Safe Passage: Aids to Navigation on the St. Lawrence

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Creative Commons License
Photograph, glass lantern slide
Lower entrance of Cornwall Canal, ON, about 1900
Anonyme - Anonymous
About 1900, 19th century or 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
8 x 10 cm
Gift of Mr. Stanley G. Triggs
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Photograph (77678) , Transportation (2517)
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Keys to History

The Buoy System
The annual report of the Minister of Public Works for 1846 discussed the need to improve the buoy system in the St. Lawrence River.

That report was based on information gathered by Captain John S. McIntyre. Appointed by the Canadian government to examine the existing navigation system, McIntyre reported that when the canals downstream from Kingston were completed (the ones at Williamsburg, Cornwall, etc.) there would be an increase on the river of ships drawing more than 2 metres of water (maximum capacity had been 1.2 to 1.5 metres). According to McIntyre, however, few pilots had the ability to safely navigate larger ships on the river. He recommended that "navigation lights and markers" be installed to clearly indicate the channels, especially at night. Such improvements were, he said, "of the utmost importance" to facilitate the transport of Western goods in the St. Lawrence River system and to compete with the American route (along the Erie Canal, from Buffalo to Albany).

  • What

    The Cornwall Canal, which is 18.5 kilometre long, was made up of seven locks (six after it was rebuilt). It enabled ships to bypass the rapids at Long Sault, which are among the most violent in the St. Lawrence. After its opening the canal had to be monitored because the jetty separating it from the turbulent waters of the river was not very watertight.

  • Where

    The canal is located in eastern Ontario and runs from Cornwall to a place called Dickinson's Landing (named for the businessman who, early in the 19th century, ran boats and carriages between Montreal and Upper Canada).

  • When

    The construction of the Cornwall Canal was authorized by the legislature of Upper Canada in 1834 as an alternate to the Rideau Canal route. The work was however interrupted by the 1837-1838 Rebellion and not completed until 1843. The canal was enlarged between 1876 and 1904.

  • Who

    As surprising as it may sound, the mouth of the Cornwall Canal at Dickinson's Landing is today a veritable playground for divers. When the St. Lawrence Seaway was built in the late 1950s a large section of the shoreline upstream from Cornwall, including part of the old canal, was flooded with several metres of water.