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St. Lawrence Seaway

The St. Lawrence Seaway, promoted as ‘Highway H₂O’, is a waterway system that allows vessels to travel from the Atlantic Ocean through the Great Lakes. Every Native American, early American explorer, fur trader and weary settler probably dreamed that such a route existed as he hoisted his canoe over his head from portage to portage. Many like Cabot, Cartier, Champlain, Marquette, Jolliet and La Salle, who charted the Great Lakes and local rivers, most likely wished for this waterway.

Chicago, a port of the St. Lawrence Seaway
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

But, the completed waterway remained a dream for many years. Canals were built that helped travelers, but they were temporary solutions to bypass dangerous rapids or challenging dams. Finally, the political debates ended in Canada in 1951, and in the U.S. in 1954, over 400 years after John Cabot sailed to America.

The Wiley-Dander Seaway Act of 1954 signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower commenced the construction of the seaway as a joint effort of Canada and the U.S. It was completed in 1959 and is managed by the Canadian Saint Lawrence Seaway Authority and the American Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. The American corporation controls all phases of the seaway in U.S. territorial waters. It’s a self-funded, wholly owned government corporation that levies tolls for revenue.

The seaway is a system of 15 locks, various canals and several channels. It follows its intermittent 370-mile route and bypasses rapids and dams. It’s 570 feet above sea level. Vessels of a maximum 370 feet and carrying maximum cargoes of 28,000 tons travel to and from several ports. To be continued…

Chicago history readers, this column is pleased to announce the Kindle eBook publication, Chicago’s Mayors: A Collection of Biographies of All Chicago’s Mayors. This noteworthy, useful book tells the stories of the 47 men and one woman who became Mayors of Chicago.