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Buffalo News

June 21, 2009

Explore the legacy of a historic shipping route
By Christine A. Smyczynski

I have to admit, I never ceased to be fascinated by the ocean-going “salties” and lake freighters that pass through the St. Lawrence Seaway, which was named after the St. Lawrence River. Over the years I’ve had several occasions to observe these “gentle giants of the waterways” gliding silently through several communities along the New York/Ontario border.

But what exactly is the St. Lawrence Seaway and how did it come to be? I asked Vicki Garcia, Director of Civil Rights/Public Information Officer for the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation for a description.

 “The St. Lawrence Seaway goes from Montreal to mid-Lake Ontario and is approximately 160 miles long. The Montreal-Lake Ontario Section, along with the Welland Canal forms the 15 lock system of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System, which is overseen by the U. S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and the Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation,” said Garcia. She added, “The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers oversee the SOO Locks, in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, which complete the Great Lakes portion.

The entire system, which encompasses the St. Lawrence River, the five Great Lakes, and two Canadian provinces, measures 2,342 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to Duluth Minnesota on Lake Superior.” According to Garcia, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System is a vital maritime gateway that moves cargo between North America and international markets.

The Montreal-Lake Ontario Section of the system, which consists of 7 locks, including the 2 U. S. Locks in Massena, is celebrating 50 years this year. The Seaway officially opened on June 26, 1959, with both Queen Elizabeth II and US President Dwight Eisenhower presiding over the inaugural ceremonies. The Seaway is a model of international cooperation between Canada and the United States.

The idea of locks to bypass the rapids in the St. Lawrence River is not a new idea. As far back as 1680, people were trying to figure out how to make the river navagatable. However, it wasn’t until the 1940’s, when the idea for the seaway took root.

A joint US and Canadian group studied the feasibility of creating a deep waterway that would create a major shipping route that would benefit both the United States and Canada. Since the Seaway’s opening in 1959, Canada and the U.S. have shipped more than 2.4 billion tones of cargo through the waterway, estimated at $350 billion dollars to and from 50 other nations.

Places to view ships along the seaway
It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the Eisenhower Locks in Massena; however, I’m sure it’s just as interesting now as it was when I last visited it over 20 years ago. An observation deck allows visitors to watch freighters as they move through the seaway. To get to the visitor’s center, one must drive through a tunnel under the seaway.



The facility, which is run by the New York State Power Authority, has hands on exhibits on how the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Hawkins Point Power Plant work.

A bit closer to home, the Welland Canal, in southern Ontario, offers a close up look of vessels passing thought the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System. The 27 mile long Welland Canal is not merely a shipping route, but a tourist attraction that draws people from all over the world.

My daughter and I recently took a day trip along the Welland Canal, which is about a 45 minute drive from downtown Buffalo. Four communities along the canal, Port Colborne, Welland, Thorold, and St. Catharines feature attractions, shopping, dining, and more.

Of special note is the Inn at Lock 7 in Thorold, which is the only inn in the region where one can view the ships as they pass through the canal. According to innkeeper, Patricia Szoldra, many of the guests are regulars that return year after year. Just down the street from the inn, the Lock 7 Viewing Complex is a good spot to watch ships. An even larger viewing complex is located at Lock 3 in St. Catharines.

Celebrations to Commemorate the St. Lawrence Seaway’s 50th Anniversary.
From June 23-30, several events are planned for communities in the Canadian province of Ontario, with celebrations taking place in Cornwall, Niagara, and Montreal. There will also be a large celebration in Iroquois , Ontario on June 23 that will feature the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For a listing of all events, visit the website

On the US side of the border, celebration weekend will take place in Massena, NY from Thursday July 9 to Sunday July 12. Activities will include live entertainment, musical performances, a parade, historical displays and more. Thursday evening will feature a lecture by Dr. Claire Parham, author of The St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project-An oral history of the greatest construction show on Earth.

Closer to home, the annual Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival will take place in Port Colborne on the Welland Canal from July 31 to August 3. This four day celebration highlights the city’s nautical history and heritage. About 300,000 people visit this festival each summer. Events include historical displays, a classic car show, live entertainment, children’s activities and more.

A great resource for traveling along the seaway
Sometimes it’s more about the journey, than the destination. If you are planning a trip to any of the places on the US side mentioned in this article, a great resource is Great Lakes Seaway Trail Journey Magazine, which is published by the Seaway Trail, Inc., a non-profit corporation that promotes tourism along the Seaway Trail in New York State and Pennsylvania.

This publication, which is available for free, as well as online on their website, highlights hundreds of communities along the 518 mile long scenic highway, which takes travelers through two states; from West Springfield, PA to Rooseveltown, NY.

Travelers can look for the green and white Seaway Trail signs, which will lead them to many special places that might be overlooked if they traveled on a superhighway. The Seaway Trail has been selected as one of America Byways the US Department of Transportation. Along this trail travelers can find museums, wineries, cultural attractions, farm markets and more.

Great Lakes- Seaway (315-764-3208;

New York Power Authority Frank S. Mccullough Jr., Hawkins Point Visitors Center, (800-262-NYPA) 21 Hawkins Point Rd, Massena.

Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival (1-800-767-8386 or 905-834-1668) Port Colborne.

Seaway Trail, Inc. (800-SEAWAY-T or 315-646-1000; Corner of Ray and West Main Street, Sackets Harbor, NY. A visitor’s center is located here.