In the next generation the Great Lakes district will control the iron and steel trade of the world. In the proper distribution of the manufactured product, therefore, the question of deep waterways is all important. More than all things else would a deep channel from the Great Lakes contribute to putting America in its proper place as the first steel producer of the world. -- Arthur J. Moxham.
MUCH artificial work has been necessary to obtain from the Great Lakes their maximum service. Separated from each other, in two instances, by water falls, and in another by a shallow channel, cut off from the commerce of the world by many impassable rapids, surrounded by other important waterways that might be reached by intervening channels, the lakes have attained their present commercial power and prestige only by herculean human effort. Vast enterprises have been successfully prosecuted; others, still more important, are yet under way, and will doubtless be completed. The wild lakes have been humanized, and the various steps by which this has been accomplished composes one of the most important departments of lake history.
The canals touching the Great Lakes have a combined length of about 1,200 miles. Many of these have sunk into obscurity, but the deepening of channels has quite recently assumed a most important phase of inland navigation. Sketches of the principal lake canals are herewith presented.
The Erie Canal is one of the great waterways of the world. It was constructed when the State of New York was in its infancy, and it is remarkable that such a work of engineering and commercial importance should have then been successfully carried through. The necessity for such a waterway lay partly in the fact that the interior of the State of New York was beginning to supply trade that was in danger of being diverted from its legitimate channels. The settlements of that State were for the most part along the inland rivers and upon the borders of the interior lakes. And the trade between the city of New York and these interior settlements was rapidly being destroyed by the competition of French-Canadian traders, who, having their headquarters at Quebec and Montreal, found easy communication with Oswego, at the mouth of Oswego river, by way of the St. Lawrence river and Lake Ontario; and from Oswego into the interior regions of the State.
It was to provide, therefore, for easy and direct communication between the Eastern markets and the interior settlements, that the first step in the final construction of this great waterway was taken. France, Holland and Great Britain had all constructed canals, and it was known that much of the prosperity of those countries was attributable to these inland, artificial water communications.
Early Projectors. -- Among those who first thought of this project and predicted that such a canal would ultimately be built were Cadwallader Colden, Sir Henry Moore, George Washington, George Clinton, and Gouverneur Morris. It is well known that the Father of his country was in a large measure indirectly responsible for the final construction of the Chesapeake & Ohio canal, through having been directly interested in the securing of the old Potomac canal, which from the necessities of the case was a failure.
The first suggestion published to the world was made almost precisely one hundred years before the completion of the canal. This suggestion was made in 1724 by Cadwallader Colden, then surveyor-general of the State of New York, to William Burnet, the governor of the province. In an elaborate report concerning the fur trade of the province, and upon the superior advantages of the city of New York over Montreal and Quebec, occurs the following paragraph: "But besides this passage" (by means of the Mohawk and Oswego rivers), "there is a river which comes from the country of the Senecas, and flows into the Onondaga river, by which way can an easy carriage into that country be obtained, without going to Lake Ontario. The head of this river goes near to Lake Erie, and probably may give a very near passage into that lake, much more advantageous than by the Falls of Niagara."
Gov. Sir Henry Moore, in 1768, called the attention of the Legislature to the great delays and expense of transporting goods over these various portages, and suggested that if these evils were not removed commerce might be diverted into such channels as would deprive the colony of all the advantages resulting therefrom, and earnestly urged the improvement of inland navigation.
General Washington Favors It. -- In 1783 General Washington made a tour through the central part of the State of New York, and expressed himself as greatly in favor of improving its great inland navigation.
In March, 1786, Jeffrey Smith, a member of the Assembly, brought in a bill for improving the navigation of the Mohawk river, Wood creek and the Onondaga river, with the view of opening up inland navigation to Oswego. Gov. George Clinton, in January, 1791, made recommendations along the same line, and Gen. Philip Schuyler was instrumental in procuring the incorporation of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, in 1792, and was made president of the company. In 1797, when upon a tour of exploration through the central part of the State, General Schuyler and the engineer of the company, William Weston, an Englishman, talked of water communication by means of canals as far west as Lake Erie, provided the face of the country would admit of it.
However, the first man who succeeded in concentrating public attention upon the project was Jesse Hawley. In April, 1805, he suggested an overland canal from the foot of Lake Erie at Buffalo to Utica, and thence down the Mohawk to the Hudson. He wrote a series of articles, which were published in the Genesee Messenger, the first appearing in October, 1807, advocating this canal.
First Legislation. -- But little was done, however, in a practical way until the winter of 1810, when a joint resolution was passed by both houses of the State Assembly, appointing seven commissioners to explore the whole route from the Hudson river to Lake Erie. These seven commissioners were as follows:- Gouveurner Morris, Stephen Van Rensselaer, De Witt Clinton, Simeon De Witt, William North, Thomas Eddy and Peter B. Porter. These commissioners entered upon their duties July 1, 1810, taking with them Mr. Geddes as engineer, the essays of Mr. Hawley, the survey made by Mr. Geddes in 1808, and a map and report made in the same year by Joseph Ellicott.
To Seek Aid in Europe. -- To the next Legislature these commissioners recommended the overland route to Lake Erie as practical and beneficial, and that measures be taken to secure the construction of such a canal. These commissioners in accordance with authority furnished by the State, attempted to interest President Tames Madison and Congress in the project, but without success, and hence they reported that "now sound policy demands that the canal should be made by the State of New York alone, and for her own account." In June, 1812, a law was passed authorizing the commissioners to borrow $5,000,000 in Europe, for the work, but the war with England prevented that scheme from being carried out. In 1814 the law authorizing this loan was repealed.
Bill of 1815 Passes. -- In 1815 De Witt Clinton reported a memorial to the Legislature urging the construction of the Erie canal to Lake Erie. This memorial had great influence throughout the State; and notwithstanding a strong opposition was made, a bill was at length passed directing the work on the middle section of the canal to be commenced, limiting the annual expenditure to $250,000, and the entire expenditure to $2,000,000. The commissioners under this bill were: De Witt Clinton, Stephen Van Rensselaer, Joseph Ellicott, Samuel Young and Myron Holley.
