A Kingston gentleman recently ascertained, approximately, the velocity of these rapids by observing the time occupied by the Corinthian in passing between two points on the bank, viz., from the top of the rapids to a certain point on the north shore, the distance traversed, as taken from an American chart, was 2,500 yards, and the time occupied 4 min. 10 sec., giving the steamer a speed of over 20 miles an hour.

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Date of Original:
Sept. 13, 1884
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Rick Neilson
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), Sept. 13, 1884