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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 8

The Canals of Canada

by John P. Heisler

Canals in the Province of Canada, 1841-67


By 1840 the St. Lawrence grain trade had recovered from the depression of the previous years. In that year, 1,739,119 bushels of grain were exported and the waterway was filled to capacity with supplies of wheat and flour.1 This sharp rise in St. Lawrence commerce made the completion of the canals along the route a pressing necessity.2 By 1840, however, the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada could no longer carry the financial burden of canal construction. Only union of the Canadas could ameliorate the problems of canals not only by eliminating separate provincial jurisdictions on the river but above all by providing the increased revenues and sound credit needed for constructing them.

Following his appointment in 1839 as governor general, Poulett Thomson strove to obtain the consent of Upper and Lower Canada to unite as a legislative unit. Upper Canada was assured that the debt incurred by the province on public improvements would be assumed by the united provinces. In 1840 the British Parliament passed the Act of Union creating the new Province of Canada and Thomson, who had been created Baron Sydenham, proclaimed, 10 February 1841 as the date on which the union should have effect. In his first Speech from the Throne before the provincial legislature, Sydenham announced that an imperial guaranteed loan of £1.5 million would be made available to the new province in order to reduce the weight of public debt and to promote a programme of public works.3 In Sydenham's view such a munificent measure would assist materially in welding together the diverse parts of the new province. At the same time the Board of Works for the new province was set up under the direction of H. H. Killaly to take charge of the canal-building programme planned by the government,4 a programme which called for the deepening and enlargement of the Welland Canal and for the improvement of the St. Lawrence navigation.

The terms of the imperial loan were worked out in the year following Sydenham's announcement. In the summer of 1842 the British Parliament passed the Canada Loan Act making the funds available. Shortly after this the provincial legislature passed a measure to provide that all the money be used directly for public works and that none of it be used to reduce the Canadian debt since the return of prosperous times had improved Canada's financial position and eased her debt burden.5 The loan could go immediately into canal- and road-building which were now pushed forward vigorously.



In 1841 the engineers of the Board of Works made estimates of all the works required on the canals in order to accommodate lake-going vessels between Quebec and Lake Huron.6 After deliberating on the expediency of adopting a new location for the Lachine Canal, they ultimately came to the conclusion to retain the old one.7 The dimensions of the proposed enlargements of the canal were 200 feet by 45 feet for the locks with 9 feet of water on the sills. The length of canal was to remain 8-1/2 miles but with only 5 locks and an entire lockage of 44-3/4 feet. The enlargement was commenced in 1843. In 1844, however, due to representation having been made by the Montreal Board of Trade and by the mercantile interests generally while the works were being carried on, locks 1 and 2 were deepened in the sills so as to admit the largest sea-going vessels, which then visited Montreal, into the first basin of the canal.8 The enlarged canal was opened in the spring of 1848.

From the head of the Lachine Canal across Lake St. Louis to the foot of the Beauharnois Canal was 15-1/4 miles. This canal was commenced in 1842 and opened in August, 1845. It connected Lake St. Louis and Lake St. Francis and overcame three rapids mentioned earlier, the Cascades, the Cedars and the Coteau. The rapids themselves only occupied a distance of about 7 miles while the two intermediate spaces were tranquil and easily navigated. The canal lay on the south side of the river. It did not follow the bank of the river but ran some distance inland.9

Construction of this canal had been seriously considered prior to the Union. In 1833 the Province of Lower Canada appointed commissioners to consider all matters relating to the navigation of the St. Lawrence between Lachine and Cornwall. These commissioners employed as their engineer J. B. Mills, who had been previously employed by the Province of Upper Canada in making surveys on the upper St. Lawrence. In 1834 Mills recommended that canal navigation should be established on the north shore of the St. Lawrence and submitted for the consideration of the commissioners three different schemes based on the dimensions adopted for the Cornwall Canal;10 namely, 100 feet wide at bottom and locks 200 feet by 55 feet with 9 feet of water over the sills. He proposed short canals at the Cascades, Cedars and Coteau, using the St. Lawrence between the canals. According to this plan the whole length of the improvement would be 14-5/8 miles, of which 7-3/4 would be by river and 6-7/8 by canal; the whole descent would be 82-1/2 feet of which 9-1/2 feet would be overcome by the river and 73 feet by 9 locks of various lifts; the estimated cost of this first route was £235,782 ($943,128). Mills recommended this plan, using the river with short canals round the rapids.11 His report was referred to a special committee of the House which approved it and recommended a grant of £240,000 ($960,000). It was afterwards brought up in Committee of the Whole from which it seems never to have emerged.

At the same time Alexander Stevenson presented a report to the legislature stating that he had made a survey of a connection between Lake St. Louis and Lake St. Francis by means of the St. Louis River, which empties into Lake St. Louis at Beauharnois connecting the head of the river with Hungry Bay on Lake St. Francis.12 He found that the distance by this route was increased to 25 miles owing to the sinuosities of the river; that the total cost of the canal would be £62,557 ($250,228), and that it would afford a passage to boats drawing 5 feet of water.13

In 1835 Messrs. Stevenson and Baird prepared two plans for a canal on the south side of the St. Lawrence.14 One plan, like that of Stevenson's in 1834, proposed to follow the valley of the St. Louis River. The canal was to be 15-3/4 miles long, 100 feet wide at bottom and 140 feet wide at water surface; it was to have locks 200 feet by 55 feet and 9 feet depth of water on the sills. The estimated cost amounted to £194,800 ($779,200).15 The other plan proposed an inland route 12 miles long, 100 feet wide at bottom and 140 feet wide at water surface. The estimated cost was £224,444 ($879,776).16 Both these plans were submitted to the provincial legislature in 1835. However, with the exception of a survey of Lakes St. Louis and St. Francis made by Messrs. Thompson and Larue, nothing further seems to have been done by the Province of Lower Canada in connection with these works before the union.

In 1839 Phillpotts in his report reviewed the various lines proposed. He approved the original plan put forward by Mills of using the river between the rapids, with their short canals, and estimated that to construct them in a proper and substantial manner, with locks 200 feet long by 55 feet wide and 9 feet of water on the sills would cost £374,300 ($1,821,593)17 Two years later the Board of Works submitted a memorandum stating that a sum of £255,900 ($1,023,000) would be required to construct a canal to avoid the Cascades, Cedars and Coteau rapids.18 The estimate was based on the design made by Mills in 1834 for three short sections of canal on the north side of the river. However, on 17 February 1842, the chief engineer of the Board of Works reported that he had examined the various lines of canal proposed on both sides of the river, and that the inland route on the south shore which had been suggested by Stevenson in 1835 was a very judicious one and offered many advantages over the others.19 He stated that the canal if built on the south shore would be shorter than if made on the north shore, and it would be above and independent of all water courses and that consequently it would not require any waste weirs; that it could be navigated two or three weeks longer every season than the one proposed for the north side; that the repairs and superintendence would be less, and that since the lock foundations would be chiefly rock, the cost would not be so great. The question as to whether the canal should be on the north or south shore of the St. Lawrence was now thoroughly discussed. Finally in the summer of 1842, the surveys and plans necessary to the construction of the canal on the route proposed by Stevenson were prepared by the engineer of the Board of Works, and in the autumn of that year contracts were entered into for its execution. Construction of the canal was completed before the close of navigation in 1845.20 Dams at the upper end of the canal from the main shore to Grande Ile and thence to Ile-aux-Chats were commenced in May, 1849, and completed in June, 1850, at a cost of £5,695.17.3.21 During the period 1852-54 regulating weirs were constructed at each of the locks, and in 1856 a dyke about 5 miles in length, intended to prevent the flooding of certain lands lying on the south shore of Lake St. Francis at the head of the Beauharnois Canal, was completed.22 Yet from time to time residents on the banks of Lake St. Francis complained that the dams built at the head of the canal caused their lands to be flooded and, on various occasions, claimed and received compensation.

26 Construction of the Soulanges Canal, Quebec, 1895. The steam shovel is at the west end and the dredge at the east end of Section 9. (Public Archives of Canada.)

The distance from the head of the Beauharnois Canal through Lake St. Francis to the foot of the Cornwall Canal was 32-3/4 miles. This canal, extending from the town of Cornwall to the village of Dickinson's Landing 11-1/2 miles further up the river, followed the northern shore of the St. Lawrence and overcame the Long Sault Rapids. We have already noted that its construction was the largest public work undertaken by the province of Upper Canada before the union. Work on the canal began in 1834. However, due to lack of money, the commissioners appointed to superintend the building of the canal were forced to suspend further work in 1838. The following year they reported that in the absence of any immediate prospect of the work being resumed, they had been compelled to discharge several officers connected with the engineer's department, retaining only the resident engineer and secretary.23 Phillpotts in his report in 1839 estimated the cost of completing the Cornwall Canal at £57,300 ($228,860).24

It was ascertained at the time of union, that the expenditure on the Cornwall Canal up to 31 December 1838 amounted to £354,203.2.1 ($1,416,812.41) and that a further sum of £57,617.6 ($320,685.20) was required to complete it.25 At this time an additional sum of £5,215.15.6-1/4 ($20,863) was due in outstanding notes given by the commissioners to contractors.26 It was further ascertained that, up to the day when the legislature of the Province of Canada first met in session, the total expenditure had been £362,134.11.10 ($1,448,538.37)27 Construction was resumed in 1842 under the direction of the Board of Works and in December of that year the steamboat Highlander passed through the canal. However, much work still remained to be done and the canal was not formally opened until June, 1843.28 In 1860 the chief engineer of the Department of Public Works, acting on instructions, reported on the mitre sills of certain locks in the canal:29 there was sometimes less than 9 feet of water. Thereupon the chief engineer submitted an estimate showing that the cost of deepening the canal to a depth of 10-1/2 feet on the mitre sills and 11-1/2 feet in the levels between them would be $250,000.30 He expressed the opinion that if the works were placed in the hands of energetic contractors, they could be executed during the winter and spring without serious interruption to navigation.31 However, with the exception of supply and regulating weirs at the head of the canal and at each of the locks, no works of importance were executed on the canal from the time of its completion in 1843 up to confederation in 1867.32

