Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sailing up the St. Lawrence River

For those who still continue to claim that sailing from the Atlantic to Lake Ontario via the St. Lawrence River was possible prior to the Canadian Royal Army Engineers digging canals and locks to bypass rapids and shallow waters, perhaps the following might be of interest. 
   First of all, some thoughts to keep in mind would be that from the Atlantic Ocean across the Gulf of the St. Lawrence and the river’s estuary is 433 miles. The St. Lawrence River at the Gulf of St. Lawrence is at sea level and rises over the 310 miles upriver to the outflow of Lake Ontario where the elevation is 243-feet. Thus, the river rises 243-feet in 310 miles, and any sailing ship in 600 B.C. "driven forth before the wind," or in the 1700s (were it possible) would be sailing against the winds and against a very strong current flowing downriver at more than ¾ of a foot per mile, which by the way is the only drainage of the entire Great Lakes and surrounding area to the sea.
In addition, between Montreal and Lake Ontario is 189 miles, today requiring seven locks to lift ships 243-feet up to Lake Ontario. In addition, from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, it requires eight locks to lift ships 326-feet between lakes.
    Historically, in the 11th century, the Norse were the first to explore the Gulf of St. Lawrence; and not until the 15th century did the Europeans do the same, with John Cabot, Gaspar and Miguel Corte-Real, and Alonso Sanchez sailing within the Gulf. Then, Jacques Cartier in 1535 became the first European explorer known to have sailed up the St. Lawrence River. He sailed past the area of Stadacona (Quebec City) and clear to Hochelega (the island of Montreal).
    Cartier named both the river and the area along the river’s bank “The Country of Canadas” from an Iroquois name for the two big settlements along the river—Canada, originally pronounced “Kaugh-na-daugh," comes from the Iroquois word “kaná:ta',” meaning “settlement,” “village,” “town,” or “land,” in Iroquois and in Mohawk means “town”. More accurately, it means “collection of huts,” according to Cartier (Bref récit et succincte narration de la navigation faite en MDXXXV et MDXXXVI, a work published in 1545, which recounted Cartier’s second voyage to the St. Lawrence Valley region and detailed his interactions with the local Iroquoian peoples, though the book was most likely written by Cartier’s secretary, Jehan Poullet).
    The first colony along the river was built at what is now Quebec, and later one at what is now Montreal. Once again, the St. Lawrence was considered two rivers, the St. Lawrence ending at Montreal, and then beyond Montreal, beyond the Lachine Rapids, it was called the Ottawa River, because it could not be used, and therefore not seen, as one river. This meant that Montreal was the jumping off place for exploration of the North American interior, first pioneered by French explorer Samuel de Champlain.
    Cartier was the first European to have seen the rapids in 1535 when he sailed up the St. Lawrence, believing he had found the so-called “Northwest Passage.” The first European known to have traveled beyond the rapids was Champlain along with Êtienne Brûlé in June 1611, both exploring upriver on foot. While Brûlé went on to live upriver among the Algonquin, Champlain would not venture further upriver until May of 1613.
    In 1680, Dollier de Casson, Superior of the Sulpician Seminary in Montreal, tried to dig a 5-feet deep canal around Montreal. This project was not completed until 144 years later, in 1824.
    By 1758, charts of the river from the Gulf to Quebec were made, allowing the British to sail upriver from Fort Louisbourg, on Cape Breton Island, to capture Quebec in 1759. As stated in history, “Because of the virtually impassable Lachine Rapids, the Saint Lawrence was once continuously navigable only as far as Montreal.”
    It should be noted that in the late 1790's the movement of grain from Upper Canada to the Montreal area began and the usual method of transport was to build a large raft or ark of logs which was loaded with grain and floated downstream on the Ottawa River. On arrival in Montreal the rafts were broken up and the lumber sold. No records have been found to show what proportion of the grain survived the journey but it is presumed that these ventures were limited to periods when water conditions on the river were favorable.
    No real progress in improving navigation was made until the U.S. War of Independence made better transport along the river a military necessity for the British Government who were by then in control of Canada. The building of canals and other improvement works were undertaken by the Royal Army Engineers during the period 1779-1783, at a time when the main type of boat in use was the bateau, which had earlier displaced the canoe. 
    The bateau was a fairly heavy-built boat much stronger than a canoe and having a shape somewhat similar to the present East Coast dory although a good deal larger. The common type of bateau was about 35 to 40 feet long with a relatively narrow beam of about 5 feet 6 inches. The boat had a flat bottom and heavily raked stem and stern with flared sides. Construction was quite simple and the boats were built with whatever lumber came to hand, tamarack being a common material.
    Thwarts were provided for the crew of about 12, and these boats were rugged and could run the rapids quite successfully, and being of simple construction were easy to replace if lost. Going upstream a bateau was rowed and portaged and had a deadweight of about 3 ½ tons, with a slightly greater load for downstream passages.
The canals and channels, the latter being distinct from canals as they were part of the existing waterways, were deepened and bounded by rock walls, built by the engineers and were designed to accommodate these bateaux and were 6 to 7 feet wide with a depth of about 2 ½ feet. The first series of channels was built along the north shoreline of the Lachine Rapids but did not appear to have been too successful as records show that many voyages were started from Lachine, as cargoes were taken overland from Montreal to that point.
    In 1825, the Casson Canal, later known as the Lachine Canal, was dug, requiring seven locks, and provided the first sailing vessel able to maneuver around Montreal. In fact, before the canal was dug, these rapids represented a considerable barrier to maritime traffic, causing any use of the river past Montreal to be portaged (goods and boats carried overland around the 3-mile long rapids).
    However, even with the canal, the difficulty was such that it was usually more convenient to ship goods by rail to Montreal, where they could be loaded at the city's port. Even today, Montreal remains a major rail hub and one of Canada's largest ports for that reason.
Prior to the first set of locks at Quebec City, even the small, flat-bottomed boats large enough to carry people and supplies did not pass beyond this area; but once the locks were built at Coteau-du-Lac, these small boats flowed past in large numbers

