When Canada began dredging the St. Lawrence in 1850, the channel averaged a depth of ten feet. By 1888, the channel averaged twenty-seven and one-half feet at low water. To-day a depth of thirty to thirty-one feet has been attained. At its narrowest points the St. Lawrence has a steamship channel four hundred and fifty feet wide and thirty feet deep from side to side. In the days when high insurance rates were established against the St. Lawrence route, there was practically not a lighthouse nor channel buoy from Tadousac to the Straits of Belle Isle. To-day between Montreal and Quebec are ninety-nine lighted buoys, one hundred and ninety-five can buoys; between Quebec and the Straits, three light ships, eighty gas buoys, one whistling buoy, seventy-five can buoys, four submarine bell ships, and a line of lighthouses. Telegraph lines extend to the outer side of Belle Isle, and hydrographic survey has charted every foot of the river. In spite of these improvements, insurance rates are four to six per cent. for lines to Canada, where they are one and one-half to two and one-half to American ports.
What with three transcontinentals, a complete canal system from seaboard to the Great Lakes and an outlet for western traffic through Panama, one would think that Canada had made ample provision for transportation; but she has only begun. If she is to be the shortest route to the Orient, she must keep traffic in Canadian channels and not divide it with Panama and Suez. If she is to feed the British Empire, she must establish the shortest route from her wheat fields to the United Kingdom; and if she is to overcome the disadvantage of harbors open only half the year, she must secure to herself some other advantage—such as access to the harbor having the shortest land haul and therefore the lowest freight rates in America. There is another consideration. If when Canada is raising less than three hundred million bushels of wheat her transcontinentals are glutted with traffic and her harbors gorged, what will happen when her wheat fields raise eight hundred million bushels of wheat? So Canada has cast about for a shorter route to Europe by Hudson Bay, and both parties in Dominion politics have backed the project.