The St. Lawrence Question


HON. E. C. DRURY April 15 1929

The St. Lawrence Question


HON. E. C. DRURY April 15 1929

The St. Lawrence Question



ANY study of the St. Lawrence problem would be incomplete without some consideration of the international aspects of the question. Is Canada being asked to give up anything of her rightful sovereignty over the river from which she took her birth? Is she likely to be led into an entangling arrangement which may threaten her future freedom of action? Above all, will co-operation with the United States in this prospect foster or imperil those good relations between the two nations which have so happily prevailed for considerably more than a century? An answer to these questions is vastly important. It can only be found in consideration, not alone of the present, but also of the historical aspects of the situation.

In 1783, when the British Government recognized by treaty the independence of the revolting colonies, the newly-formed United States of America, the St. Lawrence River, from the point where the forty-fifth parallel intersected it upward to Lake Ontario, was recognized as the boundary between the territories of the newlyformed Republic and those of the British possession of Canada conquered from the French some quarter of a century earlier. Those responsible for drafting the treaty, however, were either much inclined to be lax and indefinite, or, more probably, were unacquainted with the nature of the river itself, its thousands of islands, and the intricate nature of its channels. The newlydefined boundary was to follow the “middle of the River St. Lawrence” up to Lake Ontario.

As was to be expected, it was not long until disputes arose as to where, exactly, the middle of the river was situated, disputes which no one could settle by any possible reference to the physical characteristics of the river itself. These disputes continued up to the war of 1812-1814. When in 1814 the Treaty of Ghent concluded that unfortunate and unnecessary conflict, it was thought wise to clear up as far as possible any points of difference which existed between the two countries. Accordingly, a commission was appointed to delimit definitely the international boundary in the St. Lawrence River. It met, gave full consideration to the question, and presented a report which was adopted in 1822. There is no question that it was actuated by a desire to be fair and impartial, and to delimit a boundary which should serve the cause of continued peace and good understanding. It adopted the rule that the boundary line should not intersect any one of the multitude of islands involved. It considerately swung it south of Wolfe Island, so that Kingston, a potential capital of Upper Canada, should not be menaced by foreign territory a mile or so away.

Up to this time, the United States, her population strung along the Atlantic Seaboard, had had little concern as to navigation on the St. Lawrence River. Now, however, the situation was rapidly changing. The pioneer spirit was once more asserting itself and population was flowing Westward—over the Alleghanies, along the tributaries of the Mississippi, and into the country around the Great Lakes. It was in 1830 that Abe Lincoln, the immortal rail-splitter, came, with that strange household of which he was a member, to Sangamon County, in Illinois. The Middle West was opening up. It demanded an outlet. There were no railways, no Erie Canal. Just two natural avenues of trade existed—the Mississippi, down to New Orleans and the Gulf, and the River St. Lawrence. The right to navigate the St. Lawrence became a matter of vital importance to the United States.

Accordingly, it is no surprise to learn that from about 1824 to 1830 the question was the subject of a very considerable correspondence between the governments of the United States and Great Britain. In this interchange, Clay and Adams, the American Secretaries of State, took the ground that their country, as an up-river State, had a natural right to the free navigation of the river, down to the sea, citing in support of their claims, certain similar rights which had been granted to riparian states in Europe in the re-adjustments following the Napoleonic Wars. Great Britain successfully contended that the analogy did not apply, that these European arrangements were by special treaty, and that they had no bearing on the St. Lawrence situation. The United States ceased to press her contention, and we hear no more of this phase of the question for many years.

And now occurred a development in the United States which presents certain striking parallels to what may happen if Canada turns down the present American demand for a deep waterway to the sea via the St. Lawrence. Frustrated in their desire to reach the sea by way of assured rights on the St. Lawrence, our resourceful cousins turned their attention to providing an outlet through their own territory. The Erie canal was built and became a tremendous factor in American commerce of that day. A few years later, railways penetrated the Middle West. The transportation needs of this section by these means were met, for the time being.

The next appearance of the St. Lawrence as a matter of international negotiations is in the AshburtonWebster treaty of 1842. That treaty, of course, dealt chiefly with the Maine boundary, but opportunity was also taken to clear up a point about the St. Lawrence which required definition. Article 7 of the AshburtonWebster treaty reads as follows:

“It is further agreed, that the channels in the River St. Lawrence on both sides of the Long Sault Islands, and of Barnhart Island, the channels in the River Detroit, on both sides of the Island Bois Blanc, and between that island and both the Canadian and American shores, and all the several channels and passages between the various islands lying near the junction of the River St. Clair with the lake of that name, shall be equally free and open to the ships, vessels and boats of both parties.”

