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Location DB > Canada > Ontario > Cornwall > Cornwall Canal
Cornwall Canal
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 Database Info
created by Emperor Wang on 10/20/2005 11:49 PM
last modified by Emperor Wang on 6/12/2018 3:48 AM
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The Cornwall Canal is one of four historic 14-foot canals along the St. Lawrence River in Ontario, the others being Farran’s Point, Rapide Plat and the Galops Canal. Originally built 9 feet deep between 1834 and 1842, then enlarged to 14 feet between 1876 and 1904, the 11 mile long canal had 6 locks covering an elevation change of 48 feet. It allowed ships to get around the Long Sault, the worst of the St. Lawrence rapids, a few miles upriver from the city of Cornwall. Only 3 miles of the old canal and 2 locks remain visible today. The rest lies underwater.

The Cornwall Canal isn’t the most interesting location as far as abandonments go, but the circumstances that led to its closing were unusual to say the least. In 1958, the upper portion of the Cornwall Canal, along with the Farran’s Point and Rapide Plat Canals, were flooded out of existence with the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway and associated hydro-electric power project.

By the early 1950s, the 14-foot shipping canals along the St. Lawrence River had been outdated for decades. Deep-draft canals such as the Soo and the Welland enabled efficient shipping between the Great Lakes since the 1930s, but the smaller St. Lawrence canals couldn’t accommodate the ‘lakers’ of the day. Massive loads of grain and other goods destined for Montreal and points east had to be unloaded at the trans-shipment terminal at Prescott, then loaded onto smaller ‘canallers’ that navigated the 6 canals and two dozen locks down the rest of the river. It wasn’t a very efficient arrangement.

At the Long Sault Rapids, the St. Lawrence River fell 48 feet over a distance of one mile. Since Canada and the United States share a border along much of the St. Lawrence, developing a hydro dam in this area required international cooperation. In 1953, after many years of foot-dragging (and after Canada threatened to build the Seaway on its own) the US finally agreed to participate in the project. Post-war prosperity had created an insatiable demand for electricity, but it was the discovery of high-grade iron ore in Labrador that really clinched the deal. The Americans wanted it for their steel industry and the Seaway would provide a cost-effective means of delivering it to their plants on the Great Lakes.

In the four years between 1954 and 1959, Canadian and American engineers pulled off the biggest civil engineering project in the world (at that time). Millions of cubic yards of rock and clay were dredged out of the river bottom to create a 27-foot deep shipping channel. Seven new locks were built between Montreal and Point Iroqouis. Four existing bridges at Montreal were either raised or modified with lift sections. Two new bridges were built over the river at Cornwall and Prescott-Ogdensburg. A fifteen mile long dike/canal was built around the Lachine Rapids near Montreal. Across the river from Cornwall, a ten mile long shipping channel was dug through farmland near Massena, New York.

As if the navigation works weren’t impressive enough, the hydro authorities of Ontario and New York built a 3300-foot long hydro-electric power dam just upstream from Cornwall, along with 10 miles of dikes, up to 100 feet high in places. Two control dams were built in addition to the Moses-Saunders Power Dam. The nearby Long Sault Spillway Dam (2250 feet long, 150 feet high) controls the level of Lake St. Lawrence, and allows water to be diverted around the power dam when the river's flow exceeds the dam's generating capacity. Thirty miles upriver, another dam between Point Iroquois and Point Rockway (2450 feet long) controls the outflow of Lake Ontario.

On the morning of July 1st, 1958, the last of the coffer dams used to divert the St. Lawrence during the construction of the Seaway and hydro works was blown up. Over the next three days, 80 feet of water backed up against the power dam and the dikes surrounding it, creating the 100 square mile Lake St. Lawrence where the river, the rapids and the canals had been before. From the power dam to the locks at Iroqouis, 28,000 acres of farmland were flooded underwater, along with the Cornwall, Farran’s Point and Rapide Plat Canals.

Remnants of the inundation are still visible all along Lake St. Lawrence, but they’re most prevalent in the area immediately upriver from Cornwall. This area suffered the brunt of the flooding. Prior to the inundation, residents of the “Lost Villages” (Milles Roches, Moulinette, Wales, Dickinson Landing, Farran’s Point, Aultsville and East Williamsburg) were moved to the newly constructed towns of Long Sault and Ingleside. Further upriver, Morrisburg’s business section was relocated inland and the entire town of Iroquois was moved to higher ground. In all, 6500 people were displaced by the project, 531 homes were moved, 225 farms and 18 cemeteries were flooded, 2000 bodies were reinterred and 35 miles of Highway 2 and 40 miles of CNR double-track railway were relocated. Those are just the statistics for the Canadian side of the river.
 Basic Information
Type: Outdoors
Status: Abandoned
Accessibility: Easy
Recommendation: not very exciting
 Physical Information

Cornwall, Ontario
Owner: City of Cornwall
  • See a map of this location
  •  Hazards
  • water
  •  Interesting Features
    Remains of the historic canal including 2 locks along the Cornwall waterfront.