Next in ascending the St. Lawrence River came the three canals of Farran's Point, Rapide Plat and the Galops, usually known under the collective name of the Williamsburg canals. From the head of the Cornwall Canal to the foot of Farran's Point Canal the distance on the river was 5 miles. The canal, which lay on the north side of the river, extended from the foot to the head of the rapids at Farran's Point and was used principally by ascending vessels, since vessels descending did not enter the canal but ran the rapids with ease and safety. Construction of a canal at this point had been discussed and preliminary surveys were made prior to the commencement of the Cornwall Canal by the Province of Upper Canada. In 1833 Benjamin Wright reported that he had made a survey of the proposed canal.33 Since it would only be used by ascending craft, Wright proposed that its breadth need only be 50 feet at bottom. He suggested that the dimensions of the lock should be 100 feet long and 55 feet wide and that it should have a 4-foot lift. Phillpotts in his report of 1839 estimated the cost of this work at £48,000 ($233,600).34 Actual construction of the canal was not commenced until 1844 and was completed in October 1847. The breadth of the lock was fixed at 45 feet. The canal was three-fourths of a mile in length with a single lock 200 feet long by 45 feet wide, 9 feet of water on the mitre sills and a total lockage rise of 4 feet.35 In 1860 the chief engineer of the Department of Public Works estimated the cost of deepening the canal 10-1/2 feet on the mitre sills and 11-1/2 feet in the reaches at $25,118.36

The distance from the head of Farran's Point Canal to the foot of the Rapide Plat Canal following the channel of the St. Lawrence was 10-1/2 miles. Extending from Morrisburg to the head of the swift current and overcoming the Rapide Plat Rapids, this canal, located on the north shore, was used by ascending craft only as the descending vessels ran the rapids safely. From time to time three different lines had been proposed for this canal. The first by Samuel Clowes in 1826 commenced at a point near the mouth of Monk's Creek, then passing in the rear of Mariatown, followed Sawyer's Creek for about 1/2 mile to its mouth. In 1830 Barrett proposed a second line to run deeper or further inland than that proposed by Clowes. Three years later Messrs. Wright and Mills proposed a third line which followed the river's edge for a distance of 3-9/10 miles and had its upper terminus at the mouth of Sawyer's Creek.37 Phillpotts report of 1839 approved the latter plan and estimated the cost of the works at £120,000 ($584,000).38 However, nothing was done prior to the union. Finally, in 1843 surveys were made and construction was commenced in the spring of 1844. The length of the canal was 4 miles and it had two locks each 200 feet long by 45 feet wide with 9 feet of water on the mitre sills and a total lockage of 1-1/2 feet.39 In 1860 the chief engineer of the Department of Public Works reported on the cost of deepening the St. Lawrence canals so as to give 10-1/2 feet of water on the mitre sills and 11-1/2 feet of water in the reaches between the locks. He estimated the cost of deepening the Rapide Plat Canal at $75,615.40

From the head of the Rapide Plat Canal to the foot of the Galops Canal the distance following the St. Lawrence was 4-1/2 miles. The canal situated on the north bank of the river avoided the rapids at Pointe aux Iroquois, Point Cardinal and the Galops. Long before the union the Province of Upper Canada had seriously considered the construction of canals at these points. In 1833 Benjamin Wright, the engineer of the Cornwall Canal, surveyed these rapids and recommended two short canals.41 One he located at the Galops to be 2,400 feet long with one lock of 4-1/2 feet lift, and another at Point Cardinal to be 1,500 feet long with one lock of 2-1/2 feet lift. However, nothing more was done for several years. Phillpotts approved of Wrights' plan and estimated the cost of the Galops at £29,500 ($143,566.67)42 and the cost of Point Cardinal at £25,000 ($121,666.67).43 In 1843 the Board of Works prepared a plan of canals for this section of the St. Lawrence navigation. One canal, designed to avoid the Iroquois Rapids, was 3 miles long with one lock 200 feet long by 45 feet wide and 6 feet lift.44 From the head of this canal the ascending boats again entered the St. Lawrence and following its course upward for 2-3/8 miles arrived at the foot of the Galops Canal made to overcome the Galops Rapids. This second canal, "The Galops," was 2-1/4 miles long with two locks each 200 feet long by 45 feet wide and 8 feet lift.45 This plan of canals having been approved, it was carried into execution. Construction was commenced in 1844; the Galops Canal was opened in November, 1846, and the Iroquois Canal in September, 1847. Within a short time it was found that the Point Iroquois Canal lacked sufficient depth of water, a serious problem to vessels ascending the river. It was decided, therefore, to raise the water in the Iroquois by connecting it with the Galops.46 The contract for the work was given out in the autumn of 1851 and was completed in 1856.47 These canals then became known under the collective name of the Galops Canal. The length of the canal was 7-5/8 miles and it contained 3 locks each 200 feet long by 45 feet wide with 9 feet of water on the mitre sills and a total rise of lockage of 15-3/4 feet.48 In 1860 the chief engineer of the Department of Public Works estimated that the cost of deepening the canal so as to have 10-1/2 feet of water on the sills and a 11-1/2-foot depth between the locks would be $81,267 and that it could be executed without interruption to navigation.49

Before leaving the St. Lawrence canals a brief word might be said about the total cost of these works prior to confederation. This amounted to $7,569,586.50.50 The sum included the following:

Outlays from the funds of the provincial government before the union$1,846,942.52

Amount granted by the imperial government and spent before the union on the Lachine Canal40,000.00

Expenditure through the Department of Public Works since the union5,665,331.36

Payments made for land claims since the union by the former commissioners of the Cornwall Canal17,312.62

Total up to 30 June 1867$7,569,586.50

From the head of the Galops Canal, following the channel of the St. Lawrence and through Lake Ontario to Port Dalhousie at the foot of the Welland Canal, the distance is 236-3/8 miles. The main line of this canal extends from Port Dalhousie on Lake Ontario to Port Colborne on Lake Erie. Following its completion in 1833 no work of any importance was done on the Welland Canal prior to the union in 1841. At that time the total government expenditure on the Welland Canal amounted to $1,851,427.7751 and the canal was placed under the Board of Works. That body quickly decided that all the locks on the Welland should be rebuilt in stone and that their dimensions should be 120 feet long by 24 feet wide with 8-1/2 feet of water on the sills. It was further decided that the aqueduct should be rebuilt in stone; that the feeder should be converted into a navigable canal; that the harbours at Port Dalhousie and Port Colborne should be improved; that the two first locks at Port Dalhousie and Port Colborne should be 200 feet by 45 feet with 9 feet of water on the sills. And finally, it was decided that the Port Maitland branch of the canal should be undertaken and completed with an entrance lock from Lake Erie 200 feet by 45 feet and 9 feet depth of water.52 A sum of £450,000 ($2,190,000) was appropriated for these purposes.53 Construction commenced in 1842. The following year it was decided after reconsideration to make the locks 150 feet long by 26-1/2 feet broad and to widen the bed of the main line to 26 feet at the bottom. Enlargement of the main line to these dimensions from Port Dalhousie to the feeder and also of the feeder to Dunnville along with the construction of the Port Maitland branch was completed in 1845. The enlarged cut-stone locks were completed by 1848.54

Meantime the Grand River proved to be an unreliable source of water during the dry season. The Board of Works, therefore, decided in 1843 that the early project of adopting the level of Lake Erie as the highest level of the main line and of supplying the canal with water from the lake should be carried out.55 The main line was opened to Lake Erie, through the feeder and the Port Maitland branch, in 1843. At the same time the section of the summit level situated between the mouth of the feeder and Port Colborne was emptied and excavated by hand. A contract was given in 1846 for deepening the "deep cut" section and widening the bottom to 45 feet.56 Dredging was commenced in 1847 but the contract was suspended the following year by the mutual consent of the Department of Public Works and the contractors.57 In 1850, though the "deep cut" was still unfinished, water was let into the section extending from the feeder to Port Colborne with the intention of completing its excavation by means of dredges.58

The demands of a heavy traffic forced the Department of Public Works in 1853 to decide to deepen the canal to 10 feet of water on the mitre sills and in 1854 to increase the bottom width of the summit level to 50 feet.59 In the lower reaches of the canal the increased depth could only be obtained by excavation. Contracts were let in 1854 for the deepening and widening of the whole of the summit level to 50 feet at bottom by dredging, and the work went on continuously up to the time of confederation.60

In 1861 a guard gate was constructed above lock 25 on the Thorold level.61 In 1859 the gates of this lock had been torn away by a steamer and the long reach above it had been emptied, thus causing much damage and a suspension of navigation for eight days. The guard gate on the Thorold level would prevent in future a recurrence of such delays as might arise from any similar accident.

During the period of 1841-67 the expenditure by the Department of Public Works on the construction of the Welland Canal was $4,900,820.60.62 The total expenditure from government funds since the beginning of its construction up to 30 June 1867 was $7,416,019.83.63 To this should be added the sum of $222,220 granted by the imperial government and expended before the union. The total cost of the Welland Canal by the time of confederation was $7,635,239.83.64

The Burlington Bay Canal may be considered a branch of the main line of the St. Lawrence navigation. It was a half-mile long cutting with no locks through a piece of low land which partly separated Lake Ontario from a large sheet of deep water called Burlington Bay. This canal enabled vessels to reach both the city of Hamilton and the Desjardins Canal65 leading to the town of Dundas. Burlington Bay, lying at the upper end of Lake Ontario, was almost entirely separated from the latter by a sand bar 6 miles long and 300 feet wide. It contained several good landing places and the importance of opening a navigable channel through it to Lake Ontario became apparent at an early date.

On 19 March 1823, a Bill was passed in the Upper Canada legislature authorizing the construction of a navigable canal between Burlington Bay and Lake Ontario.66 Commissioners were appointed to carry out the construction of this canal, and in 1825 they reported that they had received the services of Mr. Hall as engineer and had entered into contracts with a firm of contractors who agreed to complete the work by 1 October 1825, for the sum of $34,000.67 Unfortunately difficulties arose between the contractors and the commissioners. This retarded the progress of the works which were not completed until 1832. From then until the union in 1841, the works appear to have been extended gradually every year and the channel to have been deepened. The amount expended on this canal up to 1841 was £31,089.0.5 ($124,356.08).68

After the union the canal was placed under the care of the Board of Works whose chairman reported that this canal was in a ruinous and dilapidated condition. In 1843 the board commenced some improvements here which were finished in 1850.69 These works consisted of the deepening, straightening and widening of the artificial channel then in use; the lining of the sides of the channel with cribwork filled with stone, and the establishment of a ferry over the channel. In 1855 the outer end of the south pier was extended 300 feet into Lake Ontario, and the river end of the south pier was extended 50 feet into the bay.70 The expenditure by the Department of Public Works on the construction of the Burlington Bay Canal from the union in 1841 up to confederation was $291,044.49.71 The total cost of the canal from the time of its commencement in 1825 to 1 July 1867, was $432,684.40.72