This was a supremely important contribution to the whole question of the navigation of the St. Lawrence system. It furnished the basis of that excellent understanding which still prevails, by which these stretches of the river have been improved or maintained by one country or the other as equity and efficiency may dictate, regardless of which side of the imaginary boundary line the channel may actually lie.

In 1854, a Reciprocity Treaty was entered into between Canada and the United States. It provided not only for free trade between the two countries in a wide list of natural products, but also gave to the United States free use of the St. Lawrence river and its canals, and to Canada similar rights on Lake Michigan, a lake belonging wholly to the United States. This treaty, including these clauses, lapsed in 1866.

In 1871, the St. Lawrence question, like King Charles’ head, again pops up in the Treaty of Washington. This treaty was not primarily negotiated for the purpose of dealing with this question. It was necessitated by the Alabama claims brought by the United States against Great Britain. But it was apparently thought necessary, in order to cement good will between the two nations, to apply to the rivers of North America the same rights of navigation as were being generally recognized by treaty in Europe. Accordingly, we find the following article (No. 26) in the Treaty:

“The navigation of the River St. Lawrence, ascending and descending from the forty-fifth parallel of north latitude, where it ceases to form the boundary between the two countries from, to, and into the sea, shall forever remain free and open for the purposes of commerce to the citizens of the United States, subject to any laws and regulations of Great Britain or of the Dominion of Canada, not inconsistent with such privilege of free navigation.”

Similar rights were given to British and Canadian citizens on the Pacific Coast rivers flowing from Canada through the Alaskan Panhandle to the Pacific Ocean.

The article first quoted does not specifically give to United States citizens the free use of the Canadian canals by which the rapids of the St. Lawrence are overcome. Since, however, it gave to them the right to use the river “ascending and descending,” and since it was impossible for them to ascend without using them, it might reasonably be argued, and indeed this argument is seriously advanced, that at least indirectly it did give them this right. But another circumstance intruded itself to give to the treaty a somewhat curious twist.

“Free Trade For Free Transit”

SIR JOHN A. MACDONALD was the Canadian representative on the British Commission which negotiated the treaty. Sir John was a consistent and ardent advocate of reciprocal Free Trade between Canada and the United States. Indeed, so ardent a wooer of Reciprocity was he that if it would not come to us of its own free will, he was willing to resort to cave-man tactics and do his courting with a club. When, lateron, in 1879, he brought in his famous National Policy of high protection, one of his arguments was that it could be used to force open the American markets to Canadian goods. And in the treaty of 1874 he saw another club which might be used for the same purpose. In other words, he wanted something to trade with. He was willing, he said, to bargain on the basis of “free trade, for free transit,” to give to the Americans the right to use our canals in return for the opening of their markets to our goods. And so a clause was inserted in the treaty to the effect that the British Government undertook to intercede with Canada “to secure to the citizens of the United States the use of the Welland and St. Lawrence canals.” Since, however, Canada, even after the lapse of the Reciprocity Treaty, had never refused this right, because perhaps it would have done us more harm than good—for then, as now, Montreal was the port of assembly for products that came down the river— the clause was a dead letter. We could not use the club without administering a shrewd rap to our own pate. Hence it was never used, and the St. Lawrence canals have been free to both countries since 1854. In fact, the only question which has ever risen between the two countries in regard to these canals occurred when, later, by an ingenious system of tolls and toll remittances we tried to force American vessels to use them.

The next step involving the St. Lawrence was a most important one in assuring continued good will between Canada and the United States—the creation of the International Waterways Commission. This must not be confused with the present International Joint Commission, its successor. The older body was wider in its scope, but narrower in its power, than the newer. It could “investigate and report,” not only on boundary waters, but on“waters adjacent to the boundary,” but it could decide nothing. It was, however, most important because it introduced a new principle, and naturally led up to the present excellent arrangement, by which we have in the International Joint Commission a body not only advisory but judicial in its functions—a miniature Hague Tribunal as it has been called.