Chancellor Kent Changes His Vote. -- The bill providing for the construction of the canal finally passed both houses of the Assembly April 14, and the next day became a law in a most remarkable manner. After it had passed both houses of the Legislature it had to be approved by the board of revision, which was composed of five gentlemen, as follows: Lieutenant-Governor Taylor, Chancellor Kent, C. J. Thompson, and Judges Yates and Platt. Chancellor Kent and the two judges, Yates and Platt, finally voted in favor of the bill. Three of these gentlemen were opposed to the bill and had so voted when Vice-President Tompkins walked into the room. He said he was opposed to the canal, because there would be another war with England within two years, and the country would need all its resources to carry on that war. Chancellor Kent asked Mr. Tompkins if he meant what he said, that there would soon be another war with England, and upon receiving an affirmative and emphatic reply, Mr. Kent said, if that were to be the case he would change his vote and favor the bill.
"The accidental coming into the room of the council of the Vice-President of the United States, to oppose a measure already lost, by using for his purpose an unfortunate argument, made no less a man than the great lawgiver of this continent change his vote, and through this change the fortunes of the bill were changed."
The first meeting of the commissioners to receive propositions and to make contracts was held at Utica, June 3, 1817, commissioners Young and Holley having charge of the work in the middle section, which it was deemed advisable to construct first. The work began on the 4th of July, as a celebration of the day, at the village of Rome, Judge Richardson, the first contractor, casting up the first spadeful of earth, amid the booming of artillery and the acclamations of the people. Thus the great work was begun.
To De Witt Clinton is due great credit for the success of this stupendous enterprise. The completion of the middle section extending from Utica to Montezuma, was appropriately celebrated July 4th, 1820. The completion of the eastern section was celebrated at Albany October 8, 1823, and of the western section October 26, 1825. At the precise time of its completion the message was sent over the line of the "artillery telegraph," which announced the welcome news from Lake Erie to the Atlantic Ocean. Thus in eight years and four months was the great work accomplished.
Canal Fund Created. -- The law, as thus passed by the casting vote of Chancellor Kent, created the board known as the "Commissioners of the Canal Fund," which consisted of the Lieutenant-Governor, the Comptroller, the Attorney-General, the Surveyor-General, the Secretary of State and the State Treasurer. The duty of this board was to manage all matters pertaining to the canal fund with advantage to that fund and with economy.
This fund was created by imposing a duty of twelve and a half cents per bushel upon all salt manufactured in the western district of the State: a tax of $1 on each passenger that should make a trip of over one hundred miles on any steamboat on the Hudson river, and half that amount on each passenger that should make a trip of less than one hundred miles and over thirty miles: the proceeds of all lotteries that should be drawn in the State of New York, after the sums then granted in them had been paid: all the net proceeds from the Western Inland Navigation Company's property which was to be purchased: all donations made or to be made: all the duties upon sales at auction after deducting the sum of $33,500 annually, which was to be appropriated to the hospital and other public institutions. In addition to these several sums there was to be raised $250,000 by levying a tax on all lands and real estate lying along the route of the canal on either side and within twenty-five miles, such assessment to be made by the canal commissioners according to the benefits which in their opinion would be derived from the canal.
This financial scheme proved eminently successful. The salt duties alone paid toward the canal more than $3,000,000, and by September, 1833, the salt and auction duties had paid $5,812,621. The tax on steamboat passengers was suspended the next year after it was imposed, for the reason that the Supreme Court of the United States decided that the grant to Livingston and Fulton of the exclusive right to navigate the waters of the State by steam, was invalid. The tax on lands along the canal was never collected, and the lottery tax never yielded anything.
The length of the canal from Buffalo to the Hudson river is 363 miles, the entire distance from Buffalo to New York being 513 miles. The width of the canal as first constructed was 40 feet on the surface, and 28 feet at the bottom, the depth of water being four feet. It could pass boats of only 76 tons. There were 83 locks, built of massive stone, the chambers of which were 90 x 15 feet, and they were capable of containing boats of about 100 tons burden. Upon arriving at Albany a boat which had passed through this canal had descended 553 feet: but her total ascent and descent in the course of her voyage was 662 feet.
First Boat. -- The first boat that went down from Buffalo was the Seneca Chief. She left Lake Erie at 10 o'clock A. M.October 26, 1825, for Albany and New York, and was scheduled through to Albany, where she arrived November 2, at 1 o'clock p. M. The first gun of the grand salute was fired at Buffalo at the precise moment of boat's starting, and minute guns were fired all along the canal down to Albany, the gun being fired at Albany at 11 A. M. The salute then ran down the Hudson river to New York, the last gun being fired at Sandy Hook at 11:21 A. M. The return salute began at 11:32 A. M., and was continued through Albany to Buffalo, the last gun being fired at Buffalo 1 hour and 20 minutes later.
The committee of Buffalo citizens that went down on the first boat to Albany and New York was as follows: Hon. Samuel Wilkeson, Capt. Thaddeus Joy, Maj. David Burt, Dr. H. R. Stagg, Mr. Hernon B. Potter, Capt. M. M. Dox and Mr. Samuel Wells.
During the progress of the construction of the canal, that which most interested the people living in the vicinity of its proposed terminus was the question of the precise location of that western terminus. This question was whether it should be at Buffalo or Black Rock. A fierce rivalry existed between the two places, and a heated controversy was waged for several years. The disadvantage of Black Rock was its location at the foot of the rapids of the Niagara river, which would render it difficult for sailing vessels to ascend the river. The great disadvantage of Buffalo was that Buffalo creek was only a small stream and had a sand bar at its mouth, which would render it difficult to construct a harbor into which vessels of any size could make entrance.
The commissioners upon investigation at once decided that it would be expedient to commence the canal at or near the mouth of Buffalo creek, in order to sustain the highest possible level at the highlands, instead of descending into the Niagara river at Black Rock, by which they would lose four feet of head, and consequently be subject to the expense of so much additional depth of excavation across the Mountain ridge.
This important question was not fully settled, however, until the spring of 1819, when the Legislature, in consequence of urgent applications from citizens of Buffalo, for the grant or a loan of a sum of money sufficient to construct a harbor, passed a law directing the canal commissioners to examine the entrance of Buffalo harbor.
Gen. Peter B. Porter, in behalf of the people of Black Rock, presented a memorial to the Legislature, which closed with a proposition that a competition should be entered into between the people of Black Rock and the people of Buffalo, by offering to the people of Buffalo the sum of $12,000 for opening the mouth of Buffalo creek, and a like sum to the people of Black Rock for forming a larger harbor.
