WANTED: A Canal
A statement of the case for the construction of a waterway connecting the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence
FOR nearly 250 years it has been in the mind of man to join the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy by an artificial waterway. Severance of the Isthmus of Chignecto, the narrow level waist of land consisting for the most part of soft soil that links the Provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, seemed an excellent expedient as far back as 1686. a century before the British flag was hoisted on the citadel at Quebec. At that time de Villiers submitted to the French Government a report in which he said :
“There are only four leagues to be traversed by land to go from French Bay (Chignecto) to Baie Verte, and the portage may easily be cut through by a canal since all the land is very low ... It would shorten the way from Quebec to Port Royal (Annapolis) by at least 200 leagues.“ Two hundred leagues is the equivalent of 600 miles, or, if translated into its more striking and modern sea significance, about three days’ steaming for the ordinary cargo
De Villier's report, as far as history records, contained the first suggestion of a canal on the North American continent. Since then hundreds of canals of all sizes and degrees of importance have found their way on to the map.
but still the Isthmus of Chignecto retains its physical integrity, spurning the steam shovel and the dredge. It has survived a long series of assaults.
Maritimers often have asserted the right of their part of the Dominion to the world’s championship for patience and long suffering, and since the recent recrudescence of canal fever in the Atlantic region proponents of the Gulf-Fundy project point to Chignecto as clinching the title. But they see in that no reason for further delay in satisfying an age-old craving. Determination is growing throughout the three provinces that the Isthmus shall surrender to the demands of speed and expediency; shall give gangway to commerce and the national welfare. A drive is under way to force a salient between it and its allies, procrastination, political dallying and odd circumstance.
De Villier’s original motive for a waterway from the Strait of Northumberland to the Bay of Fundy, which are less than twenty miles apart, has developed phases far beyond the imagination and foresight of the canny Frenchman. It is not now only a matter of shortening the water mileage between Montreal or Quebec and Saint John by 600 miles, rendering unnecessary the long voyage around the tempestuous coast of Nova Scotia—though that seems important enough. Modern vision takes in much more territory. It brings into perspective a new era of interprovincial trade by the creation of an inland water traffic from the Great Lakes to the Bay of Fundy ports, which, the Chignecto apostles proclaim, will wipe out the present handicap of high rail freight rates and revive almost extinct Maritime industries. It draws the ports of the West Indies and South America nearer to Montreal by at least two days sailing on the basis of cargo ship speed ; and it eases the way by more than 450 miles for the products of Prince Edward Island and Northern New Brunswick bound for their still profitable markets in the Eastern United States. Superficial
study ofa wall map will show all these apparent advantages.
Before these apparent advantages in building a canal through Chignecto can be brought within the range of reality, the leaders in the revived agitation realize they must first strangle the jinx which since pre-Confederation times has stayed the hands of the geographical surgeons.
Previous Attempts to Dig Canal
A DOZEN times the Isthmus has been surveyed by engineers who tested the feasibility of a channel, studying particularly the problem offered by eccentric tidal action. The findings were substantially the same. They found the canal to be a practical proposition, and most of them held that works of a permanent and efficient standard could be constructed at relatively small cost. Estimates during the period immediately following Confederation ranged from $3.500,000 to $6,000,000. The project also has been studied from the economic point of view by no less than four Government Commissions, and three of these bestowed unreserved benediction. One in particular, headed by Sir Hugh Allan and including such eminent scientists of the time as Sir Casimir Gzowski and Samuel Keefer, declared the Chignecto Canal to be an undertaking of first importance, “essential to the welfare and prosperity of the whole country.” Having been appointed to examine the entire canal situation of the Dominion, this Commission grouped the Chignecto project with the Sault Ste. Marie Canal, the Lachine Canal, and necessary improvements at Welland and in the upper St. Lawrence.
Exactly how to place the fourth Commission is difficult. Perhaps it is best to dismiss it in terms of neutrality; at any rate it was a mysterious quantity. It appears from the record that it was appointed by Sir Alexander Mackenzie to discover if the Allan report, as it affected Chignecto, warranted action. This body, however, never returned a united finding. The chairman, Hon. John Young, expressed opposition, while another of the commissioners, J. W. Lawrence, declared with equal emphasis in favor of it. The other two members held both their tongues and their pens. Since the Mackenzie régime was faced with trying fiscal problems, there seems some ground for the Maritime view that the Commission was created not to try the canal on its merits, but to find some pretext for shelving it. And despite an appropriation of $1.000,000 to begin work, twice unanimously endorsed by Parliament, nothing was done. Continued, on page 30
Continued from page 17
Mackenzie’s last word on the subject, in the face of Maritime insistence, was to suggest that, after all, the best way to discover what the canal really would cost would be to call for tenders. This he proposed to do. In the meantime his Government was defeated.
