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Ontario Re-Visited ~ Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site

A historic waterway

The Sault Ste. Marie Canal was constructed between 1889 and 1895 to bypass the turbulent rapids of the St. Marys River and to provide the last link in Canada’s Great Lakes St. Lawrence shipping route.

With the retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier some 12,000 years ago, the St. Marys River ultimately carried Lake Superior waters east to Lake Huron. The St. Marys rapids result from a six-metre difference between the two lakes.

Canada hesitates

In the 1840s, when the great mineral potential of the Lake Superior area began to be developed, the Sault Ste. Marie Canal was reborn. Several proposals envisaged a canal large enough for lake vessels but Canadian enthusiasm dies in 1855 when the Americans completed a shipping canal on their side of the river. For the next four decades, all traffic between Lake Huron and Lake Superior passed through the American canal.

Cast iron and cut stone

Construction began in 1889 and was completed in 1895, in very challenging conditions. The canal was cut through the bedrock of St. Marys Island. Red sandstone excavated from the cut was used for the construction of buildings on the site. When the lock opened in 1895, its chamber, 274 m long and 18 m wide, was the world’s largest.

Stonecutters laboured for four years, using sandstone for the approach walls and limestone from the Windsor area and Manitoulin Island for the lock chamber. Foundries in Owen Sound, Welland, Toronto, and Montréal poured the cast-iron valves and lock gate machinery parts, and the four-year old Canadian General Electric Company supplied the generators, switches, wiring, and panels to power the machinery and illuminate the canal. On September 7, 1895, the lock was officially opened with the locking through of the Majestic, a new Canadian passenger steamer. Canada finally had an all-Canadian waterway from the Atlantic Ocean to the head of the Great Lakes.

(excerpt from https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/on/ssmarie/culture/histoire-history/site)

Original historic “Art Sketch” by Susan ‘Shadow’ Caron

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