Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Photographed not long after opening, the most westerly of the seven locks on the St. Lawrence controls traffic between the Thousand Islands and Lake Ontario, whose level is controlled by the Iroquois Dam, shown at right.
Photographed not long after opening, the most westerly of the seven locks on the St. Lawrence controls traffic between the Thousand Islands and Lake Ontario, whose level is controlled by the Iroquois Dam, shown at right.

Focus

Fallen hero: the St. Lawrence Seaway at 50 Add to ...

Prof. Taylor says the salties could be replaced by as few as two 100-car freight trains running each day of the year. A study he co-wrote in 2005 calculated that the cost of closing the locks to transoceanic ships at roughly $55-million, a figure that is widely criticized by the shipping industry but is just a fraction of the $200-million environmental toll he estimates the seaway has taken on the Great Lakes.

But the seaway also has ardent defenders, who make a convincing case that it will play an increasingly important role as transportation costs rise and, ironically, the environment becomes an even greater concern. Because the loads can be so huge, transporting goods by ship uses, on average, far less fuel and doesn't clog up already congested highways.

"One ship can take 800 trucks off the road," says Bruce Bowie, president of the Canadian Shipowners Association.

In addition, the shipping industry is lobbying to have removed the 25-per-cent duty the government charges on vessels built outside Canada, which, he says, has prevented companies from making their fleets even more environmentally efficient. Steps have been taken to modernize the locks, and an incentive program lured nearly two billion tonnes of new cargo to the route last year, according to the seaway corporation. But drawing even more business by staying open through the winter would be costly, and major renovations required down the road will cost more than the seaway currently earns.

As for banishing the salties, Mr. Bowie calls it a "sledgehammer solution" that would only limit future economic growth. The seaway needs to be ready to capture some emerging market abroad, he says, just as lakers have suddenly picked up solid business in the past few years by carrying low-sulphur coal to power plants on the East Coast.

But future prospects aside, it has been a rocky 50 years for Highway H{-2}O, as the seaway has been branded by the development corporation that now oversees it, and this anniversary is not the exuberant celebration of that June day half a century past. To a large extent, the seaway's prospects depend on the global path of supply and demand. But the next half-century will decide whether it can sell itself as a clean, energy-efficient water route and earn the place in history that the Queen once said it deserved.

Erin Anderssen is a Globe and Mail feature writer.

Single page

Follow on Twitter: @ErinAnderssen

 

Top stories

Most popular video »

Highlights

Most Popular Stories