In compliance with this memorial a law passed providing that in case the Buffalo Harbor Company should on or before January 1, 1824, open or complete a passage across the sand bar of sufficient depth and breadth to admit at all seasons of the year vessels drawing eight feet of water, it should be the duty of the canal commissioners to allow all reasonable expenses up to $12,000, and also authorized the citizens of Black Rock to construct a harbor at an expense not to exceed $12,000, in such a way as to allow vessels drawing eight feet of water to have a safe harbor down to the upper end of Squaw island.
The first work on the Erie canal, in Erie county, was performed on the spot where the village of Tonawanda now stands, this village having been built as a result of the construction of the canal, and named after Tonawanda creek, which in the early days was spelled Tonewanta. The last work done on the western section was the canal cut through the mountain ridge at Lockport.
Celebration at Buffalo. -- On October 25, 1825, Governor Clinton and other distinguished gentlemen from Albany arrived in Buffalo, and the next morning came the grand ovation. After the Seneca Chief started down the canal with its Buffalo delegation on board, the procession of citizens returned to the court house, where an eloquent oration on the benefits the canal was to confer on the State was delivered by Sheldon Smith, a prominent lawyer of Buffalo, and then there were public dinners at the Eagle Hotel and the American House, the celebration winding up with a grand ball at the Eagle Hotel. The cost of the canal by the time of its completion, on October 25, 1825, was $7,600,000.
A Gift of the Gods. -- Thomas L. Kenny in his tour to the lakes, while making a trip over the Erie canal in a cabin boat, soon after its opening, wrote as follows: "It is not possible for me to convey any adequate idea of the wealth which flows upon the canal; nor of the advantages which are experienced from it by the people who live upon its borders, and those more remote settlements throughout the entire region of the Northwest. The truth is, the canal is in everybody's mouth. The yeomanry, the bone and muscle of these regions, make you see in their countenances that they esteem it to be little short of a gift of the gods. The fact is that the canal is nothing more nor less than a great sluice of wealth; and the hardy settlers of all these regions are getting rich by the facilities that it affords them."
The Question of Enlargement. -- It would be difficult to estimate the benefits to the prosperity of the great Northwest and the effect on the commerce of the Great Lakes conferred by the construction of this canal, the longest in the world, with the exception of the one in China. By 1835 the traffic on the canal had become so great that its enlargement was authorized by the Legislature, and was begun by the commissioners; but the panic of 1837 so seriously crippled the finances of the State that after several years of embarrassment the work was discontinued in 1843. The constitution adopted in 1846 forbade the Legislature to incur a debt of more than $1,000,000. When the Whigs came into power they sought to continue the work of the enlargement of he canal, and in order to avoid the restriction imposed by the constitution, attempted to pledge the income of the canal in advance on the ground that this would not be incurring a debt. A heated controversy resulted, the Democratic members of the Senate, most of them, resigned in order to break a quorum, and at a special election held to fill the vacancies most of those who had resigned were repudiated by the people, enough senators being elected to enact the law, which was afterward declared unconstitutional by the court of appeals.
But when a constitutional amendment was submitted to the people, authorizing an increase of the debt beyond $1,000,000, they adopted it by a large majority. This enlargement was in process from 1850 to 1862, when it was completed. During this process of enlargement the canal was made shorter, and was at the end of the work only 350 ½ miles long, instead of 353. The width at the surface was increased from 40 feet to 70 feet, and at the bottom from 28 feet to 56 feet, and the depth of water in the canal was increased from 4 feet to 7 feet. The capacity of the canal was thus increased, according to to the statement of one of the engineers engaged in the work, five times. The size of boats was also increased, from about 70 tons burden to 210 tons, the maximum size of boat used in this enlarged canal being 240 tons. The locks in the enlarged canal were increased in number to 72, and increased in size to 110 feet in length and to 18 feet in width.
The expense of the enlargement was, of course, much greater than the cost of the original canal. Down to 1866 the amount expended on this and on the Champlain canal was $46,018,234, but a small portion of which was expended on the latter canal. In this sum nothing was included but the cost of construction, enlargement and improvement. Repairs and maintenance had cost up to the same time $12,900,333, making the total amount expended on the canal up to 1866 $58,918, 567. The receipts from tolls on the two canals had then reached the sum of $81,057,168, and hence the balance to the credit of the canal was then $22,138,601.
Zenith of Prosperity. -- But at this time the canal system of the State appeared to have reached its highest prosperity. When the constitutional convention of 1867 was in session some of the members proposed the sale of the canals of the State to private individuals; but this suggestion was not carried into effect. The stimulus of the war on the railroad systems of the country had been so great, and their competition had become so strong, that the tolls of the canal were reduced as low as compatible with the constitutional provisions.
Tolls are Abolished. -- Still later it became evident that the canal could not by its tolls pay for its repairs and maintenance; hence if the canals of the State were to continue of use to commerce the tolls would have to be abolished altogether, and in 1882, when the question of making them free to commerce came up and of maintaining them at the expense of the State, the people voted for such a constitutional amendment by a large majority.
Vote of 1895 to Improve. -- The abolition of the tolls resulted in a considerable increase in the business of the canals for several years, but still the railroads continued to wage a sharp competition for trade, and at length on the 6th of March, 1895, a law was approved by the governor of the State, providing that bonds should be issued to the amount of $9,000,000 tor the improvement of the Erie, Champlain and Oswego canals.
The attitude of the State at the present time toward its canals may here be stated. The constitution provides that: "The Erie canal, the Champlain canal, the Oswego canal, the Black River canal, and the Cayuga and Seneca canals, shall not be sold, leased or otherwise disposed of; but shall remain the property of the State and under its management forever."
This amendment to the constitution was adopted in order that the canals of the State might perform the work of attracting the commerce of the West and East through New York, and that it might also be the great regulator of the rates charged upon such commerce. The great difficulty of later days in connection with this great waterway has been that rates of freight have been constantly descending, and boatmen could not possibly carry freight at a loss. This it was that led to the idea that enlargement was a necessary step in its development, and hence the $9,000,000 appropriation.
