The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily News (Kingston, ON), Feb. 10, 1874

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(To the Editor of the Montreal Gazette)

Sir, - The next and last artifical link after the "Welland," (already described) in this great water-way, (extending from the Straits of Belle Ile to the head waters of Lake Superior, a distance of 2,384 miles), is the Sault St. Marie Canal, which overcomes the Rapids of the St. Mary's river, and connects Lake Huron with Lake Superior. This is a great work, and one of the important links in the navigation of the Upper St. Lawrence between Montreal and Duluth; a distance of 1,466 miles.

The Government of the United States came to the conclusion, about 1850, that it became a military necessity to have uninterrupted water communication between the great lakes for the transmit of war vessels; and offered the State of Michigan 750,000 acres of the public lands if she would construct a canal upon her own territory to overcome the "Sault Ste. Marie," and to admit and pass through paddle steamers and gunboats of the largest size. At this time the screw propeller was on its probation, and its economy and great utility had not been fully demonstrated; hence the locks of this canal were made for the admission of the largest paddle steamers.

In 1850 the State of Michigan agreed to give the said 750,000 acres of public lands to Erastus Corning, free of taxes for five years, if he constructed said canal on or before the 19th of May, 1855; which was done.

The canal is 5,590 feet long and 115 feet broad at the surface of the water. It has two locks, each 350 feet long by 70 feet, and 12 feet of water on the mitre sill, with gates 40 feet wide. Lockage 18 feet. The two sides and wings are nearly one-third of a mile long, 25 feet high and 10 feet thick at the base, with buttresses at every 12 feet, 6 feet wide, and all faced with cut limestone.

The capacity of the locks is about 8,000 tons of water; enough to float the largest merchant steamer. Now that paddle steamers are nearly obsolete on the lakes the extra size of these locks are a serious drawback, owing to the length of time lost in passing through them.

The Dominion Government has acted wisely by fixing the width of the locks for the projected Canadian canal at 45 feet. This canal is estimated to cost $350,000.

I will prove hereafter that it is to the St. Lawrence Route the people of the Western States must look for immediate relief; that Canadian Canals are not at present worked to one-third their capacity.; that our present forwarders can move double the quantity of grain from Kingston without increasing their tonnage; and that the time is not one-half, and the cost of carriage not three-fourths to Montreal from the Lake ports, of which it is via Buffalo, Oswego, or rail to New York but before doing so, I must first, however, refer to some extraordinary assertions and misrepresentations made by the Hon. John Young, which have tended to create false impressions throughout the United States of this Route, as a great highway to the ocean.

Mr. Young may be considered a "representative man" of the Dominion. And having been formerly Minister of Public Works, President of the Montreal Board of Trade, Chairman of the Montreal Harbour Commission, and President of the Dominion Board of Trade, he is supposed to know something of trade and commerce and the great principles by which they are governed, as well, as all facts connected with the "Inland Transportation."

When discussing and writing on public works or commercial questions bearing upon the interests of the country, Mr. Young should be very careful of his facts, for he is occasionally quoted as an authority on such subjects. His opinions have been extensively circulated by the New York Press to the great prejudice of the commercial interests of this country, and especially of Montreal.

Why he should exaggerate and mis-state facts in regard to the "Sault Ste. Marie" and "Erie" Canals, while he disparages, misrepresents and suppresses facts in regard to the Welland and other Canadian Canals, is somewhat inexplicable.

The following extracts are from the proceedings of the Dominion Board of Trade at Ottawa (Mr. Young President) in 1871, before whom Mr. Young read a long paper on "Internal Navigation and the effects of the Canal System of the Dominion on the General Commerce."

This document endeavors to show that it is the interest of the Dominion to expend $10,243,000 on improving and constructing waterways to secure the great boon of an 850 or 900 ton propeller descending from the headwaters of the great lakes via Montreal to Halifax, Boston, or New York, or via the Caughnawaga Canal to Burlington, Whitehall or New York "without breaking bulk."

I have italicised the errors; and the figures in parentheses refer to the foot notes:-

"Lake Superior is 600 feet above the level of the sea, and is twenty-seven feet (1) above Lakes Huron and Michigan. At the outlet of Lake Superior there is a canal of 1 1/10 (2) miles in length. It has two locks of three hundred and fifty feet by seventy-five feet (3), and can pass vessels of two thousand tons drawing eleven feet six inches of water, and the St. Clair Flats have been improved for vessels of eleven feet (4), and the Niagara River, between Lakes Erie and Ontario, having a fall of 270 feet (5), has been improved (6) by a canal twenty-eight (7) miles in length, with twenty-seven locks, through which vessels pass of three hundred and fifty tons (8), with a lockage of three hundred and thirty feet" (9).

"The St. Lawrence River, from the east end of Lake Ontario to Montreal, has a fall of two hundred and twenty feet (10), overcome by seven short canals of an aggregate length of forty-one miles (11), with twenty-seven locks, which pass vessels of eighteen hundred tons, wiht a lockage of two hundred and four feet" (12).

These are all the improvements made on the St. Lawrence between the Upper Lakes, Quebec and Montreal (13). Although the St. Lawrence canals east of Lake Ontario have locks of 45 and 55 feet wide, the Welland Canal, connecting Lake Erie with Ontario, the key of the whole navigation (14), has only locks of 26 feet (15), adapted for vessels of only 350 tons" (16).

"The Erie Canal was opened in 1827 (17), but was scarcely completed for trade when it was evident that its size was too small, and it has since been enlarged at great cost from a capacity for boats of 70 tons to 210 tons. In Canada the Welland Canal was first made with locks of 19 feet (18), but was afterwards enlarged to 26 feet" (19).