But why. at this late date, considering the approval of engineers and the reiterated blessing if not acclaim of economists, has not the canal become a reality? There is no reasonable answer at hand. One can only mumble something about the cussedness of circumstance and the irony of fate. Every time the issue has come before Parliament the legislative machinery slipped a cog or broke a belt. It came to grief only as late as last year, and in much the same way that it failed in Mackenzie’s time. Until the session of 1929 Chignecto had scarcely been mentioned in Parliament for about forty years, when, lo! the voices of a new generation of prophets were heard. Robert K. Smith, Conservative member for Cumberland, N.S., in a stirring speech revived the issue in the Commons, backed by A. E. MacLean, Liberal member for Prince, P.E.I. A month later their pleas were echoed in the Senate by Hon. F. B. Black and Hon. Hance J. Logan.
Out of these debates came authorization of a new technical survey of the Isthmus and a fresh economic enquiry, the latter composed of Frank M. Ross of Montreal, president of the Saint John Dry Dock Company, Professor Balcom who occupied the chair of economics at Acadia University, J. J. Johnston, K.C., former attorneygeneral of Prince Edward Island, and Professor MacNaughton of Queen’s University. The engineers immediately got to work, and their report is now on file with the Government, its contents a dead secret. But the Commission, which was not named until June last year, had barely organized and arranged an itinerary of hearings when the Mackenzie King Government met defeat.
The status of the Commission is perhaps about as definite as it was before it was created, and the position of the project itself is not much more advanced than when deVilliers recommended it. If matters were to follow their historical course with regard to the canal there would now be another thirty or forty years interregnum, but in the Maritimes there is no intention to allow any more grass to grow along the route of the long-desired waterway.
On the only occasion when the Parliamentary mill functioned with any precision on the subject of the Chignecto Canal, it ground out the most romantic fiasco in the history of Canadian transportation. That was when the second Macdonald Government, having inherited the scheme from the Mackenzie administration, sidetracked it in favor of a fantastic but perhaps technically sound plan to build a ship railway across the Isthmus. Its originator, H. G. C. Ketchum, a Fredericton engineer of standing, showed blueprints of an extraordinary device by which vessels of 1,000 tons with full cargoes could be lifted out of the water at either end of the railway and transported at ten miles an hour to the other side and eased into their natural element. Despite the assertions of sea captains that a fullyloaded ship could not make the trip over dry land without severe strain, the Government agreed to a subsidy of $170,000 a year for twenty years on condition that the ship railway should be in operation within a specified time limit.
Organization of the Chignecto Marine Transport Company was accordingly undertaken, and the capital of $5,500,000 was subscribed almost entirely in England. Two celebrated Old Country engineers, Sir Benjamin Baker who had been associated with Nile irrigation works and Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, collaborated with Ketchum, and in 1888 construction was begun on the 530-foot docks, each capable of accommodating six ships and the complicated lifting
machinery. The unique railway was all but completed when the London bankinghouse in charge of the financing got into deep water and withdrew its support. Work was suspended and, although a few years later Ketchum obtained fresh backing, Parliament by a single vote refused to extend the time limit and the ship-railway scheme definitely collapsed. Ketchum died soon afterward, supposedly of a broken heart, and was buried at the Tidnish terminal of his engineering creation. Not a penny was lost to the Canadian Treasury. Indeed it actually gained about $500,000 in duties on expensive imported machinery and supplies, but the English investors dropped about $4,000.000.
Thus it was that for forty years not a whisper came out of the Maritimes about the Isthmus.
“It was the worst black eye that any public work could receive,” Senator Dandurand commented during the debate in the Upper Chamber in 1929. “If the Parliaments of the last twenty-five years have not examined the proposition, it is due, in my opinion, to the check it received in the eighties and to the fact that the Maritime provinces have not advocated it.” He pointed out that it had not been discussed before the Duncan Commission on Maritime Rights.
'“THE new campaign for the construction of a canal is based largely on the report of the Allan Commission, which was appointed in 1870 and made its recommendations the following year. Advantages that were emphasized at that time, it is held, have been magnified in proportion to the development of the country and the expansion of its economic interests. Inspiration is drawn also from the Confederation conference at Quebec in 1864, and insistence is made that the project was as much a condition of union as the building of the Intercolonial Railway. In short it is given an honored position on the list of so-called Confederation pledges.