Toward the end of the 18th century a small canal with a wooden lock was built by the North West Company to overcome the falls and rapids in the St. Marys River, connecting Lakes Superior and Huron, and thereby ease the passage of their batteaux through this area. The survey for this canal was made in 1797 and the canal which resulted was about one-half mile long and was provided with a lock 35 feet long, 8 feet 9 inches wide with a lift of 9 feet. In 1799 the North West Company applied for a grant of land at Sault Ste. Marie for a trading post, an application opposed by Messrs. Phyn Inglis & Co. the London agents for the rival XY Company. Writing on 13 March 1800 to the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, the Duke of Portland agreed with Messrs. Phyn Inglis & Company that the possession by the North West Company of a tract of land on the Falls of St. Mary would be injurious to others engaged in the fur trade. His Grace stated, "I am strongly inclined to be of opinion that it must be very much for the benefit of the fur trade, that about four or five leagues or perhaps the whole of the strait in question, should be retained in the hands of the Crown."73

By 1802 the disputes between the North West and XY companies were increasing in virulence. In April of that year Messrs. McTavish & Company, on behalf of the North West Company, applied for the sole use of the improvements on the north side of Sault Ste. Marie. A quotation from their memorial will show what these improvements were. The company mentioned the efforts it had made to render the Indian trade free and independent of the American government by exploring and opening communications with the interior country through British territory. It then went on to say:

That in furtherance of the same view and contemplating the advantages of a free and unobstructed passage between Lakes Huron and Superior, your memorialists, in the year 1797, caused a proper survey to be made on the British side of the Falls of St. Mary; the sixth part of the expense of which, amounting to about forty-five pounds, was defrayed by the House of Messrs. Forsyth, Richardson & Co. That in consequence of the report made by the said survey, your memorialists have since that period, actually cut a road forty-five feet wide across the carrying place, and opened a canal, upwards of three thousand feet in length, with a lock which raises the water nine feet, and also erected thereon a saw-mill, storehouses and other necessary buildings for facilitating the navigation of said canal.74

The company followed this résumé with an account of the efforts it had made to secure communication by purchasing land from the Indians; by improvements at Kaministikwia, and the great cost of the canal, increased by annual interest and the charges for maintenance and salaries. The canal yielded no revenue but was merely intended for facilitating the transport between the lakes, entitling it, the company believed, to the sole use of all its improvements. it represented further:

That if Your Excellency should order the navigation of aforesaid canal at the Falls of St. Mary to be laid open, Your Excellency will be pleased to take into consideration the great expense of that establishment, and allow an adequate toll on the property that shall be carried through the said canal, sufficient to indemnify your memorialists for a great proportion of the said expense and also proportionate to the benefit to be derived from the ease and security of the said navigation, until which period your memorialist must consider the said canal a private property and will prevent all others benefitting by it.75

A counter memorial was now signed 15 April 1802, by Messrs. Forsyth, Richardson & Company and by Messrs. Parker, Gerard, Ogilvy & Company at Montreal. This memorial speaks of the canal constructed by the North West Company as "a species of canal or dam, on the lower of which they (the North West Company) have erected a saw mill and which canal or dam facilitates the conveyance of merchandise in furs between the said lakes."76 These companies insisted on their right to make use of it on payment of a reasonable compensation and asked that a competent officer be sent to make a survey and report on the said canal or dam.

On 26 July 1814, Gabriel Franchère arrived at the east end of Michipicoten Bay where he met Captain McCargo and the crew of one of the schooners of the North West Company who had escaped from Sault Ste. Marie. The Americans had attacked that post, pillaged it of every valuable article belonging to the company, and then set fire to all the houses, stores and sheds. On 30 July, Franchère, McGillivray and others went to Sault Ste. Marie where they found the ruins of the buildings, including the sawmill and the schooner driven down to the foot of the rapid where she burned to the water's edge.

Following the amalgamation of the North West and Hudson's Bay companies in 1821, new buildings were erected at the Sault. On 1 March 1824, Thomas Thain, agent for the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada, wrote to Colonel Darling, the military secretary, offering "to enter into such arrangements for the sale of the buildings at present occupied by the servants of the company at St. Mary's as may suit the view of His Excellency."77 In the course of the negotiations a plan of the buildings was sent which shows the canal but not the lock; there is marked, however, a race to the saw-mill which it is stated on the plan was built in 1821.78

In 1851 two petitions were presented to the Canadian legislature relative to the construction of a canal on the same side; one on behalf of Angus D. Macdonell79 of Toronto, the other from Frederick Capreol.80 Macdonell asked for an Act of Incorporation for the construction of a ship canal around the Sault. Capreol asked for a charter to be granted to him under certain stipulations for a canal at the Sault to connect Lakes Superior and Huron. A bill to incorporate the Sault Ste. Marie Canal Company represented by Macdonell was introduced in the legislature and passed second reading.81 During the third reading on 22 July 1851, however, Francis Hincks moved its rejection which was seconded by Louis Lafontaine and carried.

The following year Macdonell presented another petition for a charter. By this time, however, the state of Michigan had begun a canal on the American side which was completed in 1855. Nothing further was done in this matter by the Canadians until several years after confederation.


As already indicated, a second line of navigation extended from Montreal to Kingston via Ottawa, a distance of 246-1/2 miles. After leaving the Lachine, the canals on this route were Ste. Anne (known as the Ste. Anne Lock), Carillon, Chute-à-Blondeau, Grenville and Rideau. Their united length was 142-7/8 miles, including the Lachine, and in going from Montreal to Kingston the total lockage was 518-1/4 feet; that is, 401-1/4 rise and 177 feet fall, during seasons of high water. As mentioned previously the Carillon, Chute-à-Blondeau, Grenville and Rideau were designed as military works. In the decade preceding the union, designs were prepared for the construction of a canal and lock as would overcome the rapids at Ste. Anne, and the legislature of Lower Canada as early as 1831 made an appropriation for the construction of such works.82 Finally in August, 1839, the Board of Works of Lower Canada appointed an engineer to make the necessary surveys and plans.83 Tenders for the work were received in the autumn of 1839 but, owing to a prolonged discussion relating to the effect of the proposed work on the level of the waters of the Lake of Two Mountains as well as the question whether Ste. Anne was the best site for the lock, the contract for the works was not signed until 18 May 1840.84

At the time of union this work was among those transferred to the Province of Canada, only $19,860.02 having been spent on its construction up to that time.85 The lock was completed on 22 June 1843, and the first boats passed through on the twenty-sixth. On 14 November the works were announced as complete. The canal was 1/8-mile long with one lock 190 feet by 45 feet with 6 feet depth of water on the sills at low water and 7 feet at ordinary high water.86 The total rise of lockage was 3 feet. In 1849 two piers were erected below the lock to guide vessels through the channel while in 1855 a pier extending 150 feet above the lock was commenced and finished the following year.87 During the period 1856-58 rock was cleared from the channel. The expenditure on this canal from the time of union up to 30 June 1867 was $114,596.49.88

We already know that the ordnance or military canals (Carillon, Chute-à-Blondeau, Grenville and Rideau) were constructed by the imperial government and were managed by imperial authority. On 24 March 1848, however, the imperial government proposed to transfer these canals to the care of the Province of Canada and to confide the management of them to a board composed of civil and military officers.89 At the time, financial consideration did not permit the province to accept the proposed transfer as it was feared that the cost of management and repairs of the works would exceed the revenue to be derived from them. On 3 March 1853, the imperial government made a second proposition to the province whereby the canals would be transferred to Canada and the cost of maintenance and management defrayed by the imperial government up to 30 September 1853.90 Pending settlement of the question, the Canadian government by order in council of 13 May 1853, resolved to pay the expenses and management of these works from 1 October 1853.91 The conditions upon which the ordinance property was to be transferred were stated in a third dispatch of 14 July 1853.92 By an order in council of 14 September 1853, the Canadian government accepted the proposed conditions but demanded the absolute control and management of the canals and lands to be transferred with the same.93 The imperial government agreed to this proposal in 1855, whereupon an Act was passed by the Canadian government on 30 May 1855,94 authorizing the governor general to accept the transfer by an order in council which was passed on 25 January 1856, and was ratified by an Act of the Canadian Parliament (19 Vic., C.115) on 19 June 1856.95 These canals were then placed under the control of the Department of Public Works by an order in council dated 3 March 1857. They were maintained at the expense of the province from 1 October 1853 to 30 June 1867, at a cost of $617,116.15 inclusive of $3,146.58 for the Rideau survey.96


The Richelieu River and Lake Champlain route formed the third line of improved inland navigation, It was designed to place the St. Lawrence River in communication with Lake Champlain and the American system of canals which led to the Hudson River and New York City. The lock and dam at St. Ours, which was 14 miles above the mouth of the Richelieu, retained the water of the river and gave a depth of not less than 7 feet as far as the lower entrance to the Chambly Canal. The need of opening a slack water communication between the St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain was freely discussed in the years immediately following the close of the War of 1812. Accordingly a Bill was passed in 1818 by the legislature of Lower Canada granting to a company the right of forming a canal so as to connect the navigation of the lake with the basin at Chambly and avoid the Chambly Rapids.97 This basin was an expansion of the Richelieu River; it had deep water, and on the western side of it was situated the village of Chambly, where also was located the entrance of the canal, at a distance of about 46 miles from the mouth of the river. The Act passed by the legislature prescribed that the locks should not be less than 20 feet in breadth, and of a depth sufficient to admit vessels drawing 5 feet of water. The capital of the company was limited to £45,000 ($180,000) and the term within which the canal was to be completed was limited to seven years. The company ordered the necessary surveys and prepared three designs, with their different dimensions for a canal with its locks, and in 1821 submitted to the legislature that the cost of even the smallest of these canals would far exceed the capital authorized to be raised for the purpose. The company therefore asked for authority to increase the capital. The matter was thoroughly considered by a committee of the legislature which reported that the breadth of the locks should not be less than 30 feet with 5 feet depth of water. The committee expressed the opinion that the civil and military authorities should be empowered to take up such shares or portion of shares of the canal as might be left unsold and that a fund should be appropriated for that purpose.98

In 1823 the works had not yet been commenced and it became evident that the company would forfeit its rights under the clause in their Act which prescribed that the canal should be completed within seven years. A new Act was therefore passed appropriating £50,000 ($200,000) for the construction of the canal.99 The Act fixed the breadth of the locks at 20 feet with a depth of 5 feet. It provided for the appointment of a commission and stipulated that the works should not be commenced until after the completion of the Lachine Canal. The delays were a source of disappointment to the merchants of Quebec and were the cause of a petition to the legislature in 1826 praying that the canal might be commenced immediately.100 Yet nothing was done in the matter until 1829 when the commissioners were appointed inconformity with the Act.101 These commissioners were charged with the management both of the works at St. Ours and those of the Chambly Canal. Following their appointment the commissioners ordered an examination of the river by Mr. Fleming, civil engineer, who informed them that there were two modes of improving it: first, by raising the water by means of a dam; and second, by dredging its bed. Fleming advised the latter plan and the commissioners adopted it.102

For two years (1830-31) the commissioners continued to employ men by the day in raising the boulders and large stones from the bed of the river. The original appropriation of the legislature for the works was £7,950 ($31,800).103 By the end of 1831 there was still a balance of this sum unexpended amounting to £4,000 ($16,000). However, nothing further was attempted until after the appointment of Mr. Hoskins in March, 1835, as the engineer of the Chambly Canal. He advised the abandonment of the project of deepening the river and recommended the construction of a dam, with a cut-stone lock.104 The commissioners approved Hoskins' suggestion, secured tenders, entered into a provisional contract for the execution of the work, and applied to the legislature for an additional grant. A bill authorizing an appropriation of £9,500 ($38,000) in addition to the unexpended balance of £4,000 ($16,000) passed the legislature.105 And there for a time the matter rested. In 1840, however, the commissioners were authorized to borrow a sum of £35,000 ($140,000).106 and the works were fully resumed; but owing to difficulties with the contractors very little progress was made during the year.

After the union of the provinces, the Board of Works ordered new surveys to be made. At the same time the board approved the plan of a lock and dam at St. Ours but selected a different location from that proposed by Hoskins. The works were finally commenced in 1844 and after some interruption in 1846, from the failure of the first contracts, they were completed in the middle of September 1849. The canal was 1/8-mile long and had one lock 200 feet long by 45 feet wide with a depth of 7 feet of water on the sills and a total rise of lockage of 5 feet. In the spring of 1849 high waters overflowed the coping of the locks. However, this difficulty was overcome by raising the lock walls 5 feet higher in 1851. During the period 1841-67 expenditure on the construction of this work was $121,537.65.107

27 Profile of lock sections of the Welland Ship canal. (Sessional Paper No. 20, 1914.) (click on image for a PDF version)

28 The Canadian Atlantic Railway barge Cherokee of Kingston in the Soulanges Canal. Public Archives of Canada.)

In 1841 immediate steps were taken to complete the Chambly Canal and in the spring of 1843 it was opened throughout. However, the works were found to have been executed in a very imperfect manner. The side walls of the lock were too thin and of poor material; the excavation was irregular in shape and not of sufficient depth. The irregularities in excavation were remedied in 1850 and repairs to the locks were completed in 1858.108 The canal was 12 miles long and contained 9 locks which differed in dimensions from 124 feet to 118 feet in length, but with a regular width of 23 feet. Depth of water on the sills was 7 feet and the total rise of lockage was 74 feet.109 Expenditure on the canal from 1841 to 30 June 1867 was $69,758.01.110 The total cost of the works at St. Ours and Chambly from commencement to 30 June 1867, was $756,249.41 of which $634,711.76 was expended on Chambly and $121,537.65 on St. Ours.111


Early in the history of Upper Canada, consideration was given to the opening of a line of navigation known as the Trent River navigation. This line ran between Lake Ontario and Lake Huron by means of the Trent River and the rivers and lakes of the Newcastle District so as to afford accommodation to the local traffic and shorten the distance by water between Lake Ontario and the Far West. In 1827 the legislature received from a number of settlers a petition relative to the navigation of the waters of the Newcastle District, whereupon a committee of the assembly was formed and reported that it was "exceedingly desirable and important that those waters which constitute the chain of lakes and rivers which run on a south-easterly direction from the vicinity of Lake Simcoe and which empty into the Bay of Quinte, by the River Trent, should be examined and surveyed by competent persons, with a view to ascertain how far they might be rendered navigable, and the probable expense attending the same."112 Nothing, however, appears to have been done before February, 1833, when a bill was passed appointing commissioners to receive plans and to execute the works necessary to the improvement of the inland waters of the Newcastle District, commencing at the mouth of the Otonabee River, which discharges into Rice Lake, and extending to Lake Scugog.113 The commissioners obtained a design for a short canal at Bobcaygeon with a wooden lock. It was commenced in 1835. The length of the canal was 973 feet and the lock was 119-1/2 feet long by 28 feet wide with 4-3/4 feet of water on the sills at low water and 7-1/4 feet at high water.114 The lock permitted vessels on Lakes Chemong, Buckhorn and Pigeon, which are on the same level, to ascend into Sturgeon Lake, and thence up the Scugog River as far as Lindsay.

The small wooden lock at Bobcaygeon was considered only a temporary expedient. It seems to have been well understood that larger and more permanent works in a comprehensive plan extending from Lake Ontario to Lake Huron would be eventually undertaken. In 1833 the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada instructed N. H. Baird to make a survey of the section extending from the mouth of the Trent to Rice Lake and to estimate the cost of rendering these waters navigable for vessels drawing 5 feet, the locks to be 134 feet long by 33 feet wide. In November of the same year Baird reported that there were several obstructions to navigation between the mouth of the Trent and the foot of Rice Lake.115 The obstructions were Nine Mile Rapids (where it was proposed to construct a lock); rapids and falls between Percy Landing and Crow Bay (proposed to construct 14 locks); Heely's Falls (proposed to construct 8 locks), and Crooks' Rapids (proposed to construct one lock). This formed a total of 37 locks with 18 dams and 4-3/4 miles of side cuts, the locks to be of stone, and the estimated cost of the public works was £233,447.6s.11-1/2d.116

In 1835, Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne, in compliance with an address from the assembly, appointed Baird, "to examine the most eligible route for a canal between Rice Lake and Lake Simcoe" (i.e., the second section of the line). Instead of cutting a canal through the whole distance, Baird advised the formation of a canal 13-3/4 miles in length from the Talbot River section; for the remainder of the line he recommended the damming of the river so as to establish a succession of still-water reaches connecting by means of locks. Baird proposed to leave Rice Lake, ascend the Otonabee, Clear, Buckhorn, Chemong, Pigeon, Sturgeon, and Cameron lakes and Balsam Lake, which is the summit. Then he descended into Lake Simcoe by means of a canal and about 2-3/4 miles of the River Talbot. The distance from River Lake to Lake Simcoe was 109-1/2 miles.117 Baird divided the works into five sections:

Rice Lake to Peterborough21-22/80 miles

Peterborough to Clear Lake14-24/80 miles

Clear Lake to Bobcaygeon31-40/80 miles

Bobcaygeon to Balsam Lake26-24/80 miles

Balsam Lake to Lake Simcoe16-40/80 miles

in Feet
No. of

Rice Lake to Peterborough4-1/221

Peterborough to Clear Lake147-1/2614

Clear Lake to Bobcaygeon38-1/825

Bobcaygeon to Balsam Lake3435

Balsam Lake to Lake Simcoe118-1/2(fall) —12


The total length of canal required on these five sub-divisions was about 17 miles. Proposing stone locks 134 feet by 33 feet with 5 feet of water on the sills, Baird estimated the cost of the whole at £262,067.16.4. Baird's estimate therefore for a line of navigation from the mouth of the Trent (in Bay of Quinte) to Lake Simcoe was £233,447.6.11-1/2 (from the mouth of Trent to Rice Lake) and £262,067.11.4 (from Rice Lake to Lake Simcoe), totalling £495,515.3.3-1/2.118 The two divisions of the Trent navigation were therefore, (1) Trent River and (2) inland or back waters of the New Castle District.

At a public meeting of the inhabitants of the townships of Fenelon, Verulam and Neighbourhood (held at Fenelon Falls on 24 September 1836 for the purpose of considering what measures should be adopted by them for assisting the work of opening the navigation of the Trent River), the following resolutions were adopted:

1. That the opening of the navigation from Lake Huron down to the Bay of Quinte by way of Lake Simcoe, the Trent River and intermediate chain of waters, would be the work of utmost importance in a national point of view, as connecting the extreme parts of Upper Canada by the best, nearest and cheapest internal communication, and thereby opening up the interior of the country, and concentrating her powers and energies.

2. In a military point of view it is almost essential to the proper defence of the country as affording in time of war a safe and easy communication remote from the frontier to the most distant parts of the province.

3. In a mercantile point of view the benefits to the country would be in numerable:— It would divert a great part of the carrying trade of the Western States to Upper Canada and thence either across to Oswego or down the St. Lawrence, from the present circuitous route through the United States. The whole line of Canal being also thro' one of the richest tracts of country which at present is almost shut out from every market, it would be a great stimulus to agriculture and commerce throughout the internal parts of the province. It would also be the means of opening up to Canada a new and extensive country for lumber which would be most conveniently situated for export either to the United States or English markets. It would also open to the country extensive and valuable iron mines, particularly the Marmora iron works, which are not valuable now for want of an outlet to market.

4. That the Bill which passed both houses of Legislature last session of Parliament for granting £16,000 to improve the navigation from Buckhorn Rapids through Chemong Lake, Pigeon Lake and Sturgeon Lake to the head of Scugog Lake, as also from Rice Lake to Peterboro would be of the greatest benefit to an extensive back country as affording a comparative relief until the Trent is opened, to their present distressed state from want of an outlet to Lake Ontario for their produce.119

In 1836 the legislature of Upper Canada passed an Act authorizing a loan of £16,000120 to be applied to the construction of works on the inland waters. In 1837 a loan of £77,507121 was authorized to be appropriated to the Trent River works. In 1839 a further loan of £3,000122 was authorized to be applied to the inland division, thus forming with the previous appropriation a sum of £19,000 for the inland or back water section. Meanwhile, two boards of commissioners were appointed by the lieutenant governor — one for each division — as provided by the Acts,123 and under the auspices of the commissioners the works were begun in 1837 with N. F. Baird as engineer. On the commencement of the works the receiver general laid aside the sum of £28,000 which had been provided by the sale of debentures to be applied to the works on the Trent River division. Since the value of the works under contract along with the proposed dam at the head of the Nine Mile Rapids, together with contingencies and engineering expenses, did not amount to more than £25,000, the funds provided were sufficient. However, during a period of tight money in 1838-39 the sums earmarked for the commissioners were applied to other purposes. Therefore up to the end of 1841 when the commissioners gave up their charge, the total amount in their hands for the works was only £20,935.124, Lack of funds was a continual source of embarrassment to the commissioners, and early in 1839 the contractors suspended operations. The total expenditure prior to the union on the two divisions was £44,398.125