This body was created by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, the latest agreement between the two nations on the whole question. Besides creating this body, this treaty undertook to clear up and stabilize the whole situation, to gather up the loose ends, the things that had come up as the result of changing conditions. It did not, indeed, give again to the United States the right to navigate the St. Lawrence down to the sea. That had been given “forever” in 1871, and, indeed, the principle is now so generally applied the world over, as almost to be an established principle of international practice. But it did formally express thé arrangement that had been begun in 1842 and in practice had been since ex-tended. It did declare that the navigation of all boundary waters should “forever remain free and open” to both nations. It further provided that for the duration of the treaty the same free navigation should apply to Lake Michigan and to all canals connecting boundary waters. It recognized existing diversions, including the Chicago drainage canal and the diversions for power purposes at Niagara, but it provided that no further diversion should be made except with the consent of the International Joint Commission. This treaty provides the present basis for the treatment of all boundary water questions. It can be terminated only by twelve months written notice by either party. It is safe to say it will never be terminated so long as peaceable relations continue.

Now having reviewed, I fear to the extent of being wearisome, the course of this question as it has appeared in international relations during a century and a half, let us apply it to the present situation, which is the true use of history.

Route Developed by Both Nations

TN THE first place, it is plain that the

whole course of events has been toward the internationalizing, for all purposes of commerce, of the whole Great Lakes, St. Lawrence system, including not only the strictly international section, but on the one hand, Lake Michigan, an allAmerican lake, and that section of the St. Lawrence River lying wholly within Canada. This has worked out beneficially to both countries and is in line with international practice the world over.

In the second place, good neighborliness, born of good will and common sense, has been applied to the development and care of this common highway. Canada, at great cost, has dug the Welland Canal and improved the St. Lawrence between Lake Ontario and the sea, and these improvements are as free to United States shipping as to our own. On the other hand, as her contribution the United States has improved the Detroit, St. Clair and St. Mary rivers, has provided the modern canal and locks at the Sault, and our shipping use these improvements as freely as her own, and did so, long before this right was confirmed by treaty. In the carrying out of these works the boundary line has not been allowed to override common sense. I remember, as long ago as a certain midsummer day in 1911, standing on the shores of the Detroit River, and hearing the concussions of American dynamite blasting out a channel in Canadian waters for the peaceful commerce of both nations, and neither the dignity nor the material interest of either nation suffered because of it.

In the third place, it is apparent that to follow the present proposal and allow the United States to enlarge her contribution by undertaking the improvement of the international section of the St. Lawrence between Lake Ontario and Cornwall is to introduce no new practice, but merely to extend the practice which has been followed with such excellent results for many years in the channels above Lake Erie. It might, indeed, be argued that Canada could not, without danger of complications and loss of dignity, allow her neighbor to dig, say, the Welland canal, or to improve the Canadian section of the St. Lawrence between Cornwall and Montreal. But no such reason can be advanced against the United States undertaking the improvement of the international section. It seems probable, indeed, that the only reason that this section is not being taken care of now, as are the other international sections in the Detroit, St. Clair and St. Marys, is that at the time the first St. Lawrence canals were developed as an effective means of commerce the United States had no right to their free use, and had turned her attention to the Erie Canal as an alternative route.

If Canada “Goes It Alone”

rT'HE chief danger in Canada to the 4development of the St. Lawrence lies in possible political propaganda for an independent Canadian development. Let us clearly understand just what is involved in this proposal. In the first articles of this series I pointed out certain results, disastrous to Canada, that would almost surely follow such a proposal. These need not be repeated here. The advocates of this method of development may not admit that I am right in my conclusions. They may claim that Canadian development means no more than that Canada shall undertake the work—and pay for it, incidentally—that the canals and locks shall be on the Canadian side, and that they shall be operated and controlled by Canada. Let us see, leaving aside the possible results as I have pointed them out, what this in itself would involve.

The new development is in its essential features entirely unlike the old. The old canals, built for navigation only, are simply big ditches dug along the bank, more or less parallel to the river. They take their water at a point above the rapids, carry it at that level to a point below the rapids, and then let it down, by locks, to the lower level. They are instruments of navigation pure and simple. The river itself remains unchanged, as navigable as Nature left it. Boats, as a matter of fact, do go down the rapids, though they cannot come up but must use the canals.

The new development is entirely different. Power is, and must remain, a vital part of it. Neither Canada nor the United States can afford the economic waste that would be involved in neglecting its development. But in order to get power, the river, as it is, must be destroyed. Great dams must be built—two in the international section of the river, as the Canadian engineers propose, one as the Americans advocate. These dams raise the level of the water, drown out the rapids. Ships will pass over these waters until they come to the dams themselves, where they must be let down to the lower levels by means of locks. Let us see what this involves.

In the first place, these dams, even if there were no treaty, no International Joint Commission, cannot be built without the consent and co-operation of the United States, for the very good reason that half of them will be in American territory, and the south end must rest actually on American soil. Further, the United States has an undoubted right to half the power, and an equally undoubted right to a voice in the handling of the water. If there is anything at all in the contention that navigation in this section should be under Canadian control, clearly it cannot be attained by merely placing the locks in the dam on the Canadian side of the boundary. This could be done at an additional cost of $3,500,000, but it would accomplish nothing. The only conceivable occasion on which such control could be of any possible advantage would be in the event of serious trouble between the two nations, when conceivably all treaties would go by the board. In such an event, canals and locks on the Canadian side would be as much at the mercy of the United States as though they were on the American side of the dam. Further, it would not provide navigation in Canadian territory in any event, for, to quote an official document: “The navigation

channel in the river reaches, however, would cross and recross the boundary many times.”

There is, however, a way in which navigation in the international section can be placed wholly in Canadian territory and under Canadian control. In answer to enquiries made by the Hon. Dr. Reid in the Senate Committee last April, the following statement was prepared by the engineers of the Department. G. A. Lindsay and D. W. McLachlan. “The estimated cost of a navigation channel entirely on the Canadian side throughout the International Rapids section is about $101,000,000. The construction of such a canal would not include the development of any power, nor would it do anything to decrease the cost of any future power development. Navigation conditions through such a canal would be much inferior to those in the Crysler Island (the present) Scheme as proposed by the Canadian section of the Joint Board of Engineers, as there would be 25 miles of canal navigation as compared with nine miles in the Crysler Island Two-Stage Project. There would be thirteen bridges crossing the canal, as compared with one only in the Crysler Island scheme.”

There you have it. We can get an allCanadian route in the International Rapids section if we want it. It will cost us an additional hundred million. It will provide a much inferior route. It will not give us an all-Canadian route to the head of the lakes, unless we are prepared to spend further huge sums to provide Canadian channels in the Detroit, St. Clair and St. Marys rivers, and for a new canal and locks at the Sault. It will upset the friendly and trustful relations which have been building up for a century between Canada and the United States in all matters pertaining to the use and control of their common heritage, the Great Lakes system. It will serve notice, in a most emphatic and tremendously costly fashion, that we no longer trust our neighbor. It will not, to say the least, improve relations generally between the two nations. What good will it do? So far as its advocates have been able to show us, not the slightest.

And this brings us to one final, but most important consideration. For an unbroken period of one hundred and fifteen years, peace has prevailed between the two great branches of the AngloSaxon race. It is essential, in the interests of all humanity, that these friendly relations between the United States and the British peoples not only should continue but should become increasingly cordial. And yet just now, when nations the world over are earnestly seeking means to abolish war, because it is realized that under present-day conditions war would mean,the destruction of civilization if not of mankind itself— just now, of all times, men are beginning to speak of the unspeakable, to discuss the possibility even probability, of armed conflict between the United States and Great Britain. To such a pass have we come, who are brothers in blood, in language, in literature, in common aspirations and ideals.

Canada stands, has always stood, for peace and good will, and young though she is, has made some not inconsiderable contributions to the peace of the world. But what more notable, what more noble contribution could she make than to engage with her neighbor, not in a rivalry of navies and guns and battalions, not in the multiplication of the means of death and sorrow, but in the joint development of the means of increased prosperity and happiness and life itself, for half a continent? What better hostage to continued peace could be given than to harness together the mighty river to the service of the commerce and industry and homes of both peoples? The proper solution of the St. Lawrence question will not only contribute to the material gains of both Canada and the United States. It will be a mighty contribution to the cause of peace and good will, to that new spirit of neighborliness which we hope and believe is being born among the nations.

(This article concludes a series of five written by Mr. Drury on the subject of the St. Lawrence deep waterways project. There are many who differ from his conclusions. Their side of the case will be presented in an early issue.—The Editor).