The Great Lakes St. Lawrence
Seaway System is a deep draft waterway extending 3,700 km (2,340 miles)
from the Atlantic Ocean to the head of the Great Lakes, in the heart of
North America. The St. Lawrence Seaway portion of the System extends from
Montreal to mid-Lake Erie. Ranked as one of the outstanding engineering
feats of the twentieth century, the St. Lawrence Seaway includes 13
Canadian and 2 U.S. locks.
The Great Lakes St. Lawrence
Seaway system is a modern expressway, allowing smooth, seamless movement
of waterborne cargo on a 2,340-mile deepwater route extending from the
Gulf of St. Lawrence to the western end of Lake Superior. More than 300
million metric tons of cargo move along the waterway annually, including
domestic and U.S.-Canadian trade within the Lakes and international
import-export trade via the Seaway.
Twenty-four major ports in
Canada and the United States, plus a number of smaller ports, harbors and
private dock facilities provide services in the market. On the U.S. side
alone, more than 152,000 jobs are related to cargo movement on the system.
Bulk cargoes such as iron ore, coal, grain, cement, stone, potash,
limestone, sand and salt are primary commodities which move within the
region both domestically and internationally. The system also handles
project cargoes, containers, forest products, petroleum products,
chemicals, edible oils, nonferrous metals and other materials.The Seaway
provides access to major North American markets, directly serving the
provinces of Ontario and Quebec and the states of Illinois, Indiana,
Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The St. Lawrence river was
discovered by the explorer Thomas Aubert in 1508. The French explorer Jacques
Cartier ascended the St. Lawrence river as far as the Indian village of
Hochelaga (now Montreal) in 1534.
Lake Huron was the first of
the Great Lakes to be discovered. In 1615 the French explorers Le Caron
and Champlain both discovered Lake Huron but in separate parties. Both
explorers came up the St. Lawrence as far as Montreal and then up the
Ottawa river. They then took different routes across the country to
Georgian Bay and into Lake Huron. The exploring parties met in the Lake
Huron region and joined forces. Lake Ontario was discovered the same year
on the return trip.
Lake Erie was the last of
the lakes to be discovered. Joliet discovered Lake Erie in 1669.
Lake Superior was
discovered in 1629 by the French explorer Brule.
Lake Michigan was
discovered in 1634 by the French explorer Nicolet.
The first recorded passage
of the Detroit river by white man was in 1670 by two French priests.
The first white man to see
the Niagara Falls is supposed to have been the explorer Brule.
The French explorer La
Salle built the first vessel on the Great Lakes in 1679.
The first American vessel
to be built on the Great Lakes was the "Washington," built at
Erie (then Presque Isle) in 1797.
In 1812 a vessel called the
"Fur Trader" was built on Lake Superior and after being used in
the fur business for awhile she was run over the rapids at the Soo in the
attempt to get her to the lower lakes. But she was almost completely
wrecked in the attempt. Another little vessel, the Mink, was run over the
rapids in 1817 and sustained but little damage.
A 96 ton brig was built for
service on Lake Erie in 1814, but was soon laid up as being too big to
successfully do business on the lakes.
The first steamer built on
the Great Lakes was the "Ontario" built at Sacketts harbor in
1816. She was a vessel of 232 tons. The Canadian steamer "Frontenac"
was built during the same year. But the first steamer built on Lake Erie,
for up-lake service, was the "Walk-in-the-Water," built at
Buffalo in 1818. The steamer is described on another page.
In 1826 the first steamer
sailed on Lake Michigan.
Regular passenger service
was established to Chicago in 1830.
In 1836 the first shipment
came into Buffalo when the brig "John Kenzie" brought in 3,000
bushels of wheat.
The first steamers from
Buffalo ventured only as far as Detroit.
The first locomotive used
in Chicago was carried there in a sail vessel in 1837.
The first grain elevator
was built in Buffalo in 1842.
The first steamer to use
propellers instead of paddle wheels was the "Vandalia" built at
Oswego in 1841.
The first steamer on Lake
Michigan was the "Independence" in 1845. The Independence came
from Chicago and was portaged around the Soo rapids.
The Great Lakes and St.
Lawrence River have been major North American trade arteries since long
before the U.S. or Canada achieved nationhood. Today, this integrated
navigation system serves miners, farmers, factory workers and commercial
interests from the western prairies to the eastern seaboard.
- Since 1959, more than
2.5 billion tons of cargo estimated at $375 billion have moved to and
from Canada, the United States, and nearly fifty other nations.
- Almost 25% of Seaway
traffic travels to and from overseas ports, especially in Europe, the
Middle East and Africa.
- Availability of a
specialized laker fleet for maximum efficiency; many equipped with
self-unloading devices for unloading at shore facilities (ship to
land) or transshipping bulk cargo (ship to ship).