In a memorandum to His Excellency the Governor General dated, 12 August 1841,126 the chairman of the Board of Works reported that the original intention was that this line of navigation would establish a through line of communication to accommodate the through trade between the western states and the seaboard and also the local traffic of the counties traversed. The chairman maintained that as a through line the navigation would not be successful owing to the great lockage required and the limited draft of water of the vessels which could be used on this route. In regard to local traffic he maintained that the route through the greater part was extremely circuitous. He stated further that the probable cost of the works, when completed, would be from £800,000 to £900,000 and that the scheme of forming a through line should be abandoned. He suggested, instead, that the locks which had been commenced should be finished and that slides to facilitate the descent of timber should be made. The chairman asked for an appropriation of £50,000 from the legislature to be applied to these works. His Excellency approved of these suggestions and the following works were authorized and executed before confederation.127 A dam erected at the head of Nine Mile Creek in 1844. The same year saw the completion of the unfinished lock and slide at Chisholm's Rapids. Piers and booms were constructed and placed on Percy Landing in 1844, while at Ranney's Falls a dam was built and a slide 1,492 feet long was completed in 1845 along with necessary guide booms. At Campbellford guide booms were positioned in 1844 and a bridge was built the same year. A cross dam of some 12 feet length and a swing bridge were built at Fidlers Island in 1848, while at Crow Bay a retaining boom 2,600 feet long was positioned and maintained. A dam and two slides were built at Heely's Falls in 1844 while at Crooks' Rapids a dam was built in 1835 and the lock and canal in 1844. The following year a timber slide was constructed and a bridge 485 feet long was made over the river below the dam with a swing bridge over the lock. At Whitlas' Rapids the lock, dam and canal, commenced before the union, were finished in 1848 and three piers and one boom were placed at Little Lake in 1852. A dam had been built at Buckhorn prior to the union while a slide with 2 feet draught of water with booms was made for the station. In 1857 the wooden lock was replaced by a stone one and in 1858 two slides were built and a basin and two mill-races excavated. Three sections of bridges were built over branches of the river opposite the lock in 1845 and were later placed in charge of the local township municipalities. A swing bridge connecting with this line of bridges was placed over the locks in 1858. At Lindsay (formerly Purdy's Mills) the wooden lock, commenced prior to the union, was completed in 1844. The lock was converted into a slide in 1859 and a bridge comprising three spans on cut-stone abutments and piers was opened in 1864.

Acting on a request made by the legislature and under the orders of the commissioner of Public Works, the chief engineer of that department caused an examination of the Trent River to be made between the Bay of Quinte and Rice Lake. This report, dated 22 April 1846,128 reviewed the plan proposed by Baird in 1833, a plan which called for the building of dams across the river at various points in its most rapid sections. This would form the river into a series of still-water reaches to be connected by means of locks. The chief engineer objected to this scheme believing that dams would interfere with the passage of timber, that they were not durable and were liable to be damaged by floods. He suggested instead the forming of three sections of canal, the first extending from near the mouth of the Trent to the head of the Nine Mile Rapids; the second from Percy Landing to the foot of Crow Bay, and the third, from Crow Bay to the head of connection with the completed locks at Heely's Falls. These three canals in Chisholm's and Crooks' Rapids would have opened a line of navigation from the Bay of Quinte to Peterborough and the Otonabee. The entire length of canal required in the three sections proposed was 18-1/4 miles requiring 29 locks. The chief engineer estimated the probable cost of the works (if executed on the scale adopted for the locks at Chisholm's and Crooks' Rapids) would be about £400,000 currency.

In 1855 the commissioner of Public Works stated that the cost of maintaining the slides and booms connected with the descent of timber on the Trent was greater than the revenues they produced. The commissioner recommended, therefore, that the slides and booms should be placed in charge of a committee or company of persons interested in the lumber trade on the Trent who had offered to assume their management.129 This recommendation was accepted by the government. Works connected with navigation, such as locks and lock-houses, remained under the direct control of the Department of Public Works. Works connected with the descent of timber at Chisholm's Rapids, Ranney's Falls, Middle Falls, Heely's Falls and Crooks' Rapids were handed over to the care of the company. It was authorized to levy tolls on timber descending the river. However, tolls were levied only at Ranney's Falls, Middle Falls and Heely's Falls where the works had been constructed expressly for the safe descent of timber. Previous to December, 1866, the rate of toll was one dollar per crib for each of the three slides. On 8 December 1866, however, an order in council was passed fixing the rate of toll payable at each of the three stations named above at one cent for each log 13 feet in length and a proportionate sum in pieces of greater length, and one dollar for each crib of square timber. The expenditure by the department on these improvements since the union in 1841 up to 30 June 1867 was $492,486.31130 The total cost of construction on these works since commencement up to 30 June 1867 amounted to $670,078.31, subscribed as follows:131

On canals prior to the union$ 92,449.33

   Slides prior to the union85,142.67

On canals since the union216,921.98

   Slides since the union228,347.05

   Roads since the union30,454.40

   Bridges since the union16,762.88

$ 670,078.31


A projected canal between the St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain, referred to as the Caughnawaga Canal, was first broached in 1847 when Messrs. John Young, Luther Holton, and other leading merchants of Montreal memorialized the governor general, Lord Elgin, stating that it was their intention to apply to the legislature for a charter to construct a canal to connect the St. Lawrence with Lake Champlain near St. John.132 They requested that in the meantime the government order a survey of the whole proposed work. Their object in pressing for construction of this canal was to open a cheap line of water communication between Canada and the eastern states. It was expected that this canal would lead to the extension of Canadian trade and would become, in connection with the St. Lawrence, the highway for produce from the West to the eastern states. Elgin acceded to the prayer of the memorialists and J. B. Mills, civil engineer, was instructed to make the required survey. This he did and on 19 February 1848, reported133

That in his opinion the upper terminus of the canal should be at St. John, the present head of the Chambly Canal, and that although the River Richelieu from St. John to Lake Champlain, a distance of 21 miles was not sufficiently deep in its whole length, it could be easily made so, at a trifling expense. If the projected site of the terminus on the St. Lawrence was at a point on the St. Lawrence above the Lachine Canal the total lockage would only be the absolute difference of level between Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence above the Lachine Canal, namely 29 feet.

Mills suggested that in forming the canal between St. John and Caughnawaga, the present Chambly Canal should be enlarged from St. John for 8-7/8 miles toward Chambly and then, following the low lands so as to allow the new canal to be supplied with water from Lake Champlain, to descend by three locks into the St. Lawrence at or near Caughnawaga. The length of the canal, including the 8-7/8 miles of enlarged Chambly, would be 32-1/2 miles, and Mills proposed that the locks should be 200 feet x 45 feet with 9 feet of water on the sills. The cost of the proposed work was estimated at £453,602 ($1,814,408).134

In 1852 the commissioner of Public Works urged the construction of the canal. Two years later, J. B. Jarvis, civil engineer, was instructed to report on the projected work both from an engineering and a commercial point of view. His report of 13 February 1855 reviewed the commercial relations between the United States and Canada and, considered the means of transport at the command of the Americans compared with the St. Lawrence and the Canadian canals. Jarvis concluded his report by advising the construction of the canal and suggested one with entrances at Caughnawaga and St. John, the latter to be the terminus on Lake Champlain. He projected a summit level 37-1/2 feet above Lake Champlain to be supplied with water from the Beauharnois Canal through a navigable feeder. He called for locks of cut-stone 230 feet in length by 36 feet in breadth and of sufficient depth to admit vessels drawing 10 feet of water, Jarvis estimated the cost of this work at $4,267,890.135

In 1855, S. Gamble, civil engineer, acting under instructions from the Department of Public Works, reviewed the conclusions arrived at by Messrs. Jarvis and Mills and advised the adoption of the Lake Champlain level as first suggested by Mills; that is, enlarging 8-7/8 miles of the Chambly Canal and following the low lands so as not to require a summit reach. He further recommended that the locks should be made 45 feet wide as on the St. Lawrence canals instead of 36 feet as recommended by Jarvis.136 In the same year still another civil engineer, W. H. Swift of Boston, was consulted and he too recommended in a report dated 6 June 1866 the line proposed by Mills.137 Finally, in January of the following year, Gamble reported that after examining the terrain between Lake Champlain and Lake St. Francis above the Beauharnois Canal he found that its formation was not favourable to the construction of a canal.138 Following this pessimistic report no further departmental action was taken on this subject.


One of the most pretentious of the projected Canadian canals was that proposed for connecting the St. Lawrence River and Georgian Bay.139 It was suggested that an important line of navigation could be opened between Canadian seaports and the western lakes by improving the Ottawa and French rivers. A glance at the map of Canada showed that a vessel going from Montreal to the far west, by the St. Lawrence and the lakes, made a straight southwest line to the head of Lake Erie, 607 miles from Montreal, then turning suddenly an acute angle, proceeded almost due north through Lakes St. Clair and Huron, 346 miles, to the point of juncture of the Great Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior. If, however, instead of following the foregoing route, vessels could ascend the Ottawa and French rivers, the line of navigation between Montreal and the point of juncture of the three great lakes would be more direct and shorter by nearly one-half the distance, This route of the Ottawa and French rivers formed the old French route between Montreal and the Far West, and a word might here be said regarding it.

Leaving Montreal one entered the Ottawa at Ste. Anne and ascended that river as far as the mouth of the Mattawa, a tributary of the Ottawa, 305 miles above Montreal. Entering the Mattawa one ascended 44-1/4 miles to the upper end of Trout Lake which lies at the summit; then, crossing a low sandy ridge three-fourths of a mile wide, one descended to the northeast shore of Lake Nipissing. Thirty miles further, at about the middle of its length and on its south side, were the headwaters of one of the tributaries of the French River. Following the tributary and the French River to its mouth, a distance of 50 miles, one entered Georgian Bay at the northeastern end of Lake Huron.

The government of united Canada gave serious thought to this route, had it examined by engineers under the Department of Public Works, and procured two engineers' reports on it in 1858 and again in 1860. The first engineer reported on 22 March 1858140 that the total length of the Ottawa route between Montreal and Lake Huron was 430 miles; that the distance between Montreal and Chicago by this route would be only 575 miles, while by that of the St. Lawrence and lakes it was 1,145 miles. He reported that all the obstructions to navigation between the two extremities would be overcome by the construction of a number of short canals the aggregate length of which (including the Lachine Canal) would be 58 miles, leaving 372 miles for river and lake navigation. He suggested the dimensions of the locks should be 250 feet long by 50 feet wide with 10 feet of water on the sills. He stated that in passing from Lake Huron to Montreal a vessel would ascend 83 feet to summit level and then descend 642 feet to the St. Lawrence at Montreal, thus giving for each passage a total rise and fall of 725 feet. Of these 725 feet, 698 would have to be overcome by means of locks. He further stated that by damming the mouth of Lake Nipissing at the head of the French River so as to raise the surface of the waters about 23 feet above the present level, a summit reservoir of 300 square miles would be formed which would be more than sufficient to ensure a constant supply of water on the summit reach. He estimated the cost of all the works necessary to complete the line of navigation at $24 million.

