Michigan Transportation History

Soo Locks Bibliographic Essay

Template Public BibliographyHistoriographySault Ste Marie

See also
Construction of the Soo Locks
Charles T. Harvey

One central bibliographic area of debate regards the role and competencies of Charles T. Harvey. The above article is mostly a summary of the story by Willis F. Dunbar and George S. May's Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State? with additions and expansions as noted. Dunbar & May review the literature regarding Charles T. Harvey's contributions to the construction of the canal in Chapter 13 of that book (the most recent is the Revised 3rd Edition, 1995; see pp. 261-262). Their Michigan, despite being almost 50 years old, is the still the best single-volume account of the history of the state that we have. Both Dunbar and May were respected scholars at important Michigan colleges.

Some scholars have turned attention to various aspects of the canal or canal-building. The first most significant of these is G. Carter Goodrich's Government Promotion ... which should be consulted for any early history of transportation in the U.S. Also the articles by Philip P. Mason and Clark F. Norton look at specific early moments in the canal's history.

The first comprehensive histories we have of the construction of the Soo came from the semi-centennial celebration where Harvey was an honored guest. Obviously, it would have been bad manners to have invited the last living principle player in the construction of the canal, the man who started the project, and then insult him with a critical assessment of his failings as a engineering project manager. Plus, most historical accounts of technological accomplishments written during the 20th century tended to be hagiographic and celebratory. So it is not unexpected that sources such as Charles Moore (who edited the semi-centennial celebratory account), Otto Fowle, or F. Clever Bald's The Sault Canal through 100 years are not critical assessments of the project. They don't tell you the bad along with the good and present the construction as an unproblematic heroic technological triumph of men conquering nature.

The first comprehensive scholarly account on the history of the construction of the Soo Locks is John N. Dickinson?, To Build A Canal? (1981; based on his 1968 Ph.D. history dissertation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison). Dickinson was for many years on the history faculty at Miami University. He died in 1986. Dickinson clearly established that Harvey's personal claims and what other historians (probably Bald but also perhaps Moore) have said about Harvey's role in the construction of the canal are "exaggerated." (For Dunbar & May's analysis, see n. 23 on p. 694 of Michigan.

More recently, Bernie Arbic? has written two books about Sault Ste Marie?: one about the town itself and the other, with Nancy Steinhaus, about the canal (Upbound Downbound? 2005). Arbic, a native of Sault Ste Marie, is by training a mathematician. Arbic and Steinhaus's Upbound Downbound cites Dickinson as one of its principle sources (again reinforcing May's opinion of Dickinson's work). Their assessment of Harvey echoes Dickinson's in that the directors of the canal construction company had no confidence in Harvey's engineering capabilities and brought in Brooks to do a better job.

Regarding Harvey's competencies, he was not a civil engineer. Harvey was a salesman for the Fairbanks Scale company. Harvey's core competency was in sales (plus he was only 24 years old when placed in charge of this engineering project). As such, he most certainly recognized a good business opportunity when he saw one and a canal at the sault was one good business opportunity. It was Harvey who successfully promoted the project to business interests in both Detroit and Boston. And while Harvey's role in either the federal or state legislation that granted land to the construction company was not as significant as his initial promotion to businessmen, it was the land that was the real reward for building the canal and the canal company was amply rewarded for Harvey's efforts. Harvey, too, was amply compensated for his role as land agent for the company as he selected the land the company received in compensation for the construction of the canal.


Arbic, Bernie, and Nancy Steinhaus. Upbound Downbound: The Story of the Soo Locks. Allegan Forest: The Priscilla Press, 2005.

Arbic, Bernie, and Nancy Steinhaus. "How the Soo Locks Were Made." Lake Superior Magazine, July 27, 2015.

Dickinson, John N. To Build a Canal: Sault Ste. Marie, 1853-1854 and After. Columbus, Ohio: Published for Miami University by the Ohio State University Press, 1981.

Dickinson, John N. The Canal at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan: Inception, Construction, Early Operation, and the Canal Grant Lands. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1968.

