Learn from mistakes of history or risk repeating them

Staff ~ The Amherst News
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To the editor;

Tuesday's 50 years ago sidebar, Construction of Chignecto Canal endorsed, shows that if we don't learn the mistakes of history, we are destined to repeat them. Meeting with Amherst town council, Saint John Municipality representative H.H. Smith urged council to help stir up renewed interest in constructing the Chignecto Canal. Is 86 years too long to remember why the project died in the first place?
In 1873, 52 years after surveys began, all levels of government declared the canal a dead issue. From 1921 on, the Isthmus of Chignecto between Moncton and Amherst was surveyed to rags trying to find a viable route between the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
All proposals were stymied by three insurmountable problems that still existed in 1959 and still exist today: one, the extraordinary tide differential between the bay and the gulf; two, the essential need to exclude the turbid waters of the upper bay from any type of canal, and, three, the absence of sufficient fresh water to replenish what was routinely lost to the sea from a lock-type canal.
Exit the canal, and enter Henry Ketchum, who proposed to solve the problem of a commercial transit of the isthmus by building a Ship Railway; the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Also worth noting, following the 1959 urging, students from Mount Allison did in fact dig a canal across the isthmus. It was surveyed dead straight and dug one spade-width wide and deep.
When completed, working in relays, they sailed a paper boat all the way across, and then folded their imagination and went home.
John G. McKay, Amherst

Organizations: Amherst town council

Geographic location: Chignecto, Moncton, Bay of Fundy

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Recent comments

  • Joe
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    No need for a canal in a few generations the Isthmus will be under water.

    Thanks for the much needed history lesson Mr. MacKay.

  • Dennis
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    The one lasting legacy the never-completed ship railway did provide is its use as a topic by students over the years for their public-speaking projects. Enough speeches have been given on the ship railway at Cumberland County schools in the past 50 years that you could probably lay the recipe cards they were all written on end-to-end and completely cover the isthmus of Chignecto twice over, or at least fill up the trench dug by the MTA students!