Canada’s transportation system has been a national policy from the first. Her first transcontinental she built to unify and bind confederation. Her second two transcontinentals she launched to carry commerce east and west, because the United States had built a tariff wall which prevented Canada moving her commerce north and south. Her canal system to cut the distance from the Great Lakes to the seaboard and to overcome the rapids at “the Soo,” at Niagara and on the St. Lawrence—has simply resolved itself into an effort to move seaboard inland, on the principle that the farther inland the port the shorter the land haul and the lower the traffic toll. Owing to the enormous increase in the cargo capacity of lake freighters in recent years, grain ships reach Buffalo carrying three hundred thousand bushels of western wheat, and Canada’s Welland Canal has worked at a handicap. Until the Canal is widened, the big cargo carriers can not pass through it, and the necessity to break bulk here is one explanation of more than half Canada’s western traffic going to seaboard by way of Buffalo instead of Montreal.
For years the proposal has been under consideration to connect the Great Lakes with the St. Lawrence by way of a canal from Georgian Bay through Ottawa River. This would be a colossal undertaking; for the region up Mattawa River toward Georgian Bay is of iron rock, and to build a canal wide enough for the big cargo carriers would out-distance anything in the way of canal construction in the world. Both parties in Canada have endorsed what is known as the Georgian Bay Ship Canal; and estimates place the cost at one hundred and twenty-five millions; but traffic men of the Lakes declare if the big cargo carriers are to have cheap insurance on this route, the canal will have to be wide enough to guarantee safe passage; and the cost would be twice this estimate.
On no section of her national transportation has Canada expended more thought and effort than improving navigation on the St. Lawrence. This, in its way, has been as difficult a problem for a people of seven millions as the construction of Panama for a people of ninety millions. Consider the geographical position of the St. Lawrence route! It penetrates the continent from eight hundred to nine hundred sixty miles. Montreal, the head of navigation on the St. Lawrence, is the farthest inland harbor of America with the exception of two ports—Galveston on the Gulf of Mexico and Port Nelson on Hudson Bay.