For more than 500 years, Canada’s waterways have provided accessible travel corridors for exploration and commerce. Early explorers navigated Canada’s maze of rivers by birch bark canoes - lightweight reliable craft designed by North American natives. Canoes, and the waterways they followed, were as indispensible to the fur trade that was the foundation of Canadian exploration and commerce as the legendary voyageurs who piloted them.
Today, Canada’s waterways continue to provide the means for people to travel and trade goods, and to maintain thriving industries including fishing and timber. In eastern Canada, the 3,700-kilometre Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway provides a major shipping route from the heart of North America to the Atlantic Ocean. The 306-kilometre section of the Seaway between Montreal and Lake Ontario is regarded as one of the most ambitious engineering accomplishments in history. Stretching from Montreal to Lake Erie, the St. Lawrence Seaway section of the system includes 13 Canadian locks and two U.S. locks. Linking Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, the Welland Canal lifts ships 100 metres over the Niagara Escarpment. Completed in 1959, the Seaway can accommodate vessels as long as 225 metres. More than 2.5 billion tonnes of cargo, including iron ore, coal, grain, cement, salt and stone aggregates have been transported through the Seaway to and from 50 countries since 1959.
In the northernmost reaches of Canada, the Northwest Passage provides an accessible route linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Arctic Ocean. First navigated by Roald Amundson between 1903 and 1906, the passage weaves through the waterways separating the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Due to the presence of seasonal pack ice, the passage was not viable year-round until 2009, when climate change reduced the amount and thickness of the ice, making the route navigable through winter. While the route follows Canada’s coastline, no definitive sovereignty of the waters has yet been established.
This interactive piece details the Northwest Passage, where users can select from three different interactive maps, supported by narrated descriptions.