The second engineer reported on 2 January 1860.141 He stated that the projected canals on the upper sections of the Ottawa and French rivers would be through Laurentian rock, the removal of which would be very expensive. He suggested that the length of the canal to be excavated might be reduced by the construction of dams across the rivers thereby converting the rapids into a series of still sheets of water with locks from one to the other. By this means the total length of the shortest sections of canals would be 29-3/10 miles instead of 58 miles as proposed by the engineer who reported in 1858. The second engineer proposed that 69 locks with 709-1/2 feet of lockage would be required; that the locks should be 250 feet long by 45 feet wide with 12 feet of water on the sills. He estimated that the cost of the works would be $12,087,680 — just half that of the first plan. However, nothing further was done about this project prior to confederation.

There was yet another canal scheme which really formed the first part of the one for Georgian Bay. This was the scheme for improving the navigation of the Ottawa. The Chaudière Falls formed a barrier limiting the extent of the navigation of vessels leaving Montreal and ascending the Ottawa River. In the early 1850s public men became interested in the possibility of extending this navigation further up the Ottawa by means of canals. In 1853 surveys were undertaken to ascertain what works were necessary in order to extend the navigation from the foot of the Chaudière Falls to the head of Chats Lake, and in March 1854142 the chief engineer of the Department of Public Works reported that to ensure 7 feet depth of water for the navigation between the Chaudière Falls and Chats Lake, it would be necessary to construct 6 miles of canal with locks of the same length and breadth as the lock at Ste. Anne. The length of navigable reaches and proposed canals between the Chaudière and the head of Chats Lake were given as, first, a Chaudière Canal 6 miles in length with a total lockage rise of 63 feet from the navigable waters below the Chaudière Falls to the foot of Chaudière Lake; second, 25 miles of navigable waters from the foot of Chaudière Lake to Rapides des Chats; third, a canal 2-1/2 miles in length with a total rise in lockage of 50 feet from the foot of Rapides des Chats to Chats Lake, and fourth, a 25-mile stretch of navigable water on Chats Lake. It was decided to commence, at first, only the "Chats," the shorter of these two canals. Tenders were received for its construction and on 19 June 1854, a contract was entered into with Messrs. A. P. Macdonald and P. Schram.143

The works were commenced in August, 1854, and continued until November, 1856, when they were suspended since the contractors, who had undertaken the works at low rates, found themselves unable to proceed any further. The rock to be excavated proved to be much harder than was expected. The contract was cancelled and the contractors were paid for the work executed — the partial excavating of the pits for the five lower locks near the Chaudière Lake and the guard lock at the Chats. Some excavation was also made at the trunk of the canal between the lower locks and the guard lock. Stone was quarried and partly dressed for the construction of the locks, and a wharf was built at the foot of the canal. The amount paid to the contractors for the work done was $482,950.81144 Discussion again took place regarding the scale of navigation which should be adopted for the Ottawa River. Surveys were ordered but it was finally decided to postpone the completion of the work already commenced and they were not resumed before confederation.


Following the completion of the St. Lawrence canals it was found necessary to deepen the navigable channel of the St. Lawrence. The dredging of Lake St. Peter, a widening of the St. Lawrence about 31 miles long by 8 miles wide commencing 8-1/2 miles above Three Rivers, was undertaken. A shallow channel which wound through the lake presented obstacles to navigation early in the 19th century once vessels had begun to increase in size. In 1826 the Montreal merchants petitioned the Lower Canada legislature for a grant to be used in clearing the St. Lawrence in Lake St. Peter.145 Four years later Capt. H. W. Bayfield, Commander of the Royal Navy, surveyed the lake and in his report of the following year,146 1831, stated that the upper end of the lake contained a number of alluvial islands formed by sediment brought down by the river and deposited in the more tranquil waters of the lake resulting in the formation of islands and shoals which contracted the width of the navigable channel. Bayfield also stated that it was problematical whether any efficient means could be devised to remove the impediments in the lake and river so as to enable vessels of greater draft of water than those presently engaged in the trade to pass through the lake to Montreal. A few years later in 1838 the Montreal Committee of Trade informed the legislature, in a petition,147 that the lake was now so shallow that vessels drawing more than 10 to 12 feet of water were unable to pass through it. The petitioners also mentioned that they had been assured by scientific men that the ship channel through St. Peter could be deepened, without difficulty, to 16 feet.

Following the union of the provinces, the Board of Works ordered a survey of the lake with the result that dredging of a straight channel was begun in 1844.148 However, this extensive work was suspended three years later due to lack of funds. In 1850 the Montreal Harbour Commission, in desperation, took over the work.149 Instead of dredging a straight channel, the commissioners decided to follow the crooked natural one which was 11-1/2 miles long and had a minimum depth of 10-1/2 feet at low water, in November, 1852, the ship channel through Lake St. Peter was completed to 15 feet at low water. By 1860 this had been deepened to 17-1/2 feet and five years later to 20 feet.150


Before concluding this treatment of the St. Lawrence navigation a word should be said about the steam tug service which was started in 1849.151 This service was required in each of the four sections of the St. Lawrence canal system (i.e., Lachine to Beauharnois Canal, Beauharnois Canal to Cornwall Canal, Cornwall Canal to Prescott and Prescott to Kingston) in order that vessels passing through these canals would experience little or no delay on the river and lakes connecting them. The route from Montreal to Lake Ontario was 168 miles long and included stretches of broad lake and strong currents on which tow paths for sailing vessels were impossible. Therefore, in 1849, the government granted a subsidy to a line of steam tugs between Montreal and Prescott which left each end of the line at stated intervals of time and towed vessels and barges at certain fixed rates according to the size and tonnage of the vessels. Three tugs were employed the first year (1849), two the second year and four the third year. There was no subsidy given in 1852, with unsatisfactory results. The subsidy was renewed, therefore, in 1853 when six tugs were employed to cover the whole river between Montreal and Kingston and the service was thereafter sustained by government aid. Following 1857, at least nine tugs were annually employed. As the trade of the St. Lawrence increased, the government subsidies decreased from time to time. The bonus given with the contract which expired in the fall of 1860 was $24,000; with that which expired in 1862, $20,000, and with that in 1863, $16,000 along with a tariff of 10 per cent less than that of the former contracts. The following is a statement for the year 1863 taken from returns furnished by the contractors indicating the number of towages on each division up and down and the amounts collected under the contract tariff.152

Lachine Beauharnois Canal939$6,440.54

Beauharnois Canal to Cornwall6409,169.79

Dickinson's Landing to Kingston55918,665.09

Kingston to Dickinson's Landing449$10,141.86

Cornwall to Beauharnois Canal4824,618.62

Beauharnois Canal to Lachine7043,438.79

The total number of towages was 3,773 and the total amount collected under contract tariff was $52,474.71.



The period from 1842 to 1849 witnessed a change in British trade policy which affected the economic life in Canada.153 Hitherto, under the policy of protection, the Canadas had enjoyed a preferential position in the British market. Britain's new trade policy, however, so affected the Canadian grain trade that in 1842 the number of sea-going vessels ascending the St. Lawrence fell off by 377, while in 1841-42 the volume of imports and exports fell off by £500,000. The passage of the Canadian Corn Act of 1843 by the imperial Parliament was an attempt to lessen the strain of the transition from protection to free trade by admitting Canadian grain and flour into the home market on a preferential footing and thereby to divert the grain of the western states to the Canadian waterways. For a short time this appeared to work. American wheat was imported, milled in Canada and re-exported as Canadian flour. As a result a large amount of capital was invested in the Canadian milling industry which was just beginning to work profitably when this whole trade was suddently crushed by the famous Act of 1846 which put an effective end to the Corn Laws and with them the preferential duties in favour of Canadian grain. The Americans now became the millers. They purchased Canadian grain, turned it into flour and sold it in the British market as American flour.

In the year the Corn Laws were repealed, Montreal received yet another blow when the American government created the bonding privilege whereby goods from western Canada could be sent through United States territory in bond and shipped to American ports.154 Formerly the Upper Canada merchant had to bring in his entire yearly stock in summer due to the winter closing of the Canadian waterways, but now he could carry smaller stocks and replenish them whenever necessary by means of importation through United States territory over American railways.

With the opening of the enlarged Lachine Canal in 1848 the greatly improved St. Lawrence canal system was finally ready. This magnificent inland waterways system provided a seaway 9 feet in depth to the interior of the continent and cut freight rates in half between Lake Ontario and Montreal. But the construction of this system had so greatly increased the provincial debt that the Canadian government in 1848 had even considered briefly the repudiation of that debt. To meet the excess expenditure consequent upon heavy payments for public works, the government found it necessary to issue one million dollars of exchequer bills having one year to run and bearing interest at 6 per cent.155 So poor was the provincial credit, however, that these bills quickly fell considerably below par.

29 Profile of Lake Ontario entrance of the Welland Ship canal. (Annual Report, 1915-16, Dept. of Railways and Canals.) (click on image for a PDF version)

30 Shipping at the entrance of the Lachine canal, Quebec, probably in the 1890s. (Public Archives of Canada.)

Unfortunately the expected increase in traffic using the St. Lawrence waterway did not materialize despite the strenuous efforts made to increase the flow of trade. It had been hoped that the repeal of the imperial Navigation Acts in June, 1849, which ended the exclusion of foreign vessels from the St. Lawrence, would result in an increase in shipping. But this had not happened. Moreover, by means of the American Drawback Acts and the advantages of a bigger port, New York enjoyed a preference over Montreal as an Atlantic outlet for the interior trade. At the same time the attempt of the Canadian government to find new markets in the United States through reciprocal free trade in certain products proved futile when the American government failed to pass legislation similar to the Canadian Act of 1849.156 And finally, the pervasive world depression in 1849 adversely affected international trade thereby reducing the flow of goods through the Canadian canal system.


By the time the St. Lawrence waterway was completed and ready for traffic in 1848 the American railways, built "to handle western traffic and to avoid the difficulty and distance of the canals," were already carrying increasing amounts of freight to New York. Between Chicago and Buffalo the distance by rail was 500 miles whereas by waterways it was 1,000 miles. It was clear, therefore, that Canada needed to combine with her superior internal navigation a railway system connected therewith and mutually sustaining each other; otherwise the vast expenditure on communications would most likely remain unproductive. Hence the Grand Trunk Railway was designed in Canada to supplement the canals in their struggle to attract western traffic. Allan McNab, chairman of the standing committee on railways and telegraph lines, in the committee's first report dated 21 July 1851, stated:157

After a full consideration of the subject, Your Committee have come to the conclusion that the interest of the Province will be best consulted by the construction of a grand Trunk Line of Railway extending from Quebec to Windsor on the River Detroit, and connecting with any line which may be constructed between Halifax and Quebec. This great line is considered by the people of Canada as a Provincial undertaking and should be taken up as such, ... as it will in the opinion of Your Committee, in conjunction with our magnificent chain of Water Communication, secure for Canada a large portion of the Trade and Commerce of Western America. The magnitude of the proposed line of Railway and the consequent expense of construction is such that its completion will be postponed for an indefinite period if left to private enterprise even though assisted by government under the provisions of the Guarantee Act. Your Committee are therefore glad to learn that the Government are prepared to act promptly and efficiently in the matter and to pledge the credit and resources of the Province in aid of the construction of the line.