"The inferior size of the Welland Canal has debarred the St. Lawrence from much of the trade which under other conditions would (unreadable) as the waters of the great lakes" (20).

"The size of the vessels now engaged in the trade between the Upper Lakes and the Lower St. Lawrence, is there limited to the capacity of the locks on the Welland Canal or to vessels of 350 tons" (21).

"Hence the trade of the West and of Ontario may be said to be divided between the United States Lake ports, above all the St. Lawrence canals, and this not only for exports, but for imports (22); nor is there now any means existing in Canada, below Kingston to compete in cheapness with Oswego and Buffalo for New England and Eastern States trade" (23).

Mr. Young writes to the New York Times last November, urging the construction of the "Caughnawaga Canal," refers to the Ste. Marie Canal, and again misrepresents the Welland Canal, exaggerates the "Erie," and says:-

"The American Government (24) ever awake to its commercial interests, constructed a canal to give an access to Lake Superior at Sault Ste. Marie. The canal is 1 1-th (sic) of a mile in length, and has locks of 350 feet by 75 (25) feet in width, with 12 feet of water. The Government of Canada have decided that in the whole of their improved canals the locks shall be 270 feet by 45 feet in width, with 12 feet of water throughout; which I think is a mistake, as the locks should at least be 320 feet in length" (26).

"Although the steam propeller of 1,000 tons (27) can now sail from ports direct on the upper lakes to Buffalo, and although the Welland Canal cannot pass propellers of more than 400 tons (28), yet the advantage of this smaller propeller or vessels being able to pass through the Welland Canal of twenty-eight miles (29) and through Lake Ontario to Oswego, more than make up for the employment of the larger vessels of 1,000 tons to Buffalo" (30).


(1) should be 22 feet.

(2) The length of the Canal is 5,50 feet.

(3) The width of the lock is 61 feet at bottom, and 70 feet at top.

(4) The usual draft for vessels is from 12 1/2 to 13 feet.

(5) It should be 330 feet, not 270 feet.

(6) The Niagara River has never been improved by a canal.

(7) The Welland Canal is 27 miles and 1,099 feet long.

(8) This statement is a gross misrepresentation of facts, and has been, and is, very prejudicial to our carrying trade and commercial relations with the Western and New England States. The facts are that propellers pass through the "Welland"and to Kingston with 17,000 bushels of wheat, or 510 tons; and sail vessels with 22,032 bushels of maize, or 611 tons.

(9) The lockage on the Welland is 246 feet.

(10) The fall is 221 3/4 feet. Lake Ontario is 234 feet above tide water.

(11) The Canals are 43.63 miles in length.

(12) The lockage is 206 1/2 feet.

(13) Mr. Young ignores the celebrated "20-foot Channel," which has cost over $1,500,000.

(14) The Welland Canal is not "the key of the whole navigation," it only acts in that capacity above Lake Ontario.

(15) The smallest lock on the Welland Canal is 150 feet by 26 1/2 feet, and can pass through vessels over 600 tons. The largest lock is 230 feet by 45 feet.

(16) The Welland locks have passed through to Kingston last season, vessels carrying 622 tons of grain.

(17) The Erie Canal was opened in 1825.

(18) The Welland Canal never had locks smaller than 110 feet by 22 feet.

(19) The smallest enlarged lock of the Welland is 150 feet by 26 1/2 feet.

(20) If the Welland Canal, which has capacity sufficient to move with facility 3,000,000 tons, (or 100,000,000 bushels of grain,) during the season and permit Propellers of 510 tons, and sail of 611 tons to pass through its locks, besides allowing steam tugs, be "inferior in size" and "has debarred the St. Lawrence from much of the trade," how happens it, that the "Erie" with locks 110 feet by 18 feet and 7 feet of water on the sill, admitting only barges from 170 to 210 tons, moved by horses 352 miles at the rate of 1 1/2 miles per hour, does so much business with only one-third the capacity?

(21) Vide note (28) in which Mr. Young has increased the size of the propeller from 330 tons to 400 tons. Vide (8) and (16).

(22) His premises cannot be admitted, and if admitted the conclusions would be false. Why the trade of Ontario should "be divided between United States Lake ports" in consequence of the "limited size" of the Welland is too absurd to require refutation.

(23) Statements and assertions of this character and not "the inferior size of the Welland Canal" have "debarred the St. Lawrence from much of its trade." It is saying plainly to the people of the Western and New England States; we cannot carry produce as cheaply as Oswego and Buffalo, until the Caughnawaga Canal is built, and all our Canals are enlarged sufficient to admit a propeller of 850 or 900 tons.

(24) The State of Michigan constructed it and owns it.

(25) Vide note (3).

(26) In his communication to the Dominion Board of Trade he says 300 feet, why now 320 feet?

(27) The size of the propeller has been increased from 850 tons to 1,000 tons measurement since 1871.

(28) In 1871 the capacity of the Welland Canal was 350 tons. Now it is 400 tons.

(29) Vide note (7).

(30) What blundering nonsense is this? If the 400 ton propeller (actually 510 tons) passing through the "Welland" to Oswego, "more than makes up" for the 1,000 ton vessel to Buffalo, what prevents the 400 ton vessel from going to Montreal, as Mr. Young admits that vessels of 800 tons can pass from Kingston to Montreal? In fact it is equivalent to saying that Montreal cannot compete with Oswego, and until the "Great Caughnawaga Canal" is built Eastern trade is out of the question. Further comment is unnecessary.

J.M. Vernon

Montreal, January 30th, 1874

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Feb. 10, 1874
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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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Daily News (Kingston, ON), Feb. 10, 1874