Kingston Bypassed: Imperial Policy & Canals

1825-1959
From the New Forts - Point Levi - Looking down the St. Lawrence by John Herbert Caddy circa 1841. Source: Library and Archives Canada. Pinterest
From the New Forts - Point Levi - Looking down the St. Lawrence by John Herbert Caddy circa 1841. Source: Library and Archives Canada.

The St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and their tributary rivers were corridors of movement since the prehistory of the Kingston region. This continued in the British colonial period with the emergence of the importance of transhipment at Kingston as traffic in exported staples and incoming commodities, and the arrival of immigrants from Europe as settlement progressed. Initially, the St. Lawrence rapids were negotiated by bateaux or rafts and later by steamers and barges. The construction of the Rideau Canal to Kingston on to avoid the threat of U.S. interruption was essentially for military traffic and immigrants. The St. Lawrence route continued and increased with the construction of locks that by-passed the rapids. The completion of the Erie Canal (1825) provided an alternative route with its connection to the Hudson-Mohawk route to the year-round ice-free New York. But the British Corn Laws favoured duty-free import of grain from the colonies ensured the flow through Kingston to Montreal. This shipping activity was challenged by the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and the canal construction that by-passed the St. Lawrence rapids (1843-45). Transhipment enterprises continued at Kingston, however, as vessels increased in size and specialised “canallers” and “lakers” developed. However, competition from rail and the development of the St. Lawrence “Seaway” (1959) eventually resulted in the demise of Kingston’s transhipment function.