- Includes some of North
America's largest ports, part of an excellent intermodal
- Has maintained a
near-perfect record of trouble-free navigation through ongoing
improvements and meticulous maintenance for more than 50 years.
- Strategic geographical
location: directly serves Ontario and Quebec to the north, and
Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York and
Pennsylvania to the south
Virtually every commodity
imaginable moves on the Great Lakes Seaway System. system. Annual commerce
on the System exceeds 200 million net tons (180 million metric tons), and
there is still ample room for growth. Some commodities are dominant:
- Iron ore for the steel
- Coal for power
generation and steel production
- Limestone for
construction and steel industries
- Grain for overseas
- General cargo, such as
iron and steel products and heavy machinery
- Cement, salt and stone
aggregates for agriculture and industry
The primary carrier vessels
fall into three main groups: the resident Great Lakes bulk carriers or
"lakers"; ocean ships or "salties"; and tug-propelled
barges. U.S. and Canadian lakers move cargo among Great Lakes ports, with
both nations' laws reserving domestic commerce to their own flag carriers.
Salties flying the flags of other nations connect the Lakes with all parts
of the world.
To realize the magnitude of
this commerce, consider the impact of some typical cargoes:
- One 1000-foot-long Great
Lakes vessel carries enough iron ore to operate a giant steel mill for
more than four days.
- A similar "super
laker" carries enough coal to power Greater Detroit for one day.
- A Seaway-size vessel
moves enough wheat to make bread for every resident of New York City
for nearly a month.
For every ton of cargo,
there are scores - often hundreds - of human faces behind the scenes. On
board, there are the mariners themselves, while shore side there are lock
operators and longshoremen, vessel agents and freight forwarders, ship
chandlers and shipyard workers, stevedores and terminal operators, Coast
Guard personnel and port officials, railroad workers and truck drivers - a
wide web of service providers.
Opened to navigation in
1959, the St. Lawrence Seaway part of the system has moved more than 2.5
billion metric tons of cargo in 50 years, with an estimated value of more
than $375 billion. Almost 25 percent of this cargo travels to and from
overseas ports, especially Europe, South America, the Middle East, and
From Great Lakes / Seaway
ports, a multi-modal transportation network fans out across the continent.
More than 40 provincial and interstate highways and nearly 30 rail lines
link the 15 major ports of the system and 50 regional ports with
consumers, products and industries all over North America.
- Montreal to Lake Ontario
- 2 U.S., 5 Canadian
- Welland Canal - 8
- St. Mary's River - 4
U.S. parallel locks one transit (Army Corps of Engineers)
The Seaway Canals
The Seaway system is
connected by 6 short canals with a total length of less than 60 nautical
miles. There are 19 locks, filled and emptied by gravity.
- South Shore
Canal: (two locks - St. Lambert and Ste. Catherine) 14
nautical miles from the Port of Montreal to Lake St. Louis
Canal: (two locks) 11.3 nautical miles; links Lake St. Louis
to Lake St. Francis
Canal: (two U.S. locks - Snell and Eisenhower) 8 nautical
miles; provides access to Lake St. Lawrence
- Iroquois Canal:
(one lock and a water level control facility) 0.3 nautical miles
- Welland Canal:
(eight locks) Of the seven located at north end, three are twinned and
contiguous; the eighth, at the south end, is a control lock 23.5
nautical miles; links Lake Ontario to Lake Erie
- St. Mary's Falls
Canal: (four parallel locks of various dimensions at Sault
Ste. Marie) links Lake Huron to Lake Superior
The Seaway Locks
Together, the locks make up
the world's most spectacular lift system. Ships measuring up to 225.5
metres in length (or 740 feet) and 23.8 metres (or 78 feet), in the beam
are routinely raised to more than 180 metres above sea level, as high as a
60-story building. The ships are twice as long and half as wide as a
football field and carry cargoes the equivalent of 25,000 metric tonnes.
Each lock is 233.5 metres
long (766 feet), 24.4 metres wide (80 feet) and 9.1 metres deep (30 feet)
over the sill. A lock fills with approximately 91 million litres of water
(24 million gallons) in just 7 to 10 minutes. Getting through a lock takes
about 45 minutes.
- Lock systems:
Montreal to Lake Ontario - 2 U.S., 5 Canadian
Welland Canal - 8 Canadian
St. Mary's River - 4 U.S. parallel locks -- one transit (Army Corps of
- Vessel maximum: 225.5 m
(740 ft.) length; 23.7 m (78 ft.) beam; 8.08 m (26 ft., 6 in.) draft;
35.5 m (116.5 ft.) height above water.
- Channels maintained at
8.2 m (27 ft.) minimum over the chart datum.
- Distance from the
Atlantic Ocean to Duluth, Minnesota on Lake Superior = 2,038 nautical
miles (2,342 statute miles or 3,700 kilometres), 8.5 sailing days.
Includes some 245,750 square kilometres (95,000 square miles) of