A review of the commerce of the canal will show the reasons for the various movements made for the enlargement and improvement of this great waterway. Up to 1850 the canal had but little competition to contend with in the carrying trade. This competition was supplied by the New York Central railroad, which in 1850 earned only $717,702 in carrying freight. But by 1856 there were four great railroad lines running into the interior of the country, as follows: The New York & Erie, which that year earned $4,545,781; the New York Central, which earned $4,371,387; the Baltimore & Ohio, which earned $3,712,952, and the Pennsylvania Central, which earned $3,744,291. The total value of the through freight thus carried by the four railroad lines was more than $200,000,000, while the value of that carried by the New York Central in 1850 could not have been over $10,000,000.
In 1853 the value of exports from Buffalo by the canal was $22,652,408, and of imports, $64,612,102. During this year, on account of the many breaks in the canal, caused by the process of enlargement then going on, the railroads gained upon it more largely than they would otherwise have done, over previous years. Most of the business done on the canal then was by the forwarding association, the extent of the business of which is indicated by the fact that in up tolls it paid $450,195, and in down tolls, $774,440. In this forwarding association sixteen of the principal forwarding houses in Buffalo were interested. They represented 554 boats, each boat worth, on the average, $900. And besides these there were about 100 "wild" boats, each worth about $400.
By 1855 it became evident to business men generally that the canal was in reality losing ground, as compared with the railroads. The secretary of the Buffalo board of trade said in his report for that year: "The time has now arrived in the history of our canals when their revenue fails to meet the requirements of the constitution. There is now a large deficit which will probably have to be made up by a direct tax. This is to be attributed to the railroads, and to them only." The railroads were then diverting sufficient commerce from the canal to more than pay the interest on the entire cost of enlargement, that is provided tolls were collected on what was thus diverted.
The value of exports from Buffalo by the canal in 1855 was $30,054,283, and of imports, $89,218,036, while the total value of imports into Buffalo was $195,604,444, and of exports, $165,180,920. In 1858 the value of exports by canal was $24,267,171, and in 1859, $16,226,911.
Steam on the Erie Canal. -- The question of propelling canal boats on the Erie canal by steam attracted attention early in its history, as was the case on other canals in the country. In October, 1823, it was announced in the newspapers that a steamboat had been built at Pompey, which was observed to pass Onondaga, and it was thought by some that she bid fair to be a success. Still earlier than this, however, the question was raised as to how to do away with horses and mules on the tow path, and it was gravely asserted that a tread mill had been put into a boat, which, worked by two men, gave a speed of five miles per hour.
A canal boat to be propelled by steam was built in Buffalo in 1858, and named the Charles Wack. She had two propellers, one on each side of her rudder. This boat, however, did not prove a success. From time to time efforts continued to be made to secure some motive power on the canal, other than animal power. As late as April, 1871, the Legislature of the State of New York passed an Act offering a reward of $100,000, for the successful introduction of steamboats, which, with the simple and economical machinery, would carry not less than 200 tons of cargo eastward on six feet draught of water, and make an average speed of three miles per hour in the canal, and would fully satisfy the canal commissioners, appointed by the State to practically test and examine boats and devices submitted to them, that the boats and devices and inventions would tend to lessen the cost of transportation and would increase the capacity of the canal.
By the passage of this Act inventive genius was greatly stimulated, and in 1872 there were several boats of different styles equipped with steam machinery designed to navigate the Erie canal. Among these boats were the Eureka, an iron boat of 122 ½ tons; the Charles Hemje, of 123 ½ tons; the cable boat, Hercules, designed to be operated by the Belgian cable system, which was maintained for several years between Buffalo and Lockport; the Cathcart, the Andrew H. Dawson, the George A. Feeter, the William Baxter, the William Newman, and the John Durston, all propellers, and in addition the paddle-wheel boats Port Byron, Montana, Fountain City and the Success, No. 1, of 116 tons.
After the test of the commissioners showed that none of the boats fully met the requirements of the Act of the Legislature, which called them into existence, they left the entire matter open for another trial the next season. Of all the boats entered only three of them made the three round trips required under the Act, the William Baxter, the Port Byron and the William Newman. The Baxter was 6 days and 15 hours; the Port Byron, 5 days and 11 hours, and the Newman, 5 days and 6 hours, the distance between Buffalo and Troy being 345 miles.
The next trial came off on October 15 and 16, 1873, between Syracuse and Utica. The boats taking part were the William Baxter, the William Newman, the C. C. Pope, the Port Byron and the Central City. The commissioners still thought that the requirements of the Act had not been met; but recommended that the passage of a law giving $35,000 to William Baxter, on condition that he place on the canal seven boats similar to the William Baxter, and also recommended that $15,000 be paid Capt. D. P. Dobbins on condition that he place on the canal three boats similar to the William Newman, during the season of 1874.
Two steam canal boat companies were organized during 1873, the Baxter Company and the Dobbins Company, which two companies were afterward combined into one, named the Baxter Steam Canal Boat Company, which company was awarded the sum of $50,000. Since that time the use of steam on the canal has become quite common.
It is not easy to state the precise date when a canal to connect the waters of Lake Erie with those of Lake Ontario was first thought of, nor by whom; but it is altogether probable that it was about the time of the war of 1812. It was several years after the close of that war before any practical measures were put in operation looking to the construction of such an important waterway.
Earliest Legislation in 1821. -- At length, however, in the year 1821, the Provincial Parliament of Upper Canada passed an Act, entitled: "An Act to make provision for the Improvement of the Internal Navigation of the Province."
Under this Act commissioners were appointed, called commissioners of internal navigation, who were to "explore, survey and level the most practicable routes for opening a communication by canals and lakes between Lake Erie and the eastern boundaries of this Province." These commissioners were James Macauley, Robert Nichol, James Gordon and Charles Jones. Their attention was chiefly occupied in exploring two great lines of navigable communication -- one between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and the other between Lake Ontario and the Rideau and Ottawa rivers.
Trying to Select a Route. -- In selecting the course of the waterway between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, the commissioners had in mind what appeared to them the importance of keeping as far as was practicable in the interior of the country, and of providing good harbors at either end of the canal. As soon as practicable after organization of the board at Kingston, a deputation of two of their members was sent into the State of New York, where by conference; with the canal commissioners of that State,. and by a personal inspection of the work then going on on the Erie canal, they gained, much valuable information. While in the State of New York they endeavored to engage the services of an experienced and skillful engineer, but without avail. These two commissioners returned from their tour of observation October 8, 1821, and reported to the board their failure to find a competent engineer, and it then became necessary to make a selection from among those at home with whom they had been in correspondence. After examining the testimonials as to ability submitted to them by Valentine Gill, they decided to accept the tender of his services, as soon as it could be done.
