August 14, 1911: Idea to “move” the Duluth Ship Canal ridiculed

On this day in Duluth in 1911, veteran mariners of the Duluth-Superior harbor ridiculed an idea to “move” the Duluth Ship Canal. The plan called for both the Duluth Ship Canal and the Superior Entry—each widened and reinforced with concrete piers by the federal government just a decade earlier—to be filled in and a new canal cut through Minnesota Point midway between the existing canal and Superior Entry. It was hoped that this relocation would make for much more calm harbor waters when major storms agitated Lake Superior, but Duluth’s experienced sailors said it wouldn’t make any difference. The plan was scrapped, as were two other major engineering ideas put forth in the Duluth News Tribune that day. First, William Prince, a local banker and member of the Duluth Commercial Club (and elected Duluth mayor in 1913), stated that the idea for a railroad tunnel under the ship canal is “one of the future problems of Duluth” but at the present time “we are worrying ourselves needlessly in this matter.” Meanwhile George M. Jensen, inspired by the canal tunnel idea, editorialized his opinion that what Duluth and Superior really needed was a tunnel between the two communities, as the Interstate Bridge was “open [to allow marine traffic to pass through] for long stretches of time, causing no end to inconvenience.” The Duluth Ship Canal and the Superior Entry never moved, and instead of a canal tunnel Duluth converted its aerial transfer bridge to a lift bridge in 1930. In 1927 the Arrowhead Bridge opened to help with traffic between Duluth and Superior, and both were eventually replaced by the Richard I. Bong Bridge and the John A. Blatnik Bridge, aka the “High Bridge.”

Detail of a photograph of the Duluth Ship Canal, Duluth, Minnesota, by W.H. Jackson, 1899. The concrete piers were constructed between 1896 and 1902; note that while the light poles are in place, their diffusion globed have yet to be installed. (Image: Library of Congress)