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St Lawrence Seaway

The St Lawrence Seaway connects the five Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, creating all sorts of opportunities for trade. The route stretches 3700 km (200 miles) from the western tip of Lake Superior (Duluth, MN, and Thunder Bay, ON) and the southern tip of Lake Michigan (Chicago, IL) to the Atlantic, via the St Lwrence River.

This waterway incorporates several dams, used to generate power for both Canadian and American utility companies, and 16 locks. It serves the region that is home to one-quarter of North Aerica’s population, and one-half of its manufacturing. There are 7 locks between Montrealand Lake Ontario (2 on the US side and 5 on the Canadian side), and there are 8 locks on the Welland Canal between Lake Ontario at Port Dalhousie (a suburbe of St Catharines) and Lake Erie at Port Colborne, and there is one lock between Lake Huron/Lake Michigan and Lake Superior (on the US side) at Sault Ste Marie.

The maximum allowed vessel size is 740 ft (225.6 m) long, 78 ft (23.8 m) wide, and 26.5 ft (8.1 m) deep. Many vessels designed for use on the Great Lakes and the seaway were built to the maximum size permissible by the locks, known informally as Seawaymax or Seaway-Max.

“Lakers” are built specifically for use within the Great Lakes / Seaway System, and rarely exit the waterway. They are characterized by a design that includes vertical sides and a snub-nosed bow, to maximize cargo carrying capacity within the confines of the Seaway‘s lock dimensions. Some lakers also are equipped with a self-unloading boom that contains a conveyor belt, allowing the ship to position its boom and unload bulk cargo (such as stone or road salt) directly onto a shore-side dock or wharf.

The Poe Lock at Sault Ste Marie is 1,200 ft (365.8 m) long, 110 ft (33.5 m) wide and 32 ft (9.8 m) deep, allowing larger vessels to serve the upper Great Lakes. Vessels serving the St Lawrence up to Montreal have only depth restrictions: The depth in the seaway’s channels is 41 ft (12.5 m) (Panamax-depth) downstream of Quebec City, 35 ft (10.7 m) between Quebec City and Deschaillons, 37 ft (11.3 m) to Montreal,

In a typical year, about 25% of Seaway traffic travels to and from overseas ports, especially in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Thorold-Welland Canal Lock with Ship-sliver (Stacey Fox)
Thorold-Welland Canal Lock with Ship-sliver (Stacey Fox)

Locks in the St. Lawrence River

These are the locks along the St Lwrence, listed from Montreal upstream to Lake Ontario:

  1. Lambert Lock—Saint Lambert, QC
  2. Côte Ste. Catherine Lock—Sainte-Catherine, QC
  3. Beauharnois Locks (two locks)—Melocheville, QC, at 45°18′12.6″N 73°55′36.5″W and 45°19′0.1″N 73°55′6.6″W
  4. Snell Lock—Massena, NY
  5. Eisenhower LockMassena, NY
  6. Iroquois Lock—Iroquois, ON, at 44°49′48″N 75°18′46.8″W

Locks in the Welland Canal

There are eight locks on the Welland Canal. From the north to the south, there is lock

1             Port Weller

2             St Catharines

3            St Catharines (with a visitors’ information centre and museum

4-7          Thorold, including twin-flight locks 4, 5 and 6

8              Port Colborne, is the Lake Erie level control lock

Pleasure Craft on the St Lawrence Seaway

Every year, more than 2,000 recreational boats, of more than 20 ft and one ton, transit the seaway. The tolls have been fixed for 2017 at $30 per lock. There is a $5 per lock discount for payment in advance. Lockages are scheduled 12 hours a day between the hours of 0 am and 7 pm from June 15 to September 15

  • Lambert Lock, Côte St. Catherine Lock, Iroquois Lock ($25.00 CAD each lock)
  • Beauharnois Locks 3 & 4 ($50.00 CAD for the two locks)
  • Welland Canal Locks ($200.00 CAD for all eight locks)

Payment Method at Canadian Locks

Cash is not accepted as payment for tolls at Canadian locks. Pleasure Craft users must use the online reservation system and pay online.

Please note that no bridge lifts for pleasure craft will be conducted at the Larocque bridge (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield) and the Saint-Louis bridge (Longueuil) during peak hours on weekdays between 6 am. – 9 am. for the entire navigation season.

Tolls at American Locks

Pleasure Craft Toll per Lock: $30 (cash, U.S., or Canadian funds). American locks do not accept credit cards nor sell tickets at the locks; however, tickets can be purchased in advance at the website (via the link below).