“Inseparably connected with the growth of intercolonial trade,” the Allan report said, “is the construction of the Baie Verte Canal across the Isthmus of Chignecto connecting the Provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The advantages that must accrue not only to the commerce of the Maritime provinces, but to the Dominion as a whole, are so clearly pointed out by the boards of trade of all the leading cities of Canada and by men interested in the development of our commercial interests, not simply the merchants of Saint John and other places in the locality of the proposed canal but merchants of Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec, that it is superfluous for the commissioners to do more than briefly refer to a few salient features of the scheme.”
The Commission found that lack of short water communication was an “insuperable obstacle” to active commerce between Montreal and the Bay of Fundy ports of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and declared that "great impulse must necessarily be given to trade by the opening up of a route which will shorten the distance so considerably, furnish an inland navigation from the Great Lakes to Boston, and consequently lessen freights between these points.”
“The chief articles of import from Ontario to the Maritimes and vice versa being bulky,” it goes on, “the element of freight forms a large item in their value; hence any greater facility of transit tending to cheapen the cost must be productive of a greatly increased demand. This canal would not only afford the desired facility of transit by rendering it unnecessary to break bulk between the points of shipment and destination, but it would remove a great barrier to cheap freights by enabling owners of vessels to secure return cargoes to Ontario and Quebec and thus build up a mutually desir-
able reciprocal trade which may be increased to any extent.”
This prospect of an extensive inland water traffic all the way from the western reaches of the Great Lakes to the heart of the Maritimes, in which ordinary river craft and even barges could participate, is the culminating point of the whole scheme in the opinion of Senator Logan, that doughty and patrician champion of Maritime interests. He holds that a canal cutting the Isthmus of Chignecto would in reality be an arm of the proposed St. Lawrence Waterway system, and even goes so far as to suggest that the United States be invited to assist in its construction. Failure to build it, he thinks, will lessen the advantages promised to American traffic by the St. Lawrence development in that it would deny to a large measure the desire of the people of the Middle Western States for cheap and convenient transportation to and from the Atlantic Coast cities of the Republic.
“After a sheltered passage via the St. Lawrence channels and river to the Gulf,” he said to the writer, “ships originating in American lake ports would have to round Cape North or pass through the Gut of Canso, whence they would be projected out into the Atlantic Ocean and obliged to negotiate the hazardous coast of Nova Scotia, with its excessive fogs and bad weather, in order to reach Portland, Boston, New York and other ports along the United States seaboard. If the Chignecto Canal were constructed, these same river and lake boats, after emerging from the St. Lawrence River into the Gulf, would proceed along the Southern coast, through the Strait of Northumberland, and via the canal continue on to their destinations in the United States without losing sight of land. It would be distinctly a coasting trade from the port of departure on the lakes to the port of destination on the Atlantic seaboard.
“I suggest, therefore,” Senator Logan said, “that when negotiations are entered into by the Government of Canada with the Government of the United States to decide upon the share of expense of the Great Waterways which each country should bear, that the Chignecto Canal be considered vitally important to the Middle West of the United States and that country be asked to bear its fair share of the cost.”
Revival of the once flourishing quarry industry which is centred along the course of the proposed waterway, is forecast by Senator Black as an inevitable consequence of its construction. The canal would act like a dose of adrenalin, he thinks. It would enable the olive freestone of Dorchester, the gypsum of Hants and Hillsborough, the grind and scythe stone of Cumberland, granite from Charlotte and Shelburne and also albertite, to be carried in barges to the Central Canada market from which it is now virtually shut out by the difficulty and cost of transport.
“Before the war, in my own town and neighborhood,” said Senator Black, “there were seven quarries producing the best building stone in the country and it was shipped by rail to Montreal and Toronto. I could name some of the finest buildings in those cities that were built by Sackville freestone. The revised freight rate structure has made the trade prohibitive.”
The same consideration, Senator Black said, applies to the coal of Macean and River Hébert, Pictou and Springhill. Millions of tons could be shipped down the St. Lawrence and marketed at a cheap rate. Then there are the apples of the Annapolis and Cornwallis valleys, another instance of bulky product. Growers were keen to increase their sales to Ontario, Quebec and other parts of the country, and the canal would ease the way for hundreds of thousands of barrels. In point of return cargoes, there were many manufactured articles not produced in the Maritimes which would find cheap transit. Senator Black cited flour, of which more than 700,000 barrels are brought in annually.