The Grand Trunk Railway was described as supplying

a means of intercommunication through the valley of the St. Lawrence during the whole of the year, an advantage which, owing to the river being frozen over for at least six months annually had previously been enjoyed during the summer. Even during the season when the navigation is open, the means of transport by water are imperfect. Seagoing vessels, of 700 to 800 tons burden, could proceed safely as far as Lake Ontario; but the limited dimensions of the Welland Canal made if necessary that the produce from Lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior should be conveyed to Lake Ontario in smaller vessels, not exceeding 300 tons burden. The Grand Trunk Railway was intended to obviate the necessity for the transshipment of cargo.

This railway was completed from Toronto to Montreal in October 1856, which meant that Canada West now enjoyed through communication with Portland, Maine, over lines built three years earlier. However, instead of being supplementary to the canals, the Grand Trunk was competitive from the very beginning. The railway promoters, who had seen the English railways triumph over the canals, fully expected the railway to drive the steamboat traffic off the St. Lawrence. But this did not happen. In summertime the Grand Trunk faced stiff competition from the water carriers on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence. By 1859 it was realized that the railway could not compete with the water carriers for heavy traffic. Between Montreal and Toronto the water rate was from $2 to $3 per ton, while the rail rate was $3.50.158 Nor could the railway, as it turned out, recoup its losses by charging heavier rates on the carriage of grain in the winter time for the producers simply stored their commodities until water navigation re-opened in the spring.

On the whole the Canadian trunk railways had little success in competing for western traffic. Like the canals they suffered because of the inability of the St. Lawrence route "to attract highly remunerative inbound traffic. Successful competition for bulky raw materials with low freight rates was handicapped by the effectiveness of New York and American roads in attracting manufactured products."159 There was no proportionate increase in the share of traffic which was divided between the railways and canals. At the same time, Canadian railways often intensified the struggle between New York and the St. Lawrence by favouring the New York route. Take the case of the Welland railway which was completed in October 1858 and built to solve the problem facing the Welland Canal of the bigger and more numerous propellers being unable to pass through. The railway received freight from vessels lightened to 10 feet of draft of water so as to pass through the canal, and in 1860 it "received the cargos of 230 vessels at Port Colborne, 150 of which were of such dimensions as admitted of their passing through the Canal."160 In this same year, the line carried down 81,243 tons of grain, as through freight, to American ports and only 4,761 tons to Canadian ports.161


By the 1850s it was abundantly clear that a very large share of the western trade in grain, both American and Canadian, found its way to the seaboard and the eastern states through American channels. It was equally clear that the best and cheapest channel of general commerce as regards transportation was the natural waterway (i.e., sea, lake, river) as against the artificial navigation of canals. And it was undeniable that Canada possessed through her natural navigation, which with the exception of 69 miles of canal embraced the entire distance from Chicago to the sea, the means of supplying the advantages of the natural waterway to a greater degree than the United States could hope to do. What, then, were the causes of the inadequate Canadian share of the western trade? Why did very much more of this trade not pass through the Canadian channels? Clearly there was a great discrepancy between the amount of western trade flowing through the Canadian channels and the considerably better construction and geographical position of the Canadian channels over the American.

As early as 1851 the diversion of the Great Lakes trade by the Erie Canal to New York was noted and attributed to the high price of ocean freight from Quebec to Liverpool.162 It was held that because Canadian seaports were closed for five months of the year the St. Lawrence never would, regardless of how perfect the provincial internal communications were, attract extensive and varied commerce from all parts of the world. The suspension of shipping for five months neutralized the superior advantages Canada possessed of bringing produce to tidewater, for the higher ocean freight rates counterbalanced the cheaper inland transport. But why were ocean freight rates from the St. Lawrence higher than those from New York and Boston? It was believed that they must always be higher since cargos could always be obtained to the two American ports, whereas to the St. Lawrence a greater number of vessels than the import trade could profitably employ must lose the voyage westward and come in ballast.163 "Export tonnage must keep pace with import."

In 1856 the amount of trade diverted to American seaports was 6,183,433 tons against 594,755 tons to Canadian ports.164 In that year 4,022,617 tons were transported on the Erie (boat) Canal against 976,656 tons on the Welland (ship) Canal of which 625,132 tons were to and from American ports, against 351,524 tons to and from Canadian ports. This left only 243,231 tons from Lake Ontario to make up the 594,755 tons passing up and down the St. Lawrence to the seaboard through Canada.165 In this same year 634,536 tons were transported on the St. Lawrence (steamboat) canals but of this only 39,681 tons passed to and from the United States; nearly 400,000 tons consisted of wood, timber, earth and minerals, leaving some 200,000 tons of merchandise and the productions of agriculture to and from the seaports of Montreal and Quebec.166 At the same time the return of toll on the New York canals was $2,748,212; on the Canadian canals $344,888; $266,420 from the Welland and $77,720 for the St. Lawrence.

This diversion of the lakes trade by the Erie Canal to New York accelerated and in 1858 a government report stated that "the proportion of the lake trade diverted to New York is as six and a half million tons to about half a million forwarded to Quebec."167 For the period 1855-60 the arrivals of grain at the two ports of Buffalo and Oswego averaged 1,313,277 barrels of flour and 27,527,088 bushels of grain, while for the same period the average shipments from Canadian ports seaward were but 205,821 barrels and 672,625 bushels.168 From 1 September to 31 December 1859, shipments from Toronto alone were 63,627 barrels of flour, 805,224 bushels of wheat and 167,364 bushels for barley. Of these amounts the ports of Montreal and Quebec received only 19,715 barrels and 21,691 bushels of wheat or about 2 per cent of the latter, the remainder finding its way to Oswego and other American ports on Lake Ontario.169 In 1859 "the entire shipments by sea from Canada were only 140,235 barrels of flour, 58,029 bushels of wheat and 434,328 bushels of other grain."170 A few years later the supremacy of the American route over the St. Lawrence was clearly stated:171

The greatest drawback to the success of this (St. Lawrence) route, as a competitor for European trade is the high rates of ocean freight from Montreal and Quebec when compared with those from New York. The latter city being the great commercial emporium of the Northern States, controls the bulk of the import trade; consequently, freights rule lower at that port than any other on this side of the continent, because vessels arriving out with cargo can afford to carry produce to Europe cheaper than those trading to Quebec or Montreal, which, in great part, have to make the voyage here in ballast. Besides, as the staple exports of Canada are bulky whilst the tonnage of her imports is comparatively small, it is evident that we cannot hope to compete for European freights except by carrying so much cheaper on our line of internal communication, as to compensate for the advantage of the ocean voyage.

Along with the lower ocean freight rates from New York there were other factors favouring an increase in traffic by the Erie Canal and later by rail to New York as against the St. Lawrence route to Montreal and Quebec. One of these was the application of steam to inland navigation. The use of bigger steam vessels on the upper lakes rendered the Welland Canal increasingly obsolete. In 1854 propellers totaling 21,181 tons were unable to descend through the canal to Lake Ontario.172 Six years later one-third to one-fourth of the vessels in the grain trade could not pass the canal and nearly three-quarters of the propellers were too large.173

Deepening the Welland Canal did not really improve conditions. Prior to 1850 the canal had been built to a depth of 8 feet 6 inches on the sills with 27 locks of 150 feet by 26 feet to overcome a height of 330 feet. In 1853 the canal was deepened to 10 feet but its narrow locks remained and were responsible for the situation in which "the St. Lawrence canals can pass vessels (200 tons) of double the tonnage capacity of these (400 tons) which can get through the Welland Canal, yet their draught being one foot less, the same vessel which can pass through the latter canal, can not without being lightened, pass through the St. Lawrence canals."174 Or again: "the St. Lawrence canals were designed for side-wheel steamers; the Welland Canal for sail and screw steamers. A vessel with twenty-six feet beam may proceed to sea, from any of the upper lakes, by the route of the Welland and St. Lawrence Canals, but she can not enter Lake Champlain with more than twenty-three feet or pass down the Ottawa route with more than eighteen feet beam. She may carry ten feet draft into Lake Ontario but must lighten to nine in descending the St. Lawrence.175 The river was becoming, therefore, a serious handicap to the utilization of the St. Lawrence route.176 This is shown in evidence given by Captain C. D. Price before a parliamentary committee in 1856. Price was the master of a vessel carrying freight from Chicago to Liverpool. He reported a detention of six days between Prescott and Montreal and when asked the cause of this he replied:177

It arose from the depth of water in the St. Lawrence Canals. Her draught was 9 feet 6 inches from Chicago through the Welland Canal to Dickinson's Landing where we had to lighten to less than 9 feet, which detained us two days. We were also detained two days in the Beauharnois Canal, where the level was still less than in the Cornwall, and one day in the Lachine Canal arising from the level being drawn down by mills.

And when asked about the expense of lightening through the canals Captain Price replied, "It averages about $250 for each vessel on her downward trip when they draw 10 feet. The Welland canal admits vessels of 10 feet 6 inches."

Five years after Price's testimony the Commissioner of Public Works reported that:178

Although its tonnage capacity (Welland Canal) is nearly twice that of the Erie canal enlargement, still more than one-third of the steam vessels which navigate the upper lakes are unable to pass through it. The large and profitable class of propellers which now form the favourite means of transportation on Lake Erie, cannot descend into Lake Ontario. ...

If vessels of a large class could pass, without breaking bulk, from Chicago to Oswego, or the sea via the St. Lawrence, it is believed that the Welland route could not fail to attract a large amount of the produce which now passes through the Erie Canal, and, notwithstanding the prestige in favour of the old established lines and the attraction of the great commercial centre of New York, be successful in competing both for the through traffic to Europe, and for the carrying trade of the grain and flour consumed in the North Eastern States.

