There was no cake with candles, no singing around the table to the birthday child and no gifts wrapped in multi-colored paper with bows. However, this was still a birthday party and not for any one particular person, but instead for a well-known engineering marvel, the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Flags from all fifty states blew in the wind along the Eisenhower Lock wall, while trumpets blared as the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, the official fanfare trumpeting group of the United States President, helped to open the 50th birthday celebration of this man made wonder in small-town Massena, New York - just an hour or so north of the 1000 Islands region.
It was here on June 27, 1959 that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II along with Vice President Richard Nixon officially opened the Seaway on the American side at the Eisenhower Lock.
Fifty years later, the scene was much of the same, but this time it would be administrators, politicians and the granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower, Susan Eisenhower, on hand to commemorate this historic event. Back then, the Royal Yacht Britannia cruised through these waters. Now, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Mobile Bay, which was launched back on Veteran’s Day in 1978 and St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation's tug Robinson Bay graced the Lock.
With the sun high above the Lock, for what might have been the first time all summer, and a crowd in the hundreds under a big white tent, the celebration took form with speeches, music and a sense of community. The 21-gun salute captured everyone’s attention as local radio morning show host and emcee of the afternoon, Sandy Cook, made himself comfortable at the podium. People from all over came to be a part of this day.
"We are the Seaway," Richard Corfe, President and CEO of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation told the crowd.
Those words echoed true. There were those who shed blood, sweat and tears to build the concrete locks and dredge the waterways. Those who had family that gave up their land to make way for the Seaway to take shape. And, there were those who cherish the Seaway because of what it brings to their life from the 1000 Islands sight-seeing wonders to a ship watchers paradise to a boater’s personal summer playground. Each and every one of the people in attendance were a part of it, they all represented the many pieces that as a whole make the Seaway.
Throughout the ceremony folks took to the podium to share their memories, visions and interest.
Collister Johnson, Jr., Administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation reminded us that “"As the Seaway marks 50 years of operation, it is important to remember its history and, most importantly, prepare to meet tomorrow's needs and challenges."
John B. Adams III, former SLSDC Chief Engineer, gave us a look back at the work and effort so many put in during the short time it took to make the Seaway system complete.
The White House would be represented as well, but not by a sitting President or Vice President, but instead by the men in black, better known as the Secret Service, wearing their famous sunglasses and ear pieces as they tagged along side of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. On the job since just this past January, LaHood took to the stage to address the success and future of the Seaway system as if it were he who made it all happen.
And then there was a true reminder of how everyone sacrificed and worked together to truly put the final pieces in place and begin to let the water flow from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean and create an international super waterway.
Teresa Fox had built up the courage to come to the event on her own, which was not how she originally planned it. Fox is an Akwesasne Mohawk and she was on hand to perform traditional Mohawk dance songs as part of the closing of the ceremony, an excellent touch added by the folks from the Seaway Development Corporation. On this day she would come alone as her fellow Akwesasne Women Singers group did not feel comfortable being there since the Seaway flooded parts of their land and cause for disagreements.
"I think it is important to respect each other and know we are neighbors and something in my heart was pulling me here,” Fox told the hushed crowd. She stood at the podium trembling with nerves knowing that she was alone, but she was responsible enough to tell those in attendance that all of us need to continue to work as one and move forward and continue to build a better future.
The crowd would agree and applaud her as she completed her songs and with that the event would come to a close. The stage would soon clear, the boats within the lock would move out and just like that it was back to business as the ocean-going vessel Flintermar moved into the lock to head downbound toward the ocean, just another sign of what this marvel really is.
By Michael Folsom/theshipwatcher.blogspot.com
Michael Folsom is a regular contributor to TI Life and offered to cover the Seaway’s Birthday Party. He twittered his attendance so those of us who could not be there were updated. Michael is an avid ship watcher who currently hosts a web site, theshipwatcher.blogspot.com, where he tracks ships and reports on various Seaway happenings. His work has been featured in the Thousand Islands Sun, as well as on boatnerd.com and northcountrynow.com. When not watching ships or writing about them, Michael works for the Syracuse Crunch, a professional hockey team. He and his wife Christie live in Central New York.
Editor’s Note: As we have reported in our April issue, not everyone celebrates the St. Lawrence Seaway. As we went to press, Jennifer Chaddick, Executive Director of Save the River, asked if we would publish an essay by Paul Sargent, a Thousand Islander and a critic of the Seaway . However, the essay had been previously published on the web. We have asked Paul and Save the River to keep us informed about the environmental concerns of the Seaway and will provide information in the future.