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Great Lakes Essential Resources: Economy & Shipping

Last Updated: Jan 8, 2024 4:08 PM

The Great Lakes have been essential trading routes for centuries, connecting the inland of the United States and Canada to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway. Today, they remain vital to the present economy of the surrounding region and to the quality of life of its residents, providing drinking water for more than 33 million people in Canada and the United States, supplying hydroelectric power, supporting industries, providing waterborne transportation, and offering a variety of recreational opportunities.

Please note that while tourism is large part of Great Lakes economy, modern tourism resources for trip planning purposes are not within the current scope of this guide.

Ship Entering Welland Canal

Ship entering Welland Canal Lock 3, St. Catherine's, Ontario, April 10, 2019 by Carolyn Klotzbach-Russell.

Soo Locks in Sault-Ste Marie

Aerial picture of the Soo Locks (downriver view) in Michigan between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.

Cover of Steam Navigation Company guide to Lake Erie and Lake Huron

Detroit and Cleveland Steam Navigation Company. (1886). Lake Erie & Lake Huron. Detroit, Mich.: O.S. Gulley, Bornman & Co..

Present Day Economy in the Great Lakes

Industry Codes

Canals and the Great Lakes Economy

Soo Locks (Sault Sainte Marie Canals)

Sault Sainte Marie Canal and lock link Lakes Huron and Superior.

Welland Canal

Provides navigation for large vessels between Lake Erie to the south and Lake Ontario to the north and forms an important link in the St. Lawrence Seaway. The canal was necessary because the Niagara River, the natural connection between Lakes Erie and Ontario, has impassable falls and rapids.

Erie Canal

The Erie Canal connected the Great Lakes with New York City via the Hudson River at Albany.

Illinois and Michigan Canal

The Illinois and Michigan Canal connected the waters of the Illinois River with those of Lake Michigan.

Historical Look - selected resources

Shipping History on the Great Lakes

A Brief Look at Historic Tourism on the Great Lakes

Welland Canal Sign

Sign at Welland Canal Lock 3 in St. Catherine's, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Carolyn Klotzbach-Russell, April 10, 2019.