Still another factor which aided in bringing about the unsatisfactory result in regard to the amount of traffic passing along the St. Lawrence route was the reduction and eventual removal, throughout the fifties, of the tolls from the American canals and New York railways. To meet this threat and at the same time to hope that an increase in traffic would result, the Canadian government finally passed an order in council, dated 28 May 1860, "abolishing tolls on the St. Lawrence Canals and refunding 90 per cent of the tolls paid on the Welland Canal to vessels entering the St. Lawrence Canals or hailing from any Canadian port and pushing upwards through the Welland Canal." This resulted in an increased tonnage "by 7-1/2 per cent in 1861 over 1860 and in 1862 by 15 per cent over 1861." Yet the removal of tolls did not result in any substantial increase in western traffic.179 The tolls were, therefore, reimposed in full in 1863. Whereupon traffic declined 8.26 per cent on the Welland Canal and 7.19 per cent on the St. Lawrence.180 Improvements in facilities for transhipping grain at Kingston and Montreal along with other advantages could not prevent the continued decline in the proportion of traffic.

Finally, the operation of the United States coasting laws militated against a carrying trade using the St. Lawrence route.181 American vessels were allowed to use the Welland Canal and thereby build up an extensive carrying trade between New York and Boston and the western states by way of the American lake ports of Ogdensburg and Oswego, a trade which could not exist without the use of the canal. But Canadian vessels were excluded from any share of this carrying trade" by the operation of the United States coasting laws and "the growth of a similar trade from the British seaboard beyond the Provincial boundaries westward" was thereby checked.



Let us now shift from a preoccupation with shipping and trade to yet another important role played by canals in the economic development of the Canadas, namely as a source of much needed water power to supply energy for the operation of various kinds of water-powered mills. Following the American Revolution the settlers pouring into Upper Canada created a pressing need for grist mills and saw-mills. To promote the erection of these much needed units the government supplied materials and offered special concessions to operators for a period of years. Settlement formed around the mill sites, and by the time the provinces united in 1841 each had about 400 grist mills and nearly 1,000 saw-mills while Lower Canada had, in addition, about 450 other industrial mills.182

In 1847 it was decided that the surplus water in the canals should be leased to manufacturing establishments, and between that year and 1867 water power and other property on the canals was leased to various parties.183 Along the Welland Canal there were 69 leases running for a term of 21 years. This property was located at Port Dalhousie, St. Catharines, Allanburg, Port Robinson, Merrittsville and Port Colborne and was either a small lot, surplus water at the head of a lock or a lot near a waste weir. Such property was used for the operation of a grist mill, saw-mill, cotton factory, shingle factory, tannery, wharf, floating dock or wood yard. Each lease also stipulated the annual rental which in the case of the Welland Canal ranged from $20 to $720 per lease. Along the St. Lawrence River properties were leased for the usual term of 21 years at the Beauharnois, Williamsburg and Cornwall canals. There were 15 leases at the Beauharnois Canal consisting of either a hydraulic lot, building lot or wharf lot used for the operation of a grist mill, saw-mill, large paper manufactory and furniture manufactory — all propelled by water power supplied through the regulating weir built at each lock for passing and regulating the flow of water, or the head-race and regulating weir at each end of the lower dam built for milling and manufacturing purposes. The annual rental per lease ran as high as $354. At the Williamsburg canals there were 22 leases located at Farran's Point, Rapide Plat, Iroquois Point and the Galops consisting of mill lots and wharf lots used for the operation of grist mills, flour mill, tannery and wharf. Water power required for each lease ranged from four to six runs and the annual rental was from $10 to $246 per lease. Nineteen leases were granted along the Rideau River system for the usual 21-year term. These were located at Green Island, Hog's Back, Long Island, Burritts Rapids, Merrickville, Smith's Falls and Brewers Mills and consisted of water lots and town lots used for the operation of grist mill, flour mill, saw-mill, and shingle mill. Each lease stipulated that the mill could use all the water not required for navigation and the annual rental ranged from $1 to $360 per lease. Four leases granted along the Trent River navigation for a term of 21 years were located at Chisholm's Rapids, Nine Mile Rapids and the concession of Qps. This property had been originally set aside as an education reserve but when leased it was used for mills as well as for the manufacturing and lumber trade. Property leased enjoyed the use of all the surplus water available and the annual rental per lease was from $1 to $36. Finally there were also a few leases granted along the Richelieu-Lake Champlain waterway. One of these was located at the St. Ours Lock and Dam and received all the surplus water needed to run a grist mill. Two leases with a water frontage of 226 feet each were located at St. Johns and used for the operation of a steam saw-mill and a tannery.


After 1855 industrial development was rapid along the banks of the Lachine Canal which provided the cheap water transport and an abundant supply of water power, estimated at 4 million horsepower, needed to make Montreal a great industrial centre.184 There were 28 leases and 19 sub-leases of properties along the canal. These were located on both sides of St. Gabriel's Lock (lock No. 3), Côte St. Paul Lock (lock No. 4), Basin No. 1 and Basin No. 2 on the south side of the canal. The properties leased consisted of water lots and surplus power to be used in the operations of mills, factories, foundries, tool works, machine shops and marine works. The amount of water power needed for each mill or plant was stipulated in the lease.

Some idea of the amount of manufacturing associated with the canal may be formed from the following account. At Côte St. Paul Lock there were two flour mills capable of grinding 460 barrels of flour per day combined with stores and elevator capable of storing 105,000 bushels of grain and 6,000 barrels of flour. Here were located an axe factory, shovel factory, scythe factory, nail factory, auger factory, sash-and-door factory, a large saw-mill and a cooperage with saw-mill attached. All these plants were located on the south side of the canal below the lock. At the St. Gabriel lock there were two flour mills capable of grinding 310 bushels of grain and 55,000 barrels of flour. Also located here were three saw-mills, a plaster mill, a dry dock, two foundries and finishing shops, a cotton factory established in 1853 which produced 300 yards of denims and ticking and 1,200 pounds of batting in a single day; and a machine shop, cordage factory, tannery and glove factory, along with two sash-and-door factories. At Basin No. 2 there were three flour mills capable of grinding 1,250 barrels of flour a day along with four elevators with storage capacity for 540,000 bushels of grain and 34,000 barrels of flour, and in addition a grain drying establishment and elevator with storage capacity for 60,000 bushels. Also located here were a dry dock, two graving docks, three nail and spike manufactories, two rolling mills, a saw-mill, an oil and colour works, chemical and rubber factory, and a machine shop. All these mills and factories were erected within a few years at the locks on the line of the canal and contributed largely to the industry and trade of the country.185

Two of the principal works on the Lachine Canal were the Victoria Iron Works and the Canada Marine Works.186 Victoria Iron, which started operating in 1859, contained a rolling mill which turned out 12 tons of nail plates per day chiefly from iron puddled at the works. Two thousand tons of plates were produced during the working months in 1862. The Victoria Iron Works' rolling mill in conjunction with another rolling mill in the area were capable of producing sufficient sheets of nail plate to supply all the needs of three local factories producing nails and spikes — two necessary aids to civilization. Prior to 1860 England and the United States produced most of the nails used in Canada. After that date Canadian industry was able, because of the water power supplied from the Lachine Canal, to produce nails in sufficient quantity to meet the needs of the home market. The other principal plant erected on the Lachine Canal, the Canada Marine Works, covered 15 acres of ground on which were erected a foundry, boiler and finishing shop. Here the machinery was driven by steam power. A shipyard, occupying much of the Canada Marine grounds, contained two basins each 500 feet by 100 feet in extent. Between 1845 and 1862 this yard built and launched 94 vessels, constructed primarily for the lake and river navigation, combining high speed with the greatest carrying capacity on a light draught of water. Along the two major works just described were several others of importance like the oil and colour works, the candle works, the chemical and india rubber works and the sugar refinery, nearly all of them operating by means of water power.187 In its course, therefore, the St. Lawrence furnished water power for manufacturing purposes which was practically unlimited in extent and which, with the Great Lakes as reservoirs, was possibly the most permanently available in the world. The water power was conveniently distributed between localities such as Montreal, Cascades, Cedars, Coteau du Lac, Long Sault, Niagara and Sault Ste. Marie while a vast aggregate of power was also available from the tributary waters of the great river.188


The propriety of leasing the surplus water of the canals was seriously questioned by some interests including the forwarders.189 Those who favoured leasing the surplus water urged that manufacturers were by this means placed in immediate connection with the navigable waters; that it was a great advantage to mill owners to have water power readily available for their needs, that it gave a direct revenue to the government in the form of rent and indirect revenue arising from the promotion of commerce by mills and factories so situated on the canal basins as to be accessible to shipping. On the other hand there were certain disadvantages. A government report in 1860 stated, in respect to the Lachine Canal,190

The Canal has been maintained in an efficient state, and the river having continued high throughout the season there has been no difficulty in keeping up the supply of water to the mills, but such is the increase of machinery and the rise of water, by the mills established on the line of the Canal, that it is very much to be feared, when the river falls again to its ordinary level, that there will not be a sufficient supply of water to keep them all going without admitting a current in the Canal that would become a serious impediment to the navigation.

Forwarders complained of this impediment to the canal navigation arising from the strong current created by the withdrawal of a large body of water required by the manufacturers situated on the banks of the canal for the propulsion of their machinery. This current was a great inconvenience to vessels passing through. Interests opposed to the leasing of surplus water reasoned that the water power should be drawn from sources other than the canal itself except in places where the quantity of water required was too limited to make it of any importance from what source it was derived.


Canals influenced Canadian fiscal policy, Increased expenditure by the Canadian government on public works particularly in transportation and navigation during the 1850s and 1860s involved dependence on British capital which in turn involved the need for increased revenues to enable Canada to pay the interest on the money borrowed. Up to 1861 payment on the following public works — canals, lighthouses and other works connected with the development of the St. Lawrence navigation — represented £3,962,900 of the total Canadian debt. At that time duties on imports formed the basis of revenues. When, as minister of finance, Galt increased the tariff on imports in 1856 and again in 1858 and 1859, he suggested that "this was designed to raise revenue to pay interest on British capital invested in improved facilities for transport and that improvement in transportation eliminated the protectionist character of the tariff."191 Manufacturers endorsed this argument claiming "that improvements in transportation exposed them to more effective foreign competition." An example of this was the iron industry in Canada West. There, a charcoal furnace had been erected at Lyndhurst as early as 1800 and the next two decades found several others erected in Hastings County and elsewhere. However, the completion of the St. Lawrence canals, which cut the cost of imported ore, forced most of these furnaces to close permanently after 1848.192


They assisted materially in the functioning of a Canadian commercial policy based on maintaining trade with Britain and developing trade with the United States. At the same time, their construction along with that of the early railways indicated clearly Canada's decision to avoid, if possible, any form of "continental integration with the United States." It seems clear that prior to confederation Canada's canals contributed greatly to her preservation as a viable political entity.

Though they failed in their primary purpose of diverting the trade of the continental hinterland down the St. Lawrence, the canals enabled the Canadian producers to compete in world markets.

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