Dunbar, Willis F., and George S. May. "Out of the Wilderness," chapter 13 in Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State. Grand Rapids: Eerdman's, 1995.

Goodrich, G. Carter. Government Promotion of American Canal and Railroads 1800-1890. New York: 1960.

Mason, Philip P., ed. "The Operation of the Sault Canal, 1857." Michigan History 39 (March 1955): 69-80.

Newton, Stanley. The Story of Sault Ste. Marie and Chippewa County. Sault Ste. Marie, MI: Sault News Printing Co., 1923.Norton, Clark F. "Early Movement for the St. Mary's Falls Ship Canal." Michigan History 39 (Sept. 1955): 257-80.

Rankin, Ernest H. "Canalside Superintendent." Inland Seas 21 (Summer 1965): 103-14.

United States. Department of the Army. Corps of Engineers. North Central Division. Detroit District. Draft Interim Feasibility Report Great Lakes Connecting Channels and Harbors Study. Appendix A: Historic Resources at St. Mary's Falls Canal, Michigan. March 1984.

A detailed technical account concerning the construction of the canal and its various improvements over the years. Also included are studies concerning the operations of the locks during the early 1980s. The report was part of a feasibility study and environmental impact statement for a possible rebuilding of ship access through the sault. 538 pages.

United States. Department of the Interior. National Parks Service. National Register of Historic Places. Inventory Nomination Form for the "Soo" locks. May 7, 1975.

The application for the Soo Locks to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places and for an NPS historical marker. Part of the application includes a short history of the construction and significance of the locks.

Taylor, Paul. Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer, Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2009.

Weed, Thurlow. "An Interesting Description of the Lakes in 1847," letter dated July 12, 1847, in J. B. Mansfield, History of the Great Lakes, vol. 1, pp. 209 - 218. Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1899.

Other Sources not as critical as those above

See also
Soo Locks-Bibliographic Info

Moore, Charles, ed. & comp. The Saint Marys Falls Canal: Exercises at the Semi-Centennial Celebration at Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, August 2 and 3, 1905; together with a History of the Canal by John H. Goff, and Papers relating to the Great Lakes. Detroit, Michigan: By the Semi-Centennial Commission, 1907.

Open Library edition —•— Internet Archive edition

Because this account is celebratory, it is not a critical analysis of the construction of the canal and tends to over-celebrate the accomplishments of Harvey (who was the honorary Grand Marshal of the celebration). This is the history of which Dunbar and May are most critical.

Fowle, Otto. Sault Ste. Marie and Its Great Waterway. New York, 1925.

Bald, F. Clever. The Sault Canal through 100 years, Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1954.

Newton, Stanley. The Story of Sault Ste. Marie and Chippewa County. Sault Ste. Marie, MI: Sault News Printing Co., 1923.

The Michigan County histories tend to be more celebratory and less critical than the histories in the above section. This text has a lengthy history of the construction project, the 50th anniversary celebration, and a transcription of the historical markers.

Ratigan, William. Young Mister Big: The Story of Charles T. Harvey, Builder of the Soo Canal. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955.

Ratigan has been best praised as a writer of children's books about Michigan and/or the Great Lakes. But his forays into historical writing have been criticized for poor writing and inaccuracy. See John A. Kouwenhoven's review of Ratigan's Highways over Broad Waters: Life and Times of David B. Steinman, Bridgebuilder (Technology and Culture 2, No. 2 [Spring, 1961])) or Julius F. Wolff Jr.'s review of Ratigan's Great Lakes Shipwrecks and Survivals (Minnesota History 37, no. 4 [Dec., 1960]).

Citation: When referencing this page please use the following citation:

R. D. Jones, "Soo Locks Bibliographic Essay," Michigan Transportation History (Ypsilanti, MI: 2020), www.michtranshist.info/.

Unless otherwise noted all content on the Michigan Transportation History site is Copyright © 2020.
Page last modified on January 08, 2020, at 03:00 PM EST

Page last modified on January 08, 2020, at 03:00 PM EST