    Remains of submerged and semi-sumberged infrastructure in the area upstream from Cornwall, including villages and towns, roads, railway lines, canals, dams, locks, etc.

    Many giant civil engineering projects in the area, including the Moses-Saunders Power Dam, the Long Sault Spillway Dam, miles of massive dikes, and the locks and channels of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
     Security Measures
  • None
  •  Historical Dates
    Built: 1842
    Closed: 1958
     Required Equipment
     Recommended Equipment
    Camera, binoculars, scuba gear if you want to check out the upper part
    1834-1842: Originally built 9 feet deep with 6 200x45 foot locks.
    1876-1904: Enlarged to 14 foot depth, locks extended to 270x45 feet.
    1958: Closed and largely inundated with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
     Media Coverage
    Serious Canadian canal geeks will want to check out Robert F. Legget's 1976 book "Canals of Canada".

    Lionel Chevrier's 1959 book "The St. Lawrence Seaway" is the definitive source for information about the Seaway and associated hydro power project. Mr. Chevrier was president of the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority from 1954 to 1957.

    The CBC online archives contain about a dozen TV and radio clips on the St. Lawrence Seaway, mostly dating from the 1950s.

    National Geographic Magazine ran a nicely illustrated article on the newly opened Seaway in their March, 1959 issue.

    Pilot and aerial photographer Louis Helbig has documented the ruins of the inundation at
     Future Plans
    The City of Cornwall continues to redevelop the remains of the canal and its waterfront as parkland. The submerged part of the canal is expected to remain submerged for the foreseeable future.

    Add your own story
     Photo Galleries
    Click to view gallery
    Cornwall Canal
    Wed, Nov 2nd, 2005
    posted by Emperor Wang
    20 pictures
    Click to view gallery
    Long Sault Area
    Thu, Nov 3rd, 2005
    posted by Emperor Wang
    10 pictures
    Click to view gallery
    Maps and Historical
    Fri, Nov 4th, 2005
    posted by Emperor Wang
    13 pictures

    Add your own photos

    Mark all galleries as Seen

    Cornwall Canal, 1956
    Thu, Nov 3rd, 2005
    posted by Emperor Wang

    St. Lawrence Power Project, 1958
    Thu, Nov 3rd, 2005
    posted by Emperor Wang
     Web Links
    Saint Lawrence Canal History article by James Gilmore. Lots of details about Canadian historic canals and the ships that used to ply them.

    The Canals of Canada article by Nobel E. Whitford. Covers all of the historic Canadian canals.

    Jeri Danyleyko's excellent Lost Villages web site. Includes a detailed history of the area upriver from Cornwall, some nice photo galleries, and an extensive links page.

    The Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Historical Society's photo collection. Tons of pictures of the Lost Villages area before, during and after construction of the Seaway and Power Dam.

    One local's bittersweet personal take on the arrival of the Seaway. Written from the perspective of someone whose childhood home was lost under the waters of Lake St. Lawrence. Plenty of Seaway construction pictures here too.

    A Legion Magazine article on the inundation of the area upriver from Cornwall.

    A PDF map of the St. Lawrence Seaway around Cornwall.

    An American engineering company ranting and raving about their quality work in this area.

    1937 NTS topo map of Cornwall and vicinity. 25 cents.

    Edit this Location
     Moderator Rating
    The moderator rating is a neutral rating of the content quality, photography, and coolness of this location.

    Category Rating
    Photography 6 / 10
    Coolness 3 / 10
    Content Quality 9 / 10
    This location's validation is current. It was last validated by Emperor Wang on 6/12/2018 3:48 AM.

     Latest Changes
  • on Jun 12 18 at 3:48, Emperor Wang validated this location
  • on Jun 12 18 at 3:48, Emperor Wang changed the following: Web Links
  • on Jan 1 13 at 16:05, Emperor Wang validated this location
  • on Jan 1 13 at 16:05, Emperor Wang changed the following: Media Coverage
  • on Sep 19 11 at 0:36, Emperor Wang validated this location
  • on Sep 19 11 at 0:34, Emperor Wang updated gallery picture 6
  • on Sep 19 11 at 0:32, Emperor Wang updated gallery picture 2
  • on Sep 18 11 at 23:30, Emperor Wang validated this location
  • on Sep 18 11 at 23:30, Emperor Wang changed the following: Description
  • on Dec 13 08 at 3:31, Emperor Wang validated this location
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