Apart from the inland traffic aspect of the project, its advocates see also important benefits to the Canadian trade with the West Indies and South America, now expressed in big figures and constantly expanding. Senator Black calculates a two day saving in the voyage from Montreal to the ports of those countries.
“What does this mean?” he asked. “To an ordinary tramp steamer 200 miles a day is fair travelling. The cost of operating one of these ships, including maintenance, insurance, depreciation, interest on investment and so on, runs to about $1,000 a day. Two days’ sailing would mean $2,000. That amount saved on a cargo of sugar bound from a West Indian port to a refinery at Montreal is very considerable. Again, by avoiding the risks of the Nova Scotia coast insurance rates would be lower. You effect a saving in mileage, freight rates and insurance.”
While, as Senator Black pointed out, much Canadian freight from the West Indies and South America is carried direct to Canadian ports, the Canadian National steamships being to a large extent engaged in this .traffic, a considerable share of it is transshipped at New York and brought on
“But with the Chignecto Canal,” he contended, “vessels bringing goods from the West Indies destined to us could land their cargoes at Montreal in less time than by breaking bulk in American ports, and it would be cheaper. Moreover, the distribution in smaller quantities now being made at New York or Boston would be made from our own ports and in our own bottoms. The advantages arising from freight charges would accrue to Canada and not to foreign nations, and at the same time we would receive goods in better condition and more quickly delivered.
“What applies to one item of commerce applies to each and every other item,” he added. “The whole of Canada would derive a direct benefit.”
Possible Objection of Railways
NOTWITHSTANDING the somewhat hectic history of the Chignecto Canal proposal, there is nothing on record to show any tangible or serious objection. One must forget the disastrous ship railway exploit, for, after all, that was but a makeshift for what the Maritimes really bid for—an honest-to-goodness canal. The brief Parliamentary discussion in 1929, in which both Mr. Bennett and Mr. Dunning participated, cast no shadows; indeed the whole tenor of the debate was in the direction of tentative approval. Mr. Dunning, then Minister of Railways and Canals, however, and quite reasonably, balked at committing the Government to construction in advance of the report of the new enquiry he proposed to institute. Robert K. Smith had sought an assurance by resolution that if the report were favorable the work would be proceeded with without delay. There is nowhere to turn for criticism except the solitary adverse submission of Hon. John Young in 1875, the value of which under the circumstances is problematical. It is a legitimate speculation that that Commission would never have been brought into being had the treasury of the time been reasonably affluent.
On the economic side, however, two thoughts readily occur. One may jhstly cogitate on the position of the railways if and when the project comes to a head. If the Chignecto Canal would be such a boon to interprovincial trade as its champions assert, would not the rail carriers lose a great deal of profitable business to water competition? How would it affect the Canadian National’s newly launched “fiveyear plan?” These questions merely pose the time-honored problem of railways versus canals, and the battle has already been fought out in relation to the St. Lawrence Waterway. The Maritimers come back with the seemingly unanswerable argument that
if the central provinces are to have canals despite possible losses and embarrassment to the railways, then why shouldn’t the
same complacency apply to their part of the
Dominion? What is fair in one backyard is fair in another.
But responsible advocates of the canal in the provinces by the sea do not agree that the railways have anything to lose; on the contrary they see bigger figures on the credit side. Much of the traffic that would flow through the canal, they contend, would
be of a nature that the railways do not now
carry to any extent because of the prohibitive cost. They claim that the waterway would develop entirely new fines of trade, in addition to expanding those that already exist; that it would increase population and create new communities, with all which that
entails in human demands. Instead of
being a competitor with the railways they believe the canal would be a useful adjunct, a partner in a newly created and potentially very expansive commerce, one feeding the other.
The second thought concerns the city and port of Halifax. Another and special reference to the map will show that this aggressive and growing community is in a peculiar position in relation to Chignecto. While it is the capital and nerve centre of Nova Scotia, and a large part of that province, particularly the section contributory to the Bay of Fundy, is slated to gain big advantages from the proposed canal,
Halifax itself would appear in danger of being sent to an economic Coventry in so far as any purely local benefit is concerned, No very articulate protest from that quarter is on record, but it would not be surprising if, at a future Government enquiry into the waterway plan, it should be argued that arbitrary interference with the lines of Nature and geography at Chignecto would amount to unjust discrimination in favor of Halifax’s chief maritime rival, Saint John.
