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The St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project

An Oral History of the Greatest Construction Show on Earth

Claire Puccia Parham

Publication Year: 2009

The culmination of a century-long dream to link the Great Lakes interior industrial hubs to the Atlantic Ocean, the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project stands as one of the largest and most important public works’ initiatives of the twentieth century. Seen as vital to North American commerce and strategic in advancing America’s position on the world stage, the billion dollar seaway and power dam were also a phenomenal feat of engineering involving an unprecedented level of cooperation between Canadian and American agencies and the unrelenting efforts of workers on both sides of the border. Dubbed the greatest construction show on earth, the largest waterway and hydro dam project ever jointly built by two nations consisted of seven locks, the widening of various canals, the taming of rapids, and the erection of the 3216-foot long, 195.5-foot high Robert Moses – Robert H. Saunders Power Dam. In this book, Claire Puccia Parham reveals the human side of the project in the words of its engineers, laborers, and carpenters. Drawing on firsthand accounts, she provides a vivid portrait of the lives of the men who built the seaway and the women who accompanied them. On the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the power dam and waterway, this book is a fitting tribute to the hard work and dedication of the project’s 22,000 workers.

Published by: Syracuse University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

Acknowledgments [Includes About the Author]

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xviii

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pp. xxiii-xxxi

Awesome! Breathtaking! A feat of modern engineering! These are some of the words people exclaim as they overlook the Robert Moses– Robert H. Saunders Dam, which straddles the U.S.–Canadian border. The 3,216-foot-long, 195.5-foot-high structure was the focal point of the...

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1. The Binational Political Debate

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pp. 1-22

At the beginning of every semester I ask my collegiate history students to identify the most controversial decision of American congressmen and Canadian members of Parliament in the twentieth century. Their responses often include the U.S. decision to enter World War I and the...

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2. The Project

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pp. 23-72

In 1954 construction commenced on the five sections of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project, three of which were located exclusively in Canada. The completion of the project required the cooperation of New York State and Ontario provincial officials along with four lead...

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3. The Workforce

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pp. 73-125

Workers who participated in the greatest construction show on earth arrived in Massena with different cultural, educational, religious, and professional backgrounds. While the engineers tended to be college graduates, many of the carpenters and laborers had not finished high school. ...

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4. Life on the Job

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pp. 126-176

The daily life of a Seaway or power dam worker was long, challenging, and sometimes dangerous. The working conditions on the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project have been described by workers as brutal and unforgiving. Workers and contractors toiled in mud, water...

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5. Construction Dilemmas

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pp. 177-212

The harnessing of the Long Sault Rapids and the dredging of a navigable waterway by contractors on the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project has been described by engineers and designers as a triumph of man and technology over nature. For centuries local residents admired...

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6. Off the Project

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pp. 213-247

The 1950s had often been portrayed as the final stage of the development of the American consumer economy and the decade when people began to believe they could attain the good life. Members of all classes earned higher salaries, which equated to new purchasing power and a love of life. ...

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7. The Core of the Corps

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pp. 248-287

Shirley Doxtater, the society editor for the Watertown Daily Times, in an August 27, 1954, article called the wives of Seaway workers in Massena “the core of the Corps.” Even though these women never poured concrete or shoveled dirt, each served as a supportive and devoted spouse...

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8. A Lifetime of Memories

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pp. 288-311

The American public works association heralded the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project as one of the top ten construction projects of the twentieth century. However, even with this recognition, it remains absent from most history textbooks. Students are taught the impact of the...

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pp. 312-328

The construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway was the greatest construction show ever performed. Twenty-two thousand men and their families migrated to Massena and Cornwall to spend four years constructing the waterway and power dam. During the project contractors and...


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pp. 331-336


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pp. 337-339


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pp. 341-353

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651024
E-ISBN-10: 0815651023
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815609131
Print-ISBN-10: 0815609132

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 40 black and white illustrations
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 759158759
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Dams -- Saint Lawrence River -- Design and construction -- History.
  • Hydroelectric power plants -- Saint Lawrence River -- Design and construction -- History.
  • Saint Lawrence Seaway -- Power utilization -- History.
  • Waterways -- Saint Lawrence River Region -- History.
  • Construction industry -- Employees -- Interviews.
  • Saint Lawrence Seaway -- History.
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