Of course every Canadian kid learns about the St. Lawrence River. It’s not the longest river in the country: Mackenzie and Yukon are numbers one and two, respectively, in that category. However, it was Canada’s superhighway, before such things existed, moving people and goods and news. A river that goes from the Atlantic deep into the continent, linking then to the Great Lakes system, this was the travel and settlement route for aboriginal peoples and the Europeans, French and English, who came later.
My childhood brain never grasped the fact that the St. Lawrence made its way into Ontario: what we learned in school identified St. Lawrence so strongly with Quebec and its history. Quebec’s major cities, Montreal and la ville du Quebec, grew up along its shores. Even my own family history has a wee bit of Quebec St. Lawrence in it: my immigrant grandfather travelled to Canada by boat across the Atlantic Ocean and then along the St. Lawrence River, disembarked at Montreal, and finished his journey to Ontario via train.
The first time I stood by, and later swam in, the St. Lawrence in Ontario was on adult driving trips with stops in Gananoque and environs. The dock for guests at one bed and breakfast, pictured here, overhung the St. Lawrence. You could swim in the St. Lawrence off a public beach area in Gananoque. This part of the river is strewn with small islands, collectively known as The Thousand Islands, explored in season by tour boats. At this point, the river flows on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.
Over many decades, the St. Lawrence and the waterways connecting the Great Lakes were reconfigured for commercial shipping by deepening rivers and building locks, tunnels and bridges, a system collectively known as The St. Lawrence Seaway that now moves 44 million tonnes of cargo annually.
But in the soft mist of a late-summer morning, that day I stood coffee in hand along its shore, the river was simply and gloriously itself: modest waters, moving quickly, carrying along Canada’s past, present, and future.
Photo: John Lederman