Generally I know exactly how I come up with each topic I hand-pick for Twelve Mile Circle articles. That’s not the case here. I don’t recall the exact sequence of steps that led to abandoned canals in Canada. Well, I understand the Canadian part. I figured it would be a smaller universe. Also it’s been awhile since I posted something specifically about Canada and the 12MC audience there was overdue. I do enjoy a decent abandoned canal (e.g., the Patowmack Canal), so maybe that figured into it subconsciously.
Anyway and however it came up, let’s get started.
Newmarket "Ghost" Canal
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The so-called Ghost Canal of Newmarket, Ontario isn’t referred to as such for any kind of alleged paranormal or demonic activity. The name derives from its history. Construction began in 1906 in response to what were considered excessive freight costs imposed by a local railroad. Residents wished to link Lake Simcoe and the Trent Waterway as a means to bypass the railroad and save shipping charges. Six years later, after the construction of numerous locks, bridges and supporting infrastructure, the canal approached its completion. Then a new Prime Minister came to power in Canada and canceled the project. The mostly-finished canal remained in place although it never opened for business. That’s why it became the Ghost Canal.
As the town of Newmarket explains:
Instead of having a downtown on a busy tourist waterway, all we are left with is a turning basin at the Tannery Centre filled in to become the parking lot and an almost completed but never used ghost canal with its locks and bridges slowly deteriorating and disappearing.
… not that they’re bitter or anything.
The Google Street view image I selected above is the site of a former swing bride that would have moved out of the way as boats passed (see photo and additional details). It never swung. An entire series of photographs can be viewed on another site and a more comprehensive history on another blog. Enjoy.
SOURCE: Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
The Shubenacadie Canal fared only slightly better, functioning for a decade between 1861 and 1871. That’s not exactly a great track record either although it’s compounded as one considers that construction first began in 1826. The canal ran for 114 kilometres (71 miles) across Nova Scotia between Halifax and the Bay of Fundy, leapfrogging between the Shubenacadie River and Shubenacadie Grand Lake along the way. An expanding railroad network eventually became a cost-effective alternative and hastened the demise of the Shubenacadie Canal, a fate common to many other canals of that general time period.
Recent efforts have been undertaken to preserve what is left of the canal through the actions of the Shubenacadie Canal Commission. The Creative Commons photograph featured above shows one of the restored locks at Shubie Park (map) in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
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The Desjardins Canal fared considerably better, operating for nearly 40 years, from 1837 to 1876. It was designed to connect Dundas, Ontario to the Great Lakes, and the town benefited from this arrangement during that period. However, once again the railroads created winners and losers. Hamilton had a solid railroad network and it prospered. A canal could not compete so Dundas fell from its perch. To think of what may have been happened had Dundas focused on a railroad instead of a canal during that critical formative period.
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The most successful venture of the entire lot was the Soulanges Canal that ran along the northern bank of the Saint Lawrence River in Québec. It bypassed rapids southwest of Montréal for nearly six decades between 1899-1958.
The Soulanges Canal had a more meaningful purpose than the other abandoned canals: the Saint Lawrence River provided a vital link between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes, and shipping needed to bypass the rapids. A tremendous amount of tonnage passed through these waters. The Soulanges Canal wasn’t put out of business because of railroads. Rather, it was replaced by an improved Beauharnois Canal that became part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway system in the 1950’s. The Soulanges Canal lost its purpose. Today a popular bicycle path runs along the former canal.
More information can be found at Le canal de Soulanges (1899-1958): une adventure technologique eh humaine.