But since silence often implies consent,
it may be assumed, for the time being at least, that Haligonians are impressed with the theory that if the Chignecto Canal can achieve anything like the objective claimed for it, every section of the Maritime region will gain in varying degrees and none suffer, Halifax probably would lose whatever income and prestige that now accrue to her from the St. Lawrence-Fundy trade through her position as port of call, but there would be ample compensation in the tribute that would be generated by development and expansion of trade and industry in the Eastern and Southeastern portions of the province. Halifax, however, is unlikely to overlook the obvious fact that Saint John would be in the most favored position, As the issue stands at present, all the evidence and facts adduced concerning the canal are virtually unanimous in its favor, and, indeed, it is a thankless task to try to stir up quotable opposition. Nevertheless, it is by no means outside the bounds of
reason that an investigation conducted today in the light of changed conditions and new circumstances might discover that the apparent advantages of the waterway are more idealistic than real; that the time, labor and money necessary for construction would not be commensurate with the actual and potential value. It is equally within the bounds of plausibility that the engineers' report based on the recent survey and now in the hands of the Government may cite technical obstacles, either insurmountable or else too costly to overcome. Specifications that satisfied needs at the time of the Allan
Commission certainly would not serve the purpose now. Tiflai Difficulties
\ X'UCH has been said about the effect of -L»1 tidal action on the operation of a canal
through the Isthmus. That constitutes the only technical problem that bothered the engineers in the seventies. The actual digging apparently would offer no difficulty, None of the three routes that have been discussed are longer than nineteen miles,
and with the exception of a mile or so of
fight gravelly rock, the whole terrain is of soft, easily removed soil, “God and Nature almost made a canal,” said Senator Logan on this point. “There is question among geologists as to whether at one time water did not flow through from
the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Bay of
Fundy. There is, I think a land rise of only twenty-five feet in the whole distance.” Tidal action in the Bay of Fundy is abnormally high having in the spring a range of between fifty and sixty feet. In the
Strait of Northumberland, on the other hand, it is not more than seven or eight feet, This differential at once implies the necessity of locks, but as to how many and of what nature the engineers are at variance. Some reports favored a tidal canal with storage basins, while others suggested that fresh * water in sufficient quantity might be drawn from the marshes which lie along the route, None of them questioned feasibility.
“I do not know any man. engineer or layman,” said Senator Black, “who will say that the canal, considering the present draft of steamships, is not as practicable now as it was then. I think there will be two and a half months of the year, when, because of ice forming in the Strait, the canal will be of little benefit, but with the available engineering appliances there would be little difficulty in keeping the canal itself open.” The senator might have added that the whole St. Lawrence system is icebound for
the same period if not longer,
Finally there is the question of cost under modern conditions, and until the engineers’ report is made available to the public— which may not be for a considerable period, or until another economic Commission is ready to issue one simultaneously—the answer is largely speculative. Speaking on the resolution of Robert K. Smith, M.P., in the Commons in 1929, Mr. Bennett, then leader of the Opposition, was inclined to believe that the cost might not exceed the 1875 estimate, considering the excavating appliances in vogue today and the advance in engineering methods and technique, Mr. Dunning did not agree. Whereas the Allan Commission engineers recommended a canal 270 feet wide with a fifteen-foot draft, today passage would be required for vessels of ocean-going size. Maritime proponents of the waterway hold that the width, depth and other measurements should be in fine with at least those of the new Welland Canal.
There is one more argument in favor of the Chignecto Canal, and it is by way of being moral ammunition. It presupposes that the waterway is a sound business proposition. It is this. Since Confederation the Maritime taxpayers have contributed their share of the $288,000,000 spent on canals in Central Canada without a murmur and expect to pay more before they are all completed, while in their section of the country—and this is with reference to a small canal in Cape Breton the outlay in the same column of the ledger has been not more than $1,700,000.
Tung Oil Now Produced in America
A NEW industry—the production of tung oil—is now being developed in the United States. The production of this oil was formerly restricted to China, where the tung tree grows, and China remains the chief source of supply. But a quarter of a century ago the first tung tree was introduced into the United States and now some 8,000 acres are planted with these trees.
Companies have been formed for extracting the oil from the nuts, and it is expected that they will eventually free American industries from their present dependence upon China for this essential product.
Tung or china wood oil is extensively employed in a varietv of industries. Perhaps its largest use is in the manufacture of varnish, enamel and other paint products and compounds.—New York Times.