One hundred years ago, the Detroit District wrapped up an expansion and widening of the Livingstone Channel in the lower Detroit River, a key navigational passage leading
into Lake Erie.
Between 1907 and 1912, a massive widening and deepening project took place in the 12-mile channel. Coffer dams were built to hold back the water, and dynamite was used to blast out bedrock and limestone. October 2012 was the 100-year anniversary of the opening of the channel following the expansion project.
Workers removed 9.5 million cubic yards of material, including 2.1 million tons of hard rock, said George Ryan, former president of the Cleveland-based Lake Carriers Association, LCA. The channel, which previously had a depth of about 13 feet, was deepened to a minimum of 22-23 feet and its width increased from 300 feet to a range of 450 to 800 feet. Livingstone serves as a downbound channel, while the Amherstburg Channel, between Bois Blanc Island and the Canadian mainland, handles upbound traffic.
The LCA Annual Report of 1912 states the Livingstone project was “the largest and most expensive of any similar work ever undertaken by the United States within its boundaries.” The Corps undertook the $6.7 million project because of the Livingstone Channel’s treacherous reputation and heavy traffic load. Located west of Bois Blanc Island just north of Lake Erie, the passage was notorious for its tricky cross currents and fast-flowing, shallow water that caused trouble for mariners and sometimes delayed shipping traffic.
“(Mariners) had to hug the Canadian shore in what is now the Amherstburg Channel,” said David Bennion, a geographer with the Biology Division of the U.S. Geological Survey in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The Livingstone Channel underwent additional deepening and widening projects during the 1920s and 1930s.
Channel expansions plus infrastructure improvements to the Great Lakes Navigation System helped increase overall tonnage of goods shipped each year, Ryan said.