This Colossal Project

Building the Welland Ship Canal, 1913–1932

Reviewed by Beverley Sawchuk

Posted September 11, 2018

This Colossal Project captures the fascinating story behind construction of the Welland Ship Canal. Known as the “great ditch,” this waterway connects Lake Ontario with Lake Erie, enabling ships to bypass Niagara Falls. Constructed over two decades, the canal is one of “the great engineering triumphs of modern times,” write authors Roberta M. Styran and Robert R. Taylor.

My great-uncle Paul Moroz and grandfather William Moroz were labourers on the project. With Paul’s encouragement, my grandfather, also known as “Gido,” moved from Manitoba to Thorold, Ontario, with his wife and four children. Given the uncertainty of wartime and the Great Depression, he was relieved to find any job.

The work was dangerous and harsh, with smallpox outbreaks, accidents, inadequate wages and long hours. Nearly 140 souls perished during construction, often from fractured skulls or drowning. Great-uncle Paul nearly died when a wagon filled with rocks tipped over. It was a time when steel-toed boots and safety helmets were non-existent and language barriers hindered communication. When labourers — many of whom were immigrants and illiterate — tried to improve conditions, they encountered hostility and prejudice.

In a book that is well-researched, with numerous maps and photos, the authors succeeded in transporting me back a century. Dedicated to “those thousands of unsung heroes who worked on the ground,” This Colossal Project provided insight into my own family’s history — which in turn resonates with some of the challenges immigrants still face in seeking a better tomorrow.

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This article originally appeared in the October-November 2018 issue of Canada’s History.

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