Gananoque-Thousand Islands Bridge-sliver
Gananoque-Thousand Islands Bridge-sliver

International Bridges over the St Lawrence Seaway

  • Thousand Islands Bridge, at Gananoque (connecting Kingston, ON to Watertown, NY)
  • Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge at Prescott, ON and Ogdensburg, NY and from Prescott, connecting to Ottawa via Highway 416)
  • Three Nations Bridge Crossing (formerly Seaway International Bridge) at Cornwall, connecting to Massena, NY

Tolls are based on the number of axles and vehicle weight

Three Nations: cars: US$3 or C$3.75 | RVs: US$7.50 or C$9.50

Ogdensburg-Prescott: cars: US$3.25   | RVs: US$6.75

100 Islands: cars: US$3.75 or C$4.75 | RVs: US$7.00 or C$9.00

St Lawrence River & Seaway Links

History of the St Lawrence Seaway

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River have served as major North American trade arteries since long before the U.S. or Canada achieved nationhood. It was navigated by the French fur traders since the 1600s, and challenged by sailing ships, which had their work made easier once canals were first built.

During the 1950s, a new era in marine transportation was made possible by construction of the 306-kilometer (189-mile) stretch of the St. Lawrence Seaway between Montreal and Lake Ontario at Kingston with dams for water storage, hydro-electric power generation, and to create consistent navigable depth of water for the entire route. This engineering feat involved seven locks were built, five Canadian and two U.S to lift vessels the 756 metres (246 feet) above sea level as they transit from Montreal to Lake Ontario.

U.S. proposals before the First World War had little support from the Canadian federal government. By the early 1920s, both The Wooten-Bowden Report and the International Joint Commission recommended the project. The need for cheap transportation of abundant Quebec-Labrador iron to American steel mills and manufacturers finally swung the political & economic balance in favor of the seaway. Groundbreaking ceremonies took place in Massena, New York, on August 10, 1954. 22,000 workers were employed at one time or another on the project.

Combined with the eight locks of the Welland Canal, which link Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, the binational St. Lawrence Seaway’s 15 locks (13 Canadian and 2 American) allow ships to transit between Montreal and Lake Erie, a difference in elevation of 168 metres. The “Soo” Locks, managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, enable ships to reach Lake Superior, which is 183 metres above sea level.

The St. Lawrence Seaway was preceded by several other canals. The First Welland Canal, constructed between 1824 and 1829, was generally too small to allow passage of larger oceangoing ships.

In 1680, Dollier de Casson, Superior of the Sulpician Seminary in Montreal, construction of a 1.5 m. (5 feet) deep canal to bypass the Lachine Rapids between Lake St. Louis and Montreal. This canal was finally completed in 1824.

After the British gained control of North America, they began improving the infrastructure in their colonies.  In 1779, the Royal Army Engineers started work on four small canals on the north shore of the St. Lawrence at Montreal to connect Lake St. Louis to Lake St. Francis. There were only 0.76 m (2.5 feet) deep, had five locks, the first built in North America., in 1824, the Casson Canal (now known as the Lachine Canal) linked Montreal with Lake St. Louis. This new canal was 1.5 m (5 feet) deep and had seven locks.

In 1843, the Cornwall Canal opens at Cornwall, Ontario. And in 1845, the Beauharnois Canal opens at Beauharnois across the St Lawrence from Montreal

In 1833, the First Welland Canal was completed to connect Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and was 43.5 km (27 miles) long, with 40 wooden locks. This canal went through several iterations, and in 1932, the Fourth Welland Canal was opened with a 7.62 m (25 feet) minimum depth. Eight locks raise ships a total of 99.36 m (326 feet). This was the first step in the completion of the modern Seaway.

In 1951, the   St. Lawrence Seaway Authority Act and the International Rapids Power Development Act were passed for Canada to begin navigation works on the Canadian side of the river from Montreal to Lake Ontario, as well as in the Welland Canal. At the same time, the United States passes the Wiley-Dondero Act (or Seaway Act) to begin a joint US-Canadian project in the International Rapids section of the St. Lawrence, building a dam and a new set of locks. In 1954, the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority is established, which not only funded the construction of a deep draft waterway but also the international bridges that cross it.

As part of the Seaway project, four Montreal-area bridges are improved without disrupting traffic, new channels were dug, and existing channels dredged to the new required depth.   The related power development will flood 259 square km (100 square miles) and land is expropriated and entire communities were resettled with 6500 residents into 550 dwellings above the new waterline (notably Long Sault, Ingleside, and Iroquois). And to relocated and refurbish pioneer-era homes, barns, and other structures, Upper Canada Village was built as a historical park, just east of Morrisburg.

The Seaway construction involved 22,000 workers to move 210 million cubic yards of earth and rock and pour over 6 million cubic yards of concrete. The Seaway is considered one of the engineering marvels of the 20th century.

By 1958, the New Iroquois Lock opened as were the Snell and Eisenhower locks on the U.S. side at Massena, NY, are opened and the power is switched on at the new international Moses-Saunders generating station at Cornwall, Ontario.

The seaway opened in 1959 and cost C$470 million, $336 million of which was paid by the Canadian government.  Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, and American President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally opened the seaway in Saint-Lambert, Quebec.

By 1996, the Seaway reaches two billion tonnes of cargo carried, valued at more than $300 billion.

St Lawrence Seaway (Montreal to Kingston) Area Map