This Week in History


The Power of Water

For the week of Monday June 28, 2004

On July 1, 1958, a cofferdam at Sheek Island, near Cornwall, Ontario, was blown up to start the filling of the Lake St. Lawrence portion of the St. Lawrence Seaway project. Stretching more than 3,700 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean to the heart of North America, the St. Lawrence Seaway System is one of the most strategic commercial waterways in the world.

Long Sault Dam under construction, St. Lawrence Seaway, 1957
© Archives of Ontario / RG 65-35-3, 11764-X2932
As early as 1918, the Canadian government proposed a combined project with the United States involving three main components – a deep waterway for ship navigation, a hydro-electric power development project and a water control system. The power components of the project were to be constructed along the 64 kilometres “International Rapids” section of the St. Lawrence River. The acquisition of lands and the relocation of affected communities to make way for the commercial waterway became the sole responsibility of hydro authorities. On the Canadian side, 8,100 hectares of historic land would be drowned, requiring the moving of eight riverside communities and 225 families. Ontario Hydro relocated 6,500 people to three new communities - 525 homes were moved and 450 new homes, schools, municipal buildings, churches and shopping centres were built.

Christ Church, built in Moulinette in 1837. The church was moved to Upper Canada Village before the town was flooded by the St. Lawrence Seaway.
© Photo Courtesy of Upper Canada Village
The project also required the relocation of 64 kilometres of double track railway on the Canadian National Railway’s main line, and 56 kilometres of Highway #2, the main highway between Montréal and Toronto. Despite difficulties, the relocation project was completed November 1957. The Ontario government saved almost 40 historically important buildings fronting the St. Lawrence River, as it was one of the oldest settled areas in the province. These buildings were moved to a planned historic site called Upper Canada Village. However, not all the historical aspects of these communities could be saved from the water that now generates nearly 1.9 million kilowatts of power for the Province of Ontario.

One purpose of the St. Lawrence Seaway was to replace the old canals system with a quicker and deeper route to the Great Lakes. Part of the canal system located in this area could not be preserved. When the water flooded the St. Lawrence River  communities, it submerged the Williamsburg Canals, three separate canals built in the 1840s that had been designated of national historic significance. Part of the Williamsburg Canals System, comprising the Farran’s Point Canal, the Rapide Plat Canal and the Galops Canal, now lies at the bottom of Lake St Lawrence.

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