The Gateway to North America
Put simply, the St. Lawrence Seaway is the world's longest deep draft commercial waterway, connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. Its creation was, however, no simple task. The opening of the Seaway required construction of 5 separate canals, 15 locks, and dredged channels to permit deep-draft freighters to safely and efficiently traverse the St. Lawrence River's many rapids, lakes, and changes in elevation.
Opened in 1959, the St. Lawrence Seaway is the result of a close partnership between Canada and the United States, serving two Canadian provinces (Ontario and Quebec) and eight American states (Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania). Ships passing though the Seaway cross the US-Canadian border 27 times during transit, making bi-national coordination critical to its operation.
The Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation and the US Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation work together to coordinate day-to-day operations, rules and regulations, annual operating calendar, safety and navigation technologies, as well as bilateral environmental and trade programs.
A Great Lakes Economy
The economic impact of the St. Lawrence Seaway is significant for the region and the world. Cargo shipments, such as iron ore, coal, grains, and even blades for wind farms traverse the seaway each year, connecting the agricultural and industrial heartland with global markets.
Since its opening more than 50 years ago, over 2.5 billion tons of cargo have moved between Lake Superior and the Atlantic ocean. Over 25% of the ships passing through the St. Lawrence Seaway are "salties," ocean-going vessels connecting the region to foreign ports.
As a region, the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence Seaway System is the world's fourth largest economy with nearly US $5 trillion in annual economic output.
Guarding the Great Lakes Environment
The St. Lawrence Seaway serves as an environmental gatekeeper for the Great Lakes region. Shipping via the seaway reduces congestion and fuel consumption through marine transport. Each ship with 30,000 tons of cargo replaces 300 rail cars or 963 semi trucks.
However, with increased traffic from global ports, invasive species have also crept into the waters of Great Lakes. Great Lakes fisheries are home to 177 species of fish, support more than 75,000 jobs, and are valued at over US $7 billion annually. Because of its potential impact on fisheries of the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway has put into place sustainable management practices for ballast water to limit the importation of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS), such as zebra mussels and sea lampreys, into the Great Lakes region.
Great Lakes waterways also provide drinking water, resources and recreation to one quarter of the population of North America, so water quality is also a serious concern for governments and communities in the region
Plan your visit to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Visitors' Center at the US Eisenhower Lock at the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation website.
Want to learn more? Watch Walter Cronkite as he explains the St. Lawrence Seaway in this bit of classic tv: