From the earliest days of European settlement, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River have been utilized as a means of transportation. Great Lakes cities were founded as trading posts along a vast marine highway that facilitated commerce in an era pre-dating railroads and highways. This relationship to the water has enabled the region to thrive and today, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region is the industrial and agricultural heartland of both the United States and Canada.
Over the last 200 years, navigation improvements in both the United States and Canada have enhanced the waterway. The Welland Canal has connected Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, enabling vessels to bypass Niagara Falls. The Soo Locks have made the St. Mary’s River navigable, connecting Lake Superior with Lake Huron. The St. Lawrence Seaway has tamed the St. Lawrence River, enabling ships to sail from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean.
The resulting deep draft navigation system is the longest in the world, extending 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) into the North American heartland. This waterway complements the region’s rail and highway network and offers customers a cost- effective, safe and environmentally smart means of moving raw materials, agricultural commodities and manufactured products. Every year more than
160 million metric tons of cargo is moved on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System. Dominant cargoes include iron ore for steel production, coal
for power generation, limestone and cement for construction, and grain for both domestic consumption and export.
Three distinct vessel-operator communities serve the waterway. These include U.S. domestic carriers (“U.S. Lakers”) transporting cargo between ports on the system, Canadian domestic carriers (“Canadian Lakers”) operating between ports on the system, and ocean-going vessel operators (“Salties”), which operate between system ports and overseas destinations. These carriers serve more than 110 system ports located in each of the eight Great Lakes states and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
In addition to locks, ships and ports, a host of maritime service providers work to ensure the safe and efficient transport of cargo. These include stevedores, warehousemen, freight forwarders, dockworkers, crane operators, vessel agents, dredging contractors, marine pilots, truck drivers, tugboat operators and shipyard workers.
The investment survey, compiled by maritime trade consultants Martin Associates, tallies CDN $7.1 billion in capital spending on ships, ports and terminals and waterway infrastructure in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence waterway. More than $4.8 billion has been invested in the navigation system from 2009-2013 and another $2.3 billion is committed to improvements from 2014-2018.
Amongst the most significant investments, Canadian, American and international ship owners are spending $4.1 billion on the biggest renewal of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence fleets in 30 years. The Canadian and U.S. federal governments, through respectively The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation and the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, have dedicated close to $1 billion to modernize the Seaway’s lock infrastructure and technology over the 10-year period — the Seaway’s most significant transformation in five decades. And Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River ports and terminals are also collectively investing more than $1.8 billion on expanding their docks, equipment, facilities and intermodal connections.