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TRAVERSING THE RIVER

St. Clair River
Michigan-Ontario

Through history, the movement of people and goods has been challenged by the need to cross waterways. Crossing the St. Clair River was particularly challenging because of the swiftness of the current.

Through history, the movement of people and goods has been challenged by the need to cross waterways. Crossing the St. Clair River was particularly challenging because of the swiftness of the current.

In 1859 T. E. Blackwell, vice president of Grand Trunk Railroad, implemented a method of bringing rail cars across the river from Point Edward to Fort Gratiot by attaching a barge to a steel cable anchored in the river. The barge swung from one side of the river to the other using the current. The barge became known as the swing ferry or flying ferry. In 1872 the swing ferry was replaced by the steam ferry, the International II.

Passenger ferries, owned and operated by the railroad companies, carried travellers across the river. In 1875, the first private ferry service was started and became the Port Huron & Sarnia Ferry Company. The company was very successful until challenged by the opening of the "first" Blue Water International Bridge in 1938. The new Bridge spelled the beginning of the end of ferry service and by 1952 ferry service ceased to exist. A second span of the Blue Water International Bridge was completed in 1997. Today the twin spans carry over 5,000,000 vehicles per year.

t way to carry rail cars across the Saint Clair River was evident from the very beginning. The answer was found by tunneling under the river. The first rail tunnel was completed in 1891 and was an engineering marvel of its time using an original technique of excavation within a compressed air environment. Starting from both the Canadian side and the American side, men on scaffolding within a cylindrical tube hand dug the clay onto carts that was then carried out of the tunnel. As the clay was dug, a hydraulic piston pushed the tube forward at the same time installing the steel liner of the tunnel. When the two sides met the tunnel was misaligned by less than one inch. A second tunnel, replacing the original tunnel, was completed in 1994. The new tunnel was needed to accommodate large double stack trains.