611.42321 SL/9–2851

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Perkins)1


Subject: St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project

Participants: Mr. Louis St. Laurent, Prime Minister of Canada
Mr. Hume Wrong, Ambassador of Canada
Mr. Norman Robertson, Secretary to Cabinet
Mr. J. W. Pickersgill, Personal Assistant to Prime Minister
Mr. Harry S. Truman, President of the United States
Mr. James E. Webb, Under Secretary of State
Mr. Stanley Woodward, Ambassador to Canada
Mr. George W. Perkins, Assistant Secretary of State
Mr. Charles Murphy, White House
Mr. Joseph Short, White House
Mr. David Bell, White House

After an exchange of greetings the Canadian Prime Minister opened the conversation by stating that the situation in the Canadian economy required urgently that a decision be made on the development of the St. Lawrence. They felt it was important to develop both the transportation facilities and the power facilities. These facilities were needed in Canada as quickly as possible. He explained that the power situation in Ontario could not be allowed to drag along much longer. The development of Ontario was proceeding at what they believed to be a normal and desirable rate and this indicated that unless steps were taken immediately they would, in the not too distant future, be short in power. They had no hydro-electric alternative to the St. Lawrence project. Therefore, if this were not to be completed, they would have to install coal burning power plants. The construction of these power plants would require a large investment. Once this were started it would very much dampen the interest in Ontario in the St. Lawrence development. But they would have to go ahead with steam development if no arrangement in connection with the St. Lawrence were made. Therefore, the St. Lawrence decision was urgent. He also pointed out that if Ontario lost interest in the St. Lawrence project, it would be very difficult for the Canadian Government to go ahead with it without the assistance of the Province of Ontario. The Prime Minister also pointed out that this situation did not exist in Quebec as they had other possibilities for power development which would not interfere with the St. Lawrence Seaway. He further stated that Ontario would, he [Page 921] believed, provide half the cost of the power development which would include part of the Seaway cost. The Canadian Government, he said, was ready to ask Parliament to set up an Authority to build the Seaway. They felt that it was feasible to have it on the Canadian side only, and that confining it to this side would add little more to the cost. The Authority, of course, would also cover power development.

The President said that he had first come in contact with the St. Lawrence project when he was in the Senate in 1935. He has been for it ever since and has tried to get it through our Congress, but he has been hampered by the interests of Railroads and certain Eastern ports. He indicated his willingness to continue to try to press it through. He was anxious to see it completed and agreed that if it could not be worked out jointly, he would go along with the Canadian proposal.

The Prime Minister pointed out that they too preferred the joint arrangement and felt that the 1941 Agreement was satisfactory. He also indicated that they too had Railroad and other opposition in Canada. However, they had come to the conclusion that a development which helps the general economy helps all parts of the economy of the country, and they were confident that Parliament would now give them the necessary authorization.

The President indicated that he hoped that their meeting today would have some influence on the legislation which was now before Congress, but, if it did not, we must find some way to proceed. It was important to have the Seaway at the same time as the power development. He also evidenced special interest in the ability to transport iron ore from Labrador to the Great Lakes area.

The Prime Minister reiterated the importance of getting started on the provision of power for Ontario and the difficulty that would arise if Ontario started on the steam plant development.

The President pointed out that the same type of situation existed in New York State; that he was interested in the development of both the Seaway and the power project; and that he liked the international proposition best.

The Prime Minister said he was primarily interested in getting results. They would support the Province of Ontario in its efforts to get agreement to the joint power scheme, and they felt they could get approval for the Seaway plan.

In response to the President’s question as to the depth of the proposed Seaway, the Prime Minister replied that it was to be 27 feet and in accordance with the 1941 Agreement.

The President felt this was satisfactory.

The Prime Minister pointed out that if the iron ore development was to be successful, it must be on a mass production basis and must be [Page 922] useful to the United States markets. He also indicated that he felt it would be desirable for the Canadians to talk about something constructive rather than the cost of living.

The President said that he had tried to get the people of the United States behind the project. His heart was in it and he would do all that was possible.

The Prime Minister indicated that he would like to be able to say that the matter had been discussed here, and that there was still hope that it could be done on the basis of the 1941 Agreement. In the meantime, they would continue to work out agreements with the Province of Ontario. However, they would have to negotiate with some United States authority before the project went to the International Joint Commission.

The President suggested that the Prime Minister designate someone to work out a statement to be made after the meeting. The Prime Minister agreed to this.2

The Prime Minister pointed out some of the advantageous aspects of a joint effort, saying that United States assistance would in particular help to expedite the project from the manpower, material and financial points of view. They could, of course, do it alone, but with United States participation the project would move more quickly.

The President asked the Prime Minister to remember that the United States has a great many obligations. But he felt that this was important and that probably the necessary materiel allocations could be made for the work.

In closing, he expressed his appreciation for the Prime Minister’s having come to see him.

G[eorge] W. P[erkins]
  1. Another record of this conversation, consisting of notes made by David E. Bell, was sent to the State Department on October 10 with a memorandum by Bell for W. J. McWilliams, Director of the Executive Secretariat (611.42321 SL/10–1051).
  2. The press release issued after the meeting is printed in the Department of State Bulletin, October 8, 1951, p. 581.