Benjamin Wright, of New York, whose fame is deservedly high among the early engineers of the United States, agreed with the commissioners that the canal, connecting the waters of Lake Erie with those of Lake Ontario, should be on such a scale as to admit sloops and schooners of moderate dimensions to proceed direct from Lake Erie to the sea without unloading their cargoes.
The route preferred by these commissioners for the canal from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario commenced on the River Ouse (Grand River), or any other convenient point on Lake Erie, and leading to Burlington bay, at the head of Lake Ontario, the considerations being that this route began at a point, which at all seasons of the year had plenty of water to feed the canal, that it was sufficiently remote from the frontier, and that it was free from ice from three weeks to a month earlier than a point near Fort Erie. Burlington bay was preferred for the outlet of the canal, because it was a fine basin, large and deep, capable of sheltering the whole Royal Navy of Great Britain, that it also was sufficiently remote from the frontier, had a strong military position, was surrounded by a populous and highly cultivated country, and seemed destined by nature to be the center of a flouring trade.
The outlet from Burlington bay into Lake Ontario, suggested by the commissioners, was undertaken at the public expense, and although it was not intended as a part of the project of the canal, yet, as it would render the port accessible, it was considered a work of great value to the tract of country lying to the west.
The survey of the route between Grand river and Burlington bay was made by Samuel Clowes, assisted by his son, James, and by John Harris, a land surveyor. They began operations about June 1, 1822. The estimate for the canal was as follows: 40 feet wide at bottom; 62 feet wide at the surface of the water; and seven feet deep.
The locks were to be 100 feet long and 22 feet wide in the clear. A canal of these dimensions, it was thought, would accommodate vessels of 80, or even 100, tons, and by enlarging the locks to the proper size the large class of gun brigs light might go through, and even steam vessels in emergencies. In connection with this project the commissioners said:
"The superior advantages attending such a canal, as is here proposed, would destroy the hopes and defeat the calculations of the commissioners of the American canal; as our being enabled to ship commodities on the Ouse three weeks before the lake opens at Fort Erie and Buffalo, with a certainty of their being transferred without removal direct to Montreal, would give a preference to that route, and our trade with much of that from the south shore of Lake Erie would thereby be secured to us."
Valentine Gill, above referred to as being engaged on the survey, in his report to the commissioners, made use of the following language: "With diffidence I take a retrospective view of the seemingly insurmountable barrier nature has obstinately opposed to a canal navigation between the two lakes (Erie and Ontario). It certainly requires deliberation; but, considering the great national good, the incalculable public and private advantages that will arise from so vast a navigation as this short cut will open, also, that otherwise our neighbors will engross the trade of this province by their extensive inland navigation, I feel confident these difficulties can be surmounted without hazardous innovation, and with comparatively small expense."
Private Company Organised. -- It is altogether probable that the great original cost of this project, that is, the cost that would be incurred in constructing the canal along this route, led to the construction of the present Welland canal. The committee, whose labors have been outlined above, made its report in 1823, the result of which report was the incorporation of a private company, which was organized in 1824 and named the Welland Canal Company. This company proposed to establish the necessary communication between the two lakes by means of a canal and railroad. They intended running up the Welland river, passing across the township of Thorold, tunneling through the high ridge of land about a mile and a half, then proceeding directly by a canal to the brow of the hill or highland, and then by a railway down to the lowland, and connecting by another canal with the navigable waters of Twelve Mile creek, so as to afford the desired egress to Lake Ontario. The canal was to be of a capacity to accommodate "boats of not less than 40 tons."
Public meetings were held, surveys made, and other steps taken to excite public interest in the enterprise; but notwithstanding all this, upon the day of breaking ground for the beginning of the work, November 30, 1824, not half a dozen gentlemen of capital and influence in the district attended the ceremony. By 1825 the scheme as above outlined was deemed objectionable, and a new one was adopted by which the canal was to be large enough to admit schooners and sloops. It was then determined to have the entrance to the canal at Port Dalhousie, and the upper end at the Welland river, whence the supply of water for the canal was to be drawn. It was also proposed to have at an early day communication between the Welland river and Lake Erie, and to have certain locks no feet long by 22 feet wide, the cross section to be 26 feet at the bottom and 58 feet wide at the surface of the water, except through the deep cut, which was to be only 15 feet wide at the bottom for two miles of the length, the depth of water to be eight feet.
In the summer of 1825 the company began to carry out this project with an ostensible capital of $800,000. In 1826 they obtained a loan of $100,000 for three years from the Government of Upper Canada, and the promise of one-ninth of the estimated cost of the enterprise from the Imperial Government, the locks to be 22 feet wide and all government property to pass free. In 1827 the Government of Upper Canada took stock in the undertaking to the amount of $200,000, and the Government of Lower Canada to the extent of $100,000. The Imperial authorities made a grant of 13,000 acres of land in the vicinity of the canal, and subsequently made a loan of $200,000 for ten years, at four per cent, interest.
Canal is Completed. -- In 1828 a slide of earth occurred in the excavation of the "deep cut," adding greatly to the embarrassments of the company, for it compelled them to abandon the Welland river as a feeder. They, however, carried on the work with considerable energy, for water was let into the canal in the fall of 1829, and in November of that year, exactly five years after the commencement of the work, two schooners, the largest of 85 tons, ascended the canal to the Welland river. These two schooners were the Ann and Jane, and the R. H. Boughton.
For the construction of this canal greater credit is due to Hon. William Hamilton Merritt than to any other individual. Mr. Merritt was, in 1818, a young merchant at Shipmans Corners. Besides his store he was the proprietor of a mill, and in 1818 a scarcity of water for his mill led him to put into operation a plan which he had cherished for some years, viz.: the connecting of Chippewa river and Twelve Mile creek by means of a canal. He made a rough survey of the ground with a common water level.
This first survey thus made was in due course of time followed by the present Welland canal. Mr. Merritt had often expressed himself as anticipating such an internal improvement being made, connecting Lake Erie and Lake Ontario by a navigable canal.