With the enlargement of the canals, trade rapidly increased, which is seen in the statistics but even after the improvement, transporting a cargo from Montreal to Kingston, at the edge of Lake Ontario, was a major undertaking. The bateaux and the later Durham boats, were usually taken upstream in "brigades" of five or more so that, when the occasion arose, the crews would be able to assist each other.
    The brigades were sometimes assembled at Lachine, their cargoes having been brought from Montreal by road and at other times towed and rowed through the Lachine channel. At Cascades Point about three quarters of the cargo of a Durham boat was unloaded and carted to the head of the Cedars rapids. The boat was then locked through the Cascades and Split Rock canals and dragged up the Cedars rapids where the cargo was reloaded. The boat then passed through the Coteau lock and into Lake St. Francis. At the Long Sault rapids above Cornwall the process was repeated after which the boat could be sailed to Kingston at the entrance to Lake Ontario (where it had to be lifted by locks).
    The point is, of course, that actual records of what took place along the St. Lawrence River between 1600 and 1824 show that no ocean vessels move up or down the St. Lawrence River until the canals and locks were built. In fact, before the locks, even at Quebec were built, flat-bottomed Bateaux boats did not move up and down the river. For any suggestion that Lehi sailed up the St. Lawrence in 600 B.C. to reach the Great Lakes and the theorists' West Sea is simply ludicrous and flies in the face of factual information of the river as recorded in both historical data and official government records dating to the first discovery of the river to the present. In fact, even during the critical War of 1812, when the canals and rivers around the U.S. Canadian border were under full usage to move men, equipment and supplies by both the British and U.S. governments, ships of any size simply could not move up the St. Lawrence River beyond Montreal and men, equipment and supplies had to be portaged around the Lachine Rapids. 
    In fact, during the years 1814 and 1815 naval building was going on at a furious pace on both sides for control of the all-important Great Lakes and ultimately the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. All the guns and rigging equipment for the vessels built for the Royal Navy at Kingston were transported by barge to Montreal, unloaded, portaged around Montreal, and then loaded on the Durham boats and sailed from there to Kingston. The cost of this was extremely high, the 32-gun frigates were made in England and one reaching Montreal were portaged and then reloaded and shipped via the canals from Montreal to Kingston. The transportation of these unwieldy items was a difficult and enormously expensive undertaking costing over $50,000 per ship set (James Gilmore, “The St. Lawrence River Canals Vessel,” Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, SNAME, Transactions 1957, pp111-161). If there had been any other way to get supplies up the river from the Atlantic to Kingston at Lake Ontario, it would have surely been utilized since for the British, the control of North America was at stake.


  1. Some just look at a map... see the river from the ocean... and assume that a ship can traverse it.

    It is the assuming that causes the thought process to be false.

  2. 22 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land.
    23 And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land... --1 Nephi 18

    Taking a ship up a river is a completely different circumstance than sailing on an ocean.

    There is no reason to believe from these verses that Nephi took the ship hundreds of miles up a river as part of what these verses say.

  3. Nephi was telling his story of what happened. He told the story of his brother's rebellion on the ship. And then for the next period of time... there seemed like nothing out of the ordinary happened. They did not get off and on and off and on and off and back on the ship. They sailed for the space of many days and arrived. Then once there.. he said exactly what they did. You can practically number them:

    24 And it came to pass:

    1. that we did begin to till the earth,
    2. and we began to plant seeds;
    3. yea, we did put all our seeds into the earth, which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem.
    4. And it came to pass that they did grow exceedingly; wherefore, we were blessed in abundance.

    25 And it came to pass:
    5. that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness,
    a. that there were beasts in the forests of every kind,
    1. both the cow and the ox,
    2. and the ass and the horse,
    3. and the goat and the wild goat,
    4. and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men.
    b. And we did find all manner of ore,
    1. both of gold, and of silver, and of copper.

    1 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded me,
    6. wherefore I did make plates of ore
    a. that I might engraven upon them the record of my people.
    1. And upon the plates which I made I did engraven the record of my father,
    2. and also our journeyings in the wilderness,
    3. and the prophecies of my father;
    4. and also many of mine own prophecies have I engraven upon them.

    No mention of continuing up a river... for days and days and days.