Mr. Merritt next presented to the Legislature a memorial, asking that an appropriation be made for a survey of the route. Nothing, however, was done during the year 1818, all the available funds having been wasted upon the route mentioned above from the mouth of the Grand river to Burlington bay, which was finally determined to be impracticable and abandoned.
Largely through Mr. Merritt's efforts the Welland Canal Company was organized with ?40,000 capital early in 1824. Mr. Merritt secured subscriptions at Quebec to the amount of $50,000, and later in New York city to the same amount. In 1828 he went to England to raise money with which to prosecute the work on the canal, subsequently making two other visits for the same purpose. On Friday, November 27, 1829, the schooners Annie and Jane, of York, and the R. H. Boughton, of Youngstown, N. Y., passed up through the canal, being the first vessels on the canal. Reaching Buffalo on December 2, these vessels were received with a salute, and they passed down again on the 3rd of that month. Passing from Lake Ontario to the summit these vessels ascended thirty-two locks, then locked down in to the Welland river, sailed down that river to the Niagara river, and up that river to Buffalo, the British schooner Annie and Jane in advance. The Welland canal was now an accomplished fact.
Subsequently the company proposed to extend the canal over the Welland river to Port Colborne, by enlarging about five miles of the feeder and excavating a new canal for the remaining distance to Gravelly bay.
Government Loan Secured. -- In 1831 the government approved of this project, and granted a loan of $200,000 for the completion of the work, which was immediately commenced and completed in 1833. At that time the locks were exclusively of wood, and much smaller than at present. In 1837 the government took the step of converting all of its loans into stock, and was authorized to subscribe $980,000 new stock, the capital of the company was declared to be $1,195,200, and the directors were limited to the expenditure of $400,000 per annum. In 1839 an Act was passed in Parliament, by a vote of 26 to 9, to authorize the government to purchase all the private stock, so that the work would become public property, but no steps were taken to carry out this design until 1841, when the works were placed under the control of the Board of Works. The total expenditure of the government on the canal up to this time was $1,851,428, but, as the work was inadequate to the requirements of commerce, it was decided to enlarge the canal and to rebuild all the locks with stone, making them 120 feet long, 24 feet wide and 8 ½ feet deep on the sills. And also that the aqueduct should be rebuilt with stone, and that the feeder should be converted into a navigable canal, the harbors at Port Colborne and Port Dalhousie should be improved, and the first two locks at Port Dalhousie and the one at Port Colborne should be made 200 x 45 feet in size with a nine-foot depth of water on the sills.
When the improvements above outlined had been made, the Welland canal was of the following dimensions: Length of canal from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, 27 miles and 1,099 feet; pairs of guard locks, 3; number of lift locks, 27; dimensions of locks, two of them 200 x 45 feet, twenty-four 150 x 26 ½ feet, and one 230 x 45 feet; total rise of lockage, 330 feet; and two locks each 8 feet high, making 16 feet, into the Grand river feeder, making the total lockage 346 feet. Welland river branches -- Port Robinson cut to Welland river, 2,622 feet; Welland canal to Welland river, 300 feet; Chippewa cut to Niagara river, 1,202 feet; two locks, one at aqueduct and one at Port Robinson, each 150 x 26 ½ feet; from Welland canal down to Welland river, 17 feet. Grand river feeder, 21 miles long; two locks, one of them 150 x 26 ½ feet, and one 200 x 45 feet. Port Maitland branch, 1 ¾ miles long; one lock, 185 x 45 feet; total rise of lockage, 8 ½ feet. Total cost of the canal up to July 1, 1867, $7,638,240.
Canada constructed several other canals for the purpose of increasing commercial facilities, but none of them was so successful, in a commercial sense, as the Welland. This canal is the connecting link between the upper lakes and Lake Ontario, and had drawn to it a considerable share of the Western trade. Through this canal the products of the British territory on Lakes Huron, Erie and Superior, in great part, at least, found their way to the larger cities on Lake Ontario and on the St. Lawrence, and shippers of Toledo, Milwaukee and Chicago and other Western cities of the United States sent forward a portion of their goods through this canal to Oswego and to Montreal for transshipment to Europe.
Tonnage on the Canal. -- From 1849 to 1869 the tonnage of the canal more than doubled; in 1849 the aggregate tonnage was only 820,000, in 1869 it was 2,500,000. In 1849 the revenue from the canal was but $113,968, while in 1869 it was $230,000, and, when the returns were all in, it was found that the greater portion of the tolls were collected from United States vessels. The number of United States steamers passing through this canal in 1870 was 878, while the number of Canadian steamers was 1,199, but the tonnage of the United States steamers was in the aggregate more than double that of the Canadian steamers.
In 1852 the tonnage on this canal from and to United. States ports was as follows: Up tonnage, 133,330, down tonnage, 275,691; in 1853 the up tonnage was 163,031, and the down tonnage, 318,919; in 1854 the up tonnage was 162,593 tons, while the down tonnage was 247,100; in 1855 the up tonnage was 188,864, and the down tonnage, 256,901; in 1856 the up tonnage was 200,373, and the down tonnage, 341,225.
For the year ending June 30, 1868, the total tonnage that passed through the canal was 2,316,000 tons, and the tolls thereon amounted to $222,860. The number of passengers was 7,536, and they paid tolls amounting to $679. For year ending June 30, 1869, the tonnage amounted to 2,462,201, and the tolls amounted to $236,648, while the number of passengers was 6,611, the tolls paid by them being $648.
In 1868 there passed through this canal 3,225 Canadian vessels, their tonnage amounting to 548,197, and the number of United States vessels was 2,932, their tonnage amounting to 692,169 tons. The Canadian tolls amounted to $10,664, and the United States tolls were $16,954. In 1869 the number of Canadian vessels passing through the canal was 3,278, having a tonnage of 548,019, and the number of United States vessels passing was 2,791, their tonnage being 719,432. Tolls paid by Canadian vessels amounted to $11,044, and the amount paid by United States vessels was $17,387.
Enlargement is Planned. -- In 1870 it began to be evident that the Welland canal was comparatively losing ground in its commercial value. During the preceding ten years statistics appeared to prove that it was practically at a stand still, that is, had been at a standstill from 1860 to 1869 inclusive. In 1860 its commerce amounted to 2,182,593 tons, or in other words this was the tonnage of the vessels passing through; while in 1869 this tonnage was 2,462,201, an increase of only 118,680 tons, and in 1867 it had been only 1,927,198. One of the principal reasons for this lack of growth was that Buffalo had made great and successful efforts to increase her trade and that of the Erie canal, and another reason was that the vessels built on the upper lakes were increasing in size, so that there was constantly a diminishing proportion of them that could pass through this canal, and in point of fact the number of those that could pass through was actually decreasing. It had become evident, then, that the larger the vessel the cheaper could she carry freight, and as soon as it became evident that three-fourths of the vessels on the upper lakes could not pass the Welland canal, it at the same time became equally clear that the enlargement of that canal was necessary, or that it must constantly lose a greater proportion of the trade and commerce of the Great Lakes, which Canada very naturally disliked to see go to the Erie canal, desiring it to go down to and through the St. Lawrence canals. The only way, therefore, for Canada to compete for the lumber, iron, copper and grain trade of the upper lakes, was to enlarge the canal. There were then but four great through routes from the West and North to the seaboard -- First, the several railroad lines; second, the Great Lakes and the Erie canal; third, the Great Lakes, the Welland and the Oswego canal, and fourth, the Great Lakes, the Welland and the St. Lawrence canals. To the prosperity of the latter two routes the Welland canal was essential, and both Oswego and Kingston would be immediately benefited the moment the Welland should be enlarged. An elaborate compilation of statistics was made to show that the natural waterway, the St. Lawrence, must eventually compete successfully with the artificial waterway, the Erie canal, for the commerce of the upper lakes.
"Into our hands must come, sooner or later," says the report, "the carriage of the great bulk of the produce required by Great Britain, who now chiefly receives her supply from Russia, Germany, the United States, Turkey, the Danubian Provinces, Chili and Egypt.
"When the propellers mostly in use in Western waters can come directly to Montreal or Quebec, and there transfer their cargoes to larger vessels necessary for European traffic, or go on to Boston through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the ' Bay Verte canal' (which must shorten the distance to Portland and Boston about 500 miles), then freights on Western produce will be reduced to a minimum, and New York will acknowledge what it now fears, that the success of the Erie canal is a thing of the past, and that the Western trade has followed the universal law, which must obtain sooner or later everywhere, which no legislation can alter, no enterprise balk, that commerce always seeks the cheapest and most expeditious channels of communication with its markets."
From the above and other similar considerations it was determined to enlarge the canal. Up to that time the Grand river had been relied upon as the feeder. This river rises in the southern part of Grey county, within thirty miles of Georgian Bay, and after a circuitous course of 130 miles through Wellington, Waterloo, Wentworth, Perth, Oxford, Brant and Haldimand counties, draining an area of 2,600 square miles, flows into Lake Erie. It was estimated that if one-half of the water that fell within the limits of its watershed could be stored and utilized as required it would furnish 275,000 cubic feet of water per minute, or about nine times as much as would be required by the enlarged canal; but this could not be accomplished, and only a mere fractional part of this supply could be used. In fact, ever since 1833 the Grand river had afforded only a precarious supply of water, and it had been for years foreseen that as the country drained by the Grand river became cleared of its forests and settled it could not be depended on as a feeder, and hence the plans for the enlargement of the canal also contemplated the making of Lake Erie the summit and feeder of the canal.
In 1871 the tons of freight that passed through this canal was 3,002,925, the tolls on which amounted to $286,228. The number of Canadian vessels was 4,270 and their tonnage amounted to 625,788; and the number of United States vessels was 3,459, having a tonnage of 928,330.
The rivalry between the Welland canal and the canals through the State of New York for the carrying trade to the seaboard begins at the foot of Lake Erie. If, therefore, vessels of a very large carrying capacity could pass downward through the Welland canal and proceed thence to the side of ocean bound ships, a great object would be accomplished, and a route established which might reasonably be expected to compete with the Erie canal, and with the railroads passing through New York State. In 1845 all the vessels engaged in the grain trade on the upper lakes could pass through this canal, but in 1855 there were at least twenty propellers that could not use the canal on account of their size. In 1872 there were at least sixty propellers that could not pass through the Welland canal, and since that time the number has steadily and very largely increased, In 1871 the average load carried through the canal in United States vessels was 392 tons, while that carried down by Canadian vessels was 424 tons. And it was then evident that the requirements of trade rendered it imperative that the cost of transportation of freight should be reduced to the lowest possible rates. This reduction in the cost of transporting freight has since then been constantly in progress, and now (1897) the rates of freight on the Great Lakes are lower than ever before.
This reduction has been largely secured by the greatly increased carrying capacity of single vessels on the lakes, for while at one time 500 tons was considered a large cargo, it is now becoming common for vessels to carry nearly and sometimes upward of 5,000 tons, a number of cargoes of grain carried during the summer of 1897 exceeding 6,000 tons. It was the foreseen necessi-sity of larger boats, and the desire to pass them through the Welland canal, that led to the enlargement and improvement of that waterway in 1873.
At that time the Lake Erie entrance to the canal at Port Colborne was formed by means of piers extending into the lake -- that on the westerly side being 1,600 feet long beyond the shore line, and that on the eastern side being 500 feet long. At the shore line these piers were 150 feet apart, and from that point to the head of the lock the distance was 2,390 feet. The basin then had an area of about nine acres, being 1,475 feet in length and of an average width of 265 feet. But the work of enlarging the basin 725 feet in a southerly direction to a depth of eighteen inches below the miter sill of the lock, together with that of making the entrance channel at other places fully two feet under the level of the lock sills, was then under contract. And at the completion of the work the basin was 2,200 feet long, and had an area of eleven and a half acres.
The harbor had a good width at the entrance, and there was no danger to be apprehended in approaching it from the west, but from the southeast by east, at a distance of 800 feet from the lighthouse at the head of the west pier, there was a reef, on a portion of which at low water there was a depth of but eight and a half feet of water. It was, therefore, proposed to construct a breakwater alongside of this reef throughout its entire length, about 2,000 feet, and in this way not only greatly reduce the danger from the reef itself, but at the same time procure a harbor containing about forty acres. This it was thought would furnish a harbor of refuge for such vessels as had need to run into such a place in rough weather. The total cost of this improvement was estimated at $2,200,000.
At this same time the Lake Ontario harbor to the Welland canal was situated at the natural outlet at Twelve Mile creek, near the village of Port Dalhousie. Its entrance was formed by means of two parallel piers running in a north and south direction nearly 2,100 feet into the lake, the space between the piers being equal to about nine and a half acres, and the usual depth at original low water being from 11 ½ to 12 feet. Between the inner end of the entrance piers and the first lock in the Welland canal, the basin had an area of seven acres, which it was thought easy to increase to seventeen acres at any time, and the work connected with deepening the entrance channel to 14 feet and the basin to 13 ½ feet at the inner end of the piers, and to 13 feet at the lock over an area of about ten acres, was then under contract.
It was in 1872-73 that these two harbors, at Port Dalhousie and at Port Colborne, were enlarged and deepened, and a contract was entered into for enlarging the entire canal. Elaborate surveys were made and the estimates reduced to the nearest approximation. The enlargement of the canal also required the enlarging of the feeder from Grand river by two feet from the junction to Port Maitland branch at Broad creek, and thence upward to Dunnville, where an additional depth of eighteen inches was obtained, thus increasing the supply of water to the canal. About this time W. F. Biggar succeeded S. D. Woodruff as superintendent of the canal.
One of the most difficult problems in connection with the success of the Welland canal was the instability of the banks at the "Deep Cut," an excavation through the highest ridge of land on the line near the northern end of the summit of the level. This cut is nearly two miles in length, and there the extensive slides and movements of the banks that would occur on that part first led the Welland Canal Company, in 1828, to abandon their original design of drawing the water from the Welland river, and to use the Grand river as a feeder.
But the Grand river has sometimes threatened to fail, or at least partially fail, as a source of supply. In the early part of June, 1871, the water in the feeder canal between Dunnville and the Welland junction declined below its original height, and Grand river, whence the supply is obtained, fell so low as seriously to lessen the depth at the summit level; and while navigation was not interrupted yet it was found necessary to shut off the water from the mills above Al-lanburg. It was noted at the time that the Grand river during dry seasons was every year falling more and more, and was consequently failing to furnish the required supply of water, and at the same time the tonnage of the canal was continually increasing from year to year, thus requiring an increased supply of water. The canal commissioners therefore recommended that the rock walls, waste weirs and banks from Allanburgh to Port Dalhousie be raised in a permanent manner, so as to admit of vessels drawing 12 feet of water, and also that the canal locks be enlarged to 270 feet in length, and to a proportionate width. At that time the smallest locks on the canal were 150 feet long by 26 ½ feet wide, and the largest vessel that could pass through were 142 ½ feet long by 26 ¼ feet wide, and drew 10 feet of water. Such a vessel would carry only about 400 tons. On July 21, 1871, John Page, chief engineer of public works, estimated that to obtain a depth of 12 feet of water throughout the entire length of this canal, would cost $1,924,000.
But a more comprehensive plan of improvement than merely to increase the depth of the canal was determined on, and in 1873 the work was carried on, costing, from Port Colborne to Thorold, $4,060,000, and from Thorold to Port Dalhousie, $5,180,000, or in all $9,240,000. The scheme adopted for the width of this canal was that it should be 100 feet wide at the bottom and slope up on each side one foot in two. The locks were enlarged to 270 feet in length, and between the quoins the width was made 45 feet, with a depth of 13 feet.
From Thorold, at the head of the old system of locks, the channel was made to diverge so as to make a circuit past St. Catharines, emerging at Port Dalhousie and thus to give two outlets into Lake Ontario.
During the year 1873 there passed up and down this canal 6,205 vessels, with an aggregate tonnage of 1,397,388, and the tonnage collected amounted to $277,144. The number of passengers for the year was 7,620.
Canadian -- Steam, 81, with an aggregate tonnage of 29,290; sailing, 113, with an aggregate tonnage of 23,680; United States -- steam, 80, with an aggregate tonnage of 46,537; sailing, 97, with an aggregate tonnage of 31,918.
The following table shows the aggregate number of vessels, and the total quantity of freight, passed through the Welland canal, and also the quantity passed between United States ports during the years from 1867 to 1895, both inclusive:
The following table shows the tonnage of grain, vegetables, coal and ores passing through the Welland canal during a series of twenty-five years, ending with December 31, 1895 (grain includes flour, wheat, corn, barley, oats and rye):
Refunding of Tolls. -- The refunding of tolls on the Welland canal has been a question of great interest to the people of both Canada and the United States. In 1882 tolls were abolished on the Erie canal, which gave to commerce passing to the seaboard through that canal a great advantage over that by way of the Welland canal and the system of St. Lawrence river canals. Application was therefore made to the Governor-general of Canada for a system of refunding of tolls on export grain, passing down through the Welland canal. For the year 1884, and up to June, 1885, the refunding of tolls on grain amounted to 10 cents per ton; from July 1, 1885, to December, 1891, it amounted to 15 cents per ton, and for 1892 it was 18 cents per ton, the tolls during this time being 20 cents per ton.
During the season of 1892 there passed down the Welland canal, and were transshipped at Canadian ports for Montreal, 195,224 tons of grain, which was exported out of the country, upon which the rebate of 18 cents per ton was made, the refund amounting to $35,140.
President Harrison, of the United States, issued a proclamation August 20, 1892, under authority of an Act of Congress, approved by him July 26, 1892, imposing a toll of 20 cents per ton on all freight passing through St. Mary's canal in transit to any port of Canada, whether in vessels of the United States or of other nations. The proclamation recited the 20 cent per ton toll on grain passing through the Welland canal, and the rebates made by the Government of Canada on grain shipped to Montreal or any port east of it for export, but allowing no rebate when the grain is shipped to a port of the United States, or when carried to Montreal and thence shipped through the United States. He declared this a discrimination against citizens of the United States in the use of the Welland canal in violation of the treaty of 1871.
The result of this proclamation by the President of the United States was that, in 1893, by an Order-in-Council dated February 13, 1893, the tolls were reduced to 10 cents per ton on grain passing through the Welland canal, irrespective of its destination, and the same rates of toll were allowed for 1894, by Orders-in-Council of April 16, 1894. The rate of toll on the St. Lawrence canals, only, was ten cents per ton. Goods having paid full tolls on the Welland canal were allowed to pass down through the St. Lawrence canals free of toll. Since 1894 the toll or duty on grain passing through the Welland canal has been 10 cents per ton, and there has been no refunding of tolls